Meetings play a central role in day-to-day office life – Sharp’s research conservatively estimates that European workers spend an average of 25 hours per month in meetings so it’s important that we get them right. Business leaders, office planners and facilities managers need to consider a myriad of different factors when choosing office and meeting spaces, from the amount of space available for furniture to the number of power sockets. All in order to create an environment for employees that will help them to focus, be more productive and ultimately make them more effective.
While we and the AV industry are experts in the technical side of meetings, there is a lot that we can learn about the best set-ups for meeting spaces from HR and psychology, including factors that technology companies do not usually consider. For example, environmental conditions.
Sharp worked with environmental psychologist, Dr. Nigel Oseland, to explore just how much these factors affect employee performance. The resulting report, Creating the perfect meeting environment, highlights how changes in factors such as lighting, air quality and temperature can lead to better meetings.
To truly develop the workplace of the future, organisations need to know which variables affect employee performance when designing and choosing a meeting or office space. Only then can they equip themselves with the tools to help monitor and maintain a better meeting environment.
Temperature is one of the most important factors to consider when measuring workplace performance as it affects thermal comfort, which in turn affects performance. Anything outside of normal core body temperature can reduce the effectiveness of human physiology and cognitive functioning, therefore it is vital that the ideal temperature is maintained in the workplace.
However, the ideal temperature can vary, dependent on the type of meeting – lengthy seated meetings require a higher room temperature than short, standing meetings due to the body’s lower metabolic rate when seated.
In addition, our report demonstrated that the ideal meeting temperature has been found to vary depending on the number of participants and situational context. With this in mind, the perfect temperature range has been shown to be between 20°C to 25°C. Research from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory indicates that performance declines by 2% for each degree above 25°C and by 4.7% for each degree below 21°C.
These figures suggest monitoring and maintaining temperature in the meeting room can play a major role in increasing employee productivity – deploying the right technology that can measure and control room temperature – above and beyond standard air con – can be well worth the investment.
Air quality in offices can play a pivotal role in impacting productivity levels – polluted areas, such as central London, or by roadsides are at a much higher risk of having an office environment that is higher in carbon dioxide (CO2).
CO2 is the pollutant found in the highest concentration in air and is therefore used as a proxy measure of poor air quality. By managing CO2, other pollutants in the air are likely to also be kept under control. Dr. Oseland explains that: “High levels of CO2 can displace oxygen in the air, and in turn the bloodstream and brain, resulting in symptoms such as hyperventilation, rapid heart rate, clumsiness, emotional upset and drowsiness.”
However, air quality can be improved by ventilation that circulates fresh, oxygen-rich air through a workspace, mitigating the factors that can lead to increased levels of CO2. The ideal volume of CO2 in an office space is defined by existing research as 350 to 1000 parts per milligram (ppm) (typical outdoor CO2 levels are 250 to 350 ppm), with a recommendation that levels should be kept as low as possible.
The research collated in our report found that improved ventilation can increase productivity by up to 11%, demonstrating the clear value that improving air quality can have for a business.
Lighting and alertness
Without stating the obvious, lighting is an extremely important part of an office space. Apart from the
tasks that would be impossible without effective lighting – such as reading, writing, meetings, etc. – the productivity of other types of work can be affected. This includes employees who work predominantly on computers, which generate an individual light source. This, however, is not adequate as a main source of light.
Good lighting in an office was found to improve performance by 15%, with 500 to 1000 lux (a unit of illuminance) identified as appropriate for most meeting environments. This light can not only come from fixtures but also includes other light sources, such as daylight and ambient lighting.
Access to daylight is especially important for productivity as it directly affects human physiology, health, performance and mood. Dr. Oseland explains: “Daylight controls circadian rhythms and sleep patterns; when the sun goes down it triggers the pineal gland (located in the brain) to release the hormone melatonin which induces drowsiness and aids sleep. Lack of daylight can therefore affect evening sleep patterns, in turn affecting alertness during morning work, and may also trigger early (afternoon) drowsiness.”
While most businesses are likely to acknowledge the importance of light, and particularly natural light, for worker performance, far fewer will have measures in place to automatically monitor and control it. This is where office and facilities managers can play an important role, by implementing technology that responds to different lighting levels quickly and efficiently.
Saving money and resources
The research that Dr. Oseland collated for our report clearly indicates that indoor environmental conditions can affect performance, both in general office spaces and in meeting rooms. Temperature, air quality and lighting were all found to affect health, wellbeing, performance, mood alertness and motivation, making them key factors to consider as part of the ongoing maintenance of an indoor environment.
Monitoring these factors, alongside room usage and employee activity, can not only help businesses to boost productivity but also save money and resource. It’s a huge waste of energy for example, to keep meeting rooms lit and air-conditioned when not in use, or to keep them too hot or too cold, preventing people from performing to the best of their ability. Just think how much could be saved if a building ‘knew’ when to turn the lights on and off, or when to cool a room in readiness for a meeting.
Thankfully, new developments in IoT technology promise to make it easier than ever to manage an office’s physical environment. The potential of IoT technology to monitor our physical environments and automate some building management processes based on ideal conditions is an exciting prospect. Not only does this improve the experience of the individual but it can also improve their performance and the productivity of the business.
For example, Sharp was this year excited to announce the launch of the Windows Collaboration Display. This next-generation interactive display for team working features an IoT sensor unit that can monitor a range of different meeting room parameters, including temperature, air quality and lighting and more. The data generated from the display enables businesses to improve the management of heating, cooling and room booking systems based on how the space is really being used. This allows organisations to foster a better meeting environment and ultimately increase focus and productivity.
An optimised indoor environment provides a host of benefits. It is now up to business leaders, office planners and facilities managers to embrace new IoT technologies, and help employees and customers to understand how these products can be used to create a more productive workplace. We believe that a display is the perfect part of the office to become more intelligent and therefore the perfect place to start this journey – it’s the centrepiece of the meeting room and a window to the rest of your team and the rest of the world.