Fresh air: the key to greater productivity and higher performance

For many of us, taking a short breather at work is a quick way to energize oneself before going back to our tasks. But before you take a deep breath, first consider the quality of your office air.

January 01, 2021

For many of us, taking a short breather at work is a quick way to energize oneself before going back to our tasks. But before you take a deep breath, first consider the quality of your office air.

The state of indoor air quality in air-conditioned offices is paramount for employees as we spend a substantial amount of time at work. Poor air quality occurs due to a number of reasons: an unhealthy amount of carbon dioxide in the air caused by inadequate ventilation in offices; irregular maintenance of existing filters; the presence of indoor pollutants such as formaldehyde found in common office products—like furniture, synthetic fibers, paper and various plastics.

Bad indoor air quality and bad performance

Many known health symptoms are associated with poor air quality such as flu, fatigue, congested airways and sore throat. In Every Breath You Take – Transforming the Health of China’s Office Space, a white paper co-written by JLL and PureLiving, particulates found in poor indoor air have a negative effect on workers, especially after prolonged exposure to heavy concentrations.

According to the white paper, poor air quality will ultimately hurt the business due to “lower productivity from either reduced efficiency or increased absenteeism.” Air pollution can also affect cognitive function, result in poor concentration and performance, says a report in the Harvard Business Review. Don’t forget, too, the domino effect whereby the productivity of others who rely on affected workers can also be negatively impacted.

The white paper further stated: “In extreme cases, these disruptions lead to increased turnover, as disgruntled and concerned employees seek opportunities elsewhere; this causes instability for companies and a loss of momentum in the market as firms are forced to redirect energy and resources on recruitment.”

Freshening up

There are easy steps to prevent poor air quality from being an issue. Locate your firm in a building with proper air filtration, one where landlords are invested in their heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to have fresh air systems and air handling units (AHU).

To make it simpler, the above white paper has also provided a clear, easy-to-implement method. Called the 3A strategy, it requires you or facilities management team to check against these three factors to ensure your company’s employees work in safe and clean conditions, enjoying fresh air.

Step 1—Assess: Ask the landlord what has been done to ensure good indoor air quality? For instance, is there a fresh air system that is switched on during all operating system? How about a centralized air filtration system? If the condition of the air is unfavorable, are the landlords working on a solution?

Even if they are and you receive a positive report, do your due diligence by hiring a credible third party to do an audit of the atmospheric particulate matter (PM) to find out if the existing system is acceptable or require improvements. It is best practice to do such pretesting before signing a lease agreement.

Step 2—Act: Next, get your landlord to install effective and efficient equipment to clean the air. One way to purify air is to use existing equipment, and retrofit particulate filtration equipment into existing AHUs of a central HVAC system. Ensure that your landlord is relying on AHUs utilizing high-efficiency filters which deliver large amounts of purified air at a minimal cost as AHUs operating without a filtration mechanism will be largely ineffective in reducing PM2.5 levels.

In cases whereby your lease is not up yet and your landlord is unable to install a centralized air filter, you can turn to in-ceiling purification solutions. These systems have been found effective and cost-efficient. They can be spaced apart in the ceilings to cover a wide area without causing any airflow obstruction from furniture. Compared to portable air filters, the investment needed for these systems is more, but you save more long-term from lower maintenance costs and higher coverage per unit.

For the best possible results, we recommend for you to use a combination of in-ceiling purification, AHU filtration, and a fresh air system.

Step 3—Assure: The last step is an essential, ongoing one. Once installation is done and the air filtration systems are in place and running, landlords and facilities managers need to monitor that good indoor air quality is delivered consistently.

Facilities managers and landlords should also move towards getting their offices and buildings to achieve industry certifications such as RESET ( or WELL ( Having these certifications means the building or office has met specific requirements and standards for creating healthy spaces, and that include indoor air quality.

Clean air for everyone

The health and welfare of a company is only as good as the people driving it. Employees need to work in a comfortable, invigorating, clean and safe environment.

The impact of fresh air is much deeper than we realize. Office facilities manager and corporate real estate professionals need to consider the cost of poor indoor air quality before productivity suffers.

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