Meetings: not a place to make decisions in.
March 18, 2019 3:02 PM   Subscribe

(Twitter thread by @netmanchris) “This is crazy. Study shows three people in a conference room over 2 hours can result in a Co2 level that can impair cognitive functioning ... If you’re making decisions at the end of the meeting, you’re mentally less qualified to do so.” The 2015 Harvard study (PDF) and 2016 discussion. @SamRNolen: “Love to advance my career by bringing an oxygen tank to meetings and taking a ear-shattering hit from it as soon as anyone starts talking.” @rogerlipscombe: “I always assumed it was the fumes from the whiteboard markers, to be honest.”
posted by Wordshore (53 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
 
As a former middle manager, this post makes me proud that I brought a physical clock into the weekly meetings I was once forced to run and never let them go more than 5 minutes over the scheduled meeting time of 1 hour. Alas, there were maybe 8 people in the room so I guess we were just as impaired after an hour but it could have been worse! Thank for the post, which is excellent but puzzles me. Where oh where is the cheese connection, Wordshore?
posted by Bella Donna at 3:08 PM on March 18 [6 favorites]


so, how much time and how many people would it take for a much larger room, such as, hmmm, parliament or congress or something like that?
posted by pyramid termite at 3:16 PM on March 18 [16 favorites]


so, how much time and how many people would it take for a much larger room, such as, hmmm, parliament or congress or something like that?

or say .....classrooms?
posted by srboisvert at 3:18 PM on March 18 [30 favorites]




And here I was thinking my exhaustion during meetings was only caused by existential ennui.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:28 PM on March 18 [35 favorites]


This is why I only wrestle in well-ventilated outdoor mud pits.
posted by benzenedream at 3:47 PM on March 18 [5 favorites]


or say .....classrooms?

So happy that I have windows I can open in the classrooms I teach in. And, some days if it is quiet enough on the hall I can leave the door open as well.

Unfortunately our twice a month faculty meetings with 18 people in a conference room regularly run 2-3 hours. I usually get up and leave the meeting for a few minutes once in the middle. I wonder how much of an effect ducking out and walking up and down the hall for 5 minutes every hour would have on restoring potential cognitive function? On the other hand, restoring my thought processes as everyone else deteriorates may just make the meetings more depressing. A little impairment goes a long way after a couple of hours.
posted by Gotanda at 3:52 PM on March 18 [6 favorites]


I'm using this as an excuse to force breaks in meetings forever now.
posted by sleeping bear at 4:54 PM on March 18 [5 favorites]


....Something about this doesn't sit right with me. It looks like the study did account for the size of the room and whether there was a good airflow, but still - your average bedroom is about as closed-off as your average conference room, and you've got at least one if not two exhaling in that room for eight full hours with no ill effect. So why is a conference room somehow that much more detrimental?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:42 PM on March 18 [16 favorites]


I'm with EC. Is there any reason to think the science behind this is good?
posted by medusa at 5:45 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


There are two studies; in the Harvard/Syracuse study linked in the pdf, they controlled the conditions very closely, with monitoring everywhere, in specially constructed rooms where the ventilation could be varied at will (including by using CO2 from a cylinder).

The study the graph comes from used two rooms, one with a wall covered in plants, the other without, but we don't know what the actual design and ventilation of those rooms were (the study isn't linked).
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 5:49 PM on March 18


If it's that bad after 2 hours... how do we account for the shit decisions made in the first two hours?
posted by entropone at 6:02 PM on March 18 [15 favorites]


...how do we account for the shit decisions made in the first two hours?

Or before the meetings, like the shit decicision to have tons of meetings?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:08 PM on March 18 [6 favorites]


If the conference room is problematic with 3 people after 2 hours, what about the cube farm surrounding it with 50 people after 8 hours?

For that matter, what about hyper-dense urban areas where poverty sees apartments that pack 10 people into one room, or Japan, where your hotel room is the size of a bathtub? I can only assume that humanity might have discovered this problem about 6000 years ago, and not in a 2015 conference room.
posted by Autumnheart at 6:50 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


Although I do remember the 2001 anthrax scare, when some yahoo on TV recommended that people line a room in their house with plastic to keep it free of anthrax contamination. Then someone else had to go on and say, “Um, NO, don’t do that or you’ll suffocate if your house is tightly built.”
posted by Autumnheart at 7:02 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


This is why I prefer conference calls.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 7:38 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


In the future I will avoid holding meetings in a hermetically sealed room.

But in all seriousness, just about every conference room I've been in has had air vents in the ceiling for climate control. And is not air tight.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 7:53 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


I'm staring at the chart in the first tweet. It sure does look like the "grey room" starts with a higher initial CO2 level than the "green room" and that accounts for the almost the entire difference of the peak in the plot.
posted by runcibleshaw at 8:07 PM on March 18


your average bedroom is about as closed-off as your average conference room, and you've got at least one if not two exhaling in that room for eight full hours with no ill effect. So why is a conference room somehow that much more detrimental?

