I am part of the remote co-working community Workantile, in downtown Ann Arbor. We have small private rooms for taking conference calls and I often find them stuffy and notice I’m tired by the end of a meeting. I’d read that excessive CO2 build-up in meetings can impair cognitive function. Was that the case, or was I just bored from the meetings?
I borrowed an Indoor Air Quality Meter from my amazing local library (by Sper Scientific, normally $400, for me, $0) and went to find out.
Baseline: ambient CO2 levels
Outside on the sidewalk, CO2 was 375 ppm, about what I expected.
On the main level at Workantile, I measured about 550 ppm at 10am, 660 ppm at 12:30pm, and 780 ppm in the late afternoon. Was this due to more people? More accumulated exhalations? The air conditioner? Not sure.
The experiment: phone room levels
Luckily for me, I took the day off today so had no conference calls of my own. There had been a months-long waitlist to check out this tool and the timing worked out poorly in this regard. So I enlisted two Workantilers to act as guinea pigs, bringing the meter into the rooms during their meetings. Doors were kept closed.
Room #1: Small room with A/C vent
Ed’s room started at 780 ppm, rose to 870 ppm within 5 minutes, and then stabilized for the next hour at 960 ppm.
We’re not sure if the air conditioning was running during this time, but there is a ceiling vent.
The other room fared worse.
Room #2: Small unvented room
Rob reported remarkable readings during his meeting:
- 22 minutes: 1,653ppm
- 30 minutes: 1,964ppm
- 45 minutes: 2,433ppm
Those are staggering numbers. Studies have found meaningful cognitive impairment at levels of 1,000-1,500 ppm. I would have loved more early and later measurements, including the effects of consecutive calls on our busier days. Maybe I’ll borrow the meter again on a day when I can monitor my own calls.
Blame it on the air
Anecdotally, I’ve felt sluggish after meetings in the small, unvented room and had begun leaving the door open and taking my calls from the larger rooms. Based on these quick experiments, I’m going to say it’s not just that meetings make me sleepy: it’s the accumulated CO2.