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October 2023: Office Air Quality Insights

Welcome to our monthly exploration of indoor air quality metrics, where the synergy of data experts and the marketing team shares insights about air quality fluctuations in open office spaces across Germany and Switzerland.

We've got the scoop on air quality straight from the source—our trusty detectors planted in open offices will spill the beans on what is in the air this autumn.

Why measure the quality of the air in the office?

Ensuring top-notch indoor air quality is a must-have for your office, whether it's reflected on your dashboard or neatly organized in your Excel sheets detailing employees' health parameters. Poor indoor air quality (IAQ) can sneakily cause allergies, migraines, and low motivation that can result in low productivity. It's like a superhero move to keep everyone healthy and happy and show high-level care for the employees and colleagues.

What are important KPIs for Overall Indoor Air quality?

In our analytics, we have a primary focus on Employee Health and Wellbeing Support. These Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) represent weighted averages of category-specific Sub-KPIs. For instance, in the case of Wellbeing Support, it includes factors like Thermal Comfort and Productivity Support. These Sub-KPIs, in turn, are based on the raw indoor air quality parameters, such as Humidity and Temperature for Thermal Comfort.

To enhance clarity and help you grasp how these components are interconnected, we've designed a flowchart (Figure 1). This visual representation illustrates the success rates of various Sub-KPIs and KPIs, using the latest client pool data for October.

Indoor Air Quality  in the office for October
Figure 1:Explanation of indoor air quality parameters on IAQ Average Success Rates for October

Colors and their meaning





Data foundation

Indoor Air Quality in October

Comparing the preceding months with the current one, we notice a significant shift from summer to autumn. However, it's reasonable to deduce that the overall situation with TVOC has deteriorated since the central heating system was activated.

Figure 2: Comparing the success rate of IAQ Parameters during the past three months of August September, and October
Figure 2: Comparing the success rate of IAQ Parameters during the past three months of August September, and October

What is the meaning of TVOC in the context of air quality?

Total Volatile Organic Compounds (TVOC) encapsulate a diverse group of organic chemicals emitted as gases from various solids and liquids. These compounds include a wide array of substances, ranging from well-known pollutants like formaldehyde to everyday household items such as cleaning products, paints, and personal care items. TVOC can have both short-term and long-term effects on indoor air quality.

The significance of monitoring TVOC lies in its association with health and environmental concerns. Exposure to elevated levels of TVOC has been linked to the sick building syndrome (SBS), characterized by symptoms like headaches, dizziness, and irritation of the eyes, nose, or throat.

What is the meaning of NO2 in the context of air quality?

NO2 stands for nitrogen dioxide, which is a gas produced by combustion processes, such as those occurring in vehicles and industrial facilities. It can also be generated during cooking, especially when using gas stoves. Exposure to high levels of NO2 can irritate the respiratory system and contribute to respiratory problems.

What is the meaning of PM2.5 in the context of air quality?

PM2.5 refers to particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or smaller. It's a major health concern as its microscopic size allows it to easily enter our bloodstream and organs. Generated during combustion processes, like cooking, PM2.5 can worsen existing health conditions. Unlike larger particles, PM2.5 doesn't disperse as much in the atmosphere, staying close to emission sources, and making indoor spaces, especially kitchens, prone to higher concentrations.

Expert Q&A with Erfan Haghighi, Head of R&PD at Oxygen at Work

How do these observations of the space-specific key factors influencing IAQ inform strategies for effective IAQ management?

Graph: Comparing the success rate of IAQ Parameters during October in three different areas: Meeting Room, Kitchen, and Open office space.
Figure 3: Comparing the success rate of IAQ Parameters during October in three different areas: Meeting Room, Kitchen, and Open office space.

In the realm of indoor air quality (IAQ), the critical factors can vary significantly based on the specific function and usage of different spaces. In the kitchen area, where combustion processes are prevalent, PM2.5 and NO2 emerge as the pivotal elements influencing IAQ. These pollutants are typically byproducts of cooking activities, such as frying or grilling, where the combustion of organic matter generates fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). It's crucial to address and mitigate these pollutants in the kitchen space to ensure a healthy and safe environment for occupants.

On the other hand, the meeting room spaces present a distinct IAQ challenge, primarily driven by the presence and activities of a high density of occupants. Carbon dioxide (CO2) and Total Volatile Organic Compounds (TVOC) take precedence in these areas. CO2 levels serve as a reliable indicator of indoor air freshness and ventilation adequacy, with elevated levels suggesting inadequate ventilation. Meanwhile, TVOC, being more human-driven, encompasses a diverse range of organic compounds emitted by occupants, furniture, and building materials. Managing these factors becomes imperative in meeting rooms to optimize the air quality for the well-being and comfort of individuals engaged in various collaborative activities.

Recognizing these distinctions in IAQ factors for different spaces allows for tailored and effective strategies to enhance indoor air quality, promoting healthier and more comfortable environments tailored to specific needs and usage patterns.

How does the prevalence of TVOC as a concern in open office spaces and meeting rooms, particularly in comparison to kitchen areas, reflect the human-driven nature of this indoor air quality issue?

The prevalence of TVOC as a concern in both open office spaces and meeting rooms does indeed emphasize its human-driven nature. Unlike the kitchen area, where combustion processes dominate and contribute to the prominence of PM2.5 and NO2, open office spaces and meeting rooms rely heavily on occupant activities for the release of TVOC. Various sources, including people, furniture, and building materials, contribute to the emission of volatile organic compounds, making it a noteworthy factor in spaces characterized by high human density.

The seasonal shift to fall might introduce some changes in heating systems and energy usage, which could indirectly influence indoor air quality. However, the persistent concern over TVOC in open office spaces likely stems from ongoing human activities rather than a direct correlation with heating mechanisms. As the fall season progresses, it would be prudent to monitor and adapt ventilation strategies to maintain optimal indoor air quality, considering both seasonal variations and human-driven sources of pollutants.

Head of Research and Product Development at oxygen at work and author of specialist section


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