It's not more detrimental. This study is just only looking at office environments.

But I can assure you many residential environments are terrible as well. I have a CO2 meter. My bedroom is 10x10 with 9 foot ceilings. With the door closed, it takes 2 people about 2 or 3 hours to take the room from 425 to 1000+ ppm.

Also, if you wake up with headaches on the regular, sleeping with a door or window open may cure you. Ask me how I know ><
posted by congen at 8:56 PM on March 18 [18 favorites]


ACK totally misread that comment I quoted. Too sleepy for metafilter!

Yes, residential environments often have high CO2 levels and they cause the same ill effects as in offices. Though offices can have a lot more VOCs and such that also affect health.
posted by congen at 8:59 PM on March 18


Just your friendly neighborhood ventilator-dependent quadriplegic popping in to point out that "taking a hit of oxygen" isn't going to do you any good, because the carbon dioxide will overwhelm the oxygen-carrying capacity of your hemoglobin. In fact, the oxygen will trick your brain into making you breathe even more shallowly, and you'll blow off even less carbon dioxide. This is how people with neuromuscular diseases tend to die, oxygen masks on. Please read up on the works of Dr. John Bach to understand this concept better, especially if someone you love has a neuromuscular disease.

Note to the mods: didn't we have a thread about that dumbass Kathleen Hartnett-White saying that carbon dioxide was "the gas of life" some time ago? I went to find it in my profile, but my comment in that thread is now in a Trump thread instead. I suspect you're having some database trouble there.
posted by Soliloquy at 9:05 PM on March 18 [22 favorites]


(Looks like you were replying to a comment about her earlier in that megathread.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:25 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


your average bedroom is about as closed-off as your average conference room, and you've got at least one if not two exhaling in that room for eight full hours with no ill effect. So why is a conference room somehow that much more detrimental?

While not exactly a peer-reviewed journal, I read an neat blog post a few weeks ago where a guy actually tracked CO2 levels in his house at night under various conditions (bedroom door open, door closed, etc.), and got nighttime household CO2 levels as high as 1934PPM when he first opened the bedroom door in the morning, suggesting that the bedroom CO2 levels might have been significantly higher, he guesses possibly 3000+. I could definitely believe that in a well-insulated home, two people sleeping in a room with a closed door and no ventilation could run the level up fairly high.

However, he mentions that much of the discussion that's going on right now about impaired cognitive function in the presence of relatively low CO2 concentrations, comes from a small number of papers (he cites Satish 2012 and Allen 2015; the latter is the "Harvard paper" linked in the post), and disagrees with the previous body of research on the topic. The Satish paper shows a consistent decrease in "decision-making performance" in several measures, but one of them ("Focused activity") actually increased, although I don't think it's statistically significant.

It's not obviously a slam-dunk, although it's interesting. (I'm curious why all the older studies didn't see it—were they not using sensitive enough cognitive metrics? Or has something changed?) Certainly might be worth cracking a window or keeping a door slightly ajar for, though...
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:43 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


Carbon dioxide levels on flight deck affect airline pilot performance

Inflammatory responses to acute elevations of carbon dioxide in mice

How More Carbon Dioxide In The Air Could Lead To More Human Disease

Study links carbon dioxide emissions to increased deaths

A bunch of articles about schools having trouble with CO2 levels

Carbon Dioxide May Rob Crops Of Nutrition, Leaving Millions At Risk

Carbon Dioxide “Alarm System” Might Help Explain Anxiety Disorders

Carbon dioxide-induced anxiety. Behavioral, physiologic, and biochemical effects of carbon dioxide in patients with panic disorders and healthy subjects.

Carbon dioxide inhalation causes pulmonary inflammation

So here's my concern.

As a species, we're as vulnerable as our newborn infants; we're as vulnerable as the genetic material of the earliest spark of human life.

Does anyone else wonder what would happen if we tried raising multiple generations of lab rats in an atmosphere that mimicked what we're expecting to see in say, 2100? Or 2200, for that matter, we're hoping to be around that long. Isn't that an important set of experiments to do? We're much more vulnerable than rats because of our large brains, but at least that would let us know how bad things are going to get.
posted by MrVisible at 10:10 PM on March 18 [6 favorites]


I could definitely believe that in a well-insulated home, two people sleeping in a room with a closed door and no ventilation could run the level up fairly high.

Hrm, combine that info with the fact that many, many people "don't feel awake" until after their first cup of coffee - out of their room, moving around in the part of the house with better ventilation...
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:15 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


when some yahoo on TV recommended that people line a room in their house with plastic to keep it free of anthrax contamination

That was the one and only Department of Homeland Security. It's easy to forget just how appallingly stupid the Bush II regime was.

