Team performance suffers with inferior air quality

A team from the University of Cambridge has found that high levels of air pollution can have a significant impact on the performance of teams presented with complex, collaborative, and non-routine problem solving tasks.

The team examined data from 15,000 escape room games in London and found that on high pollution days,  the participants could take up to 5% longer to compete their tasks. 

red escape rooms neon signThe Escape rooms were considered an ideal setting to study team performance because of the high level of creativity they demand. 

The research studied the effect of carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and PM 2.5, using data from 16 AURN monitoring stations in London.

All four pollutants were found to have a significant negative impact on team performance and, for carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide this was seen at levels well below the current WHO Air Quality Guidelines.

Co-authors of the study include Paul Lohmann of the El-Erian Institute of Behavioural Economics and Policy at Cambridge Judge Business School said: ‘Breakthroughs in science and other fields require teams to work together to combine knowledge and solve complex problems, so it’s important to understand external factors that can affect team performance. Our findings that air pollution has a sizable and statistically significant negative effect on teams undertaking complex tasks has implications for workplaces all over the world, but particularly in emerging economies that have high air pollution levels.

‘Our results have implications for all settings that require team-based non-routine analytical and interpersonal work, which characterizes large parts of the modern work environment. Many low- and middle-income economies face much higher levels of pollution, which could possibly be a drag on economic development and poverty alleviation.

‘As these countries intend to increase the share of service-sector jobs that entail team innovation in their economies, reducing air pollution may be an important contextual factor that can affect innovation capacity, which is critical for economic development.’


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