(Whether there could be any link between rising levels of atmospheric CO2 and the growing frequency of appallingly stupid presidential administrations is certainly an interesting question -- but surely we haven't reached levels that would impact cognitive function to that level yet?)
posted by shenderson at 10:16 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah, co2 in the home, it’s a thing, depending. I used to have a WiFi scale with an “air quality monitor” that turned out to be a co2 meter. Imagine my surprise when co2 in the house could get as high as 2000ppt (or maybe it was 3000? It was a lot) in the winter. Lots of headaches. Cracked window solved it and I had way fewer headaches.

This winter, I was having some pretty significant anxiety. I’m living in a new place. Now I have a ton of reasons why I should have anxiety (life being kinda fucked up) but something wasnt sitting right with how one particular bout of anxiety struck. I don’t have that scale anymore; it’s long since broke. And I remembered reading about the anxiety-co2 connection when I was dealing with it in my old home. So I cracked a couple windows and within the hour, my anxiety plummetted. I can’t say with certainty it wasn’t some form of physical placebo effect, but it certainly seemed like it might be co2 again.

Come to think of it, I have been having a lot of headaches. Maybe I need to open up the house more...

I think people just don’t know it because they don’t test it.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:37 PM on March 18 [8 favorites]


congen: "ACK totally misread that comment I quoted. Too sleepy for metafilter!"

Sounds like you have too much CO₂.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:46 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


I realize not everyone has a house (or an office) with a central air conditioner or furnace, but if you do, I don't think you have anything to worry about - the furnace brings fresh air to every room.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:53 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


That actually makes sense out of how incredibly stuffy and exhausting and headache-inducing my open-plan office (30-40 people maybe?) can get late in the afternoon with all the windows closed.
On the other hand, we had a meeting last week in a room with windows on two sides and a glass wall on a third. That was not the ideal environment for the meeting to be interrupted by an earthquake, which it was. (A small one. When the next big one comes I would like to be farther away from shatterable objects.)
posted by huimangm at 11:11 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


So what they’re saying is meetings in the open floor plan, turn the meeting rooms into well ventilated one person rooms.
posted by mrzarquon at 11:57 PM on March 18 [7 favorites]


So, now I'm looking at the price of co2 monitors on Amazon and wondering how viable a Arduino or raspberry Pi zero plus a sensor chip would be, but apparently this is still patented tech or something, cuz the sensor alone is like 80 bucks.
posted by pwnguin at 12:05 AM on March 19


Oh no, this is unearthing the paranoia I felt after watching this video on stale air a few months ago...
posted by Gordafarin at 3:16 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]



I realize not everyone has a house (or an office) with a central air conditioner or furnace, but if you do, I don't think you have anything to worry about - the furnace brings fresh air to every room.


I'm fairly certain that's not true. Forced air heating cooling systems usually condition and re-circulate the air within the home/office. Outside air is used to dump heat from the AC coils or to provide combustion air for the heating appliance. Better to open a window if you want "fresh" outside air.
posted by some loser at 4:38 AM on March 19


It's too bad the OP immediately goes in on another poster who respectfully points out that it's cool to avoid using ableist language when you can.
posted by ITheCosmos at 5:28 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]


"I'm sorry you misinterpreted it." And then links to the dictionary entry for 'crazy'. Oof.
posted by Gordafarin at 5:33 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Everyone at my company works from home. We have weekly all-hands-on-deck meetings over the phone, presumably from our own well-ventilated home offices.

Meetings still suck.
posted by Twicketface at 5:52 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]


Forced air heating cooling systems usually condition and re-circulate the air within the home/office

As well - forced air furnaces have the option of leaving the circulation fan on all-the-time, or only on when the unit is actively heating or cooling air. Which means that when I program my system to have a low overnight temperature, the fan never comes on until the first heating in the morning.
posted by jkaczor at 6:53 AM on March 19


Bringing in sufficient fresh air is a not-insignificant challenge in designing HVAC systems. In newer commercial buildings, the state-of-the-art is to have two systems: one to bring in properly-conditioned outdoor air, and then another system to maintain the temperature in the building. That way you don't have the problem of the whole system just shutting down because no temperature change is needed (like when it's 65F outside, and there's no need for heating or cooling per se), and the building getting stuffy. Or worse, in a big system you can get Legionella growing in filters/ductwork/evaporators when it sits idle.

Basically you run the outdoor-air system (DOAS) continuously when the building is inhabited, or on some schedule sufficient to exchange the air periodically. It heats/cools and de/humidifies the intake air, delivering "neutral air" (70-72F @ 50% humidity, or something like that; basically it's not intentionally trying to heat or cool the building), typically with some heat exchanger system to capture energy from the outgoing exhaust air. It's much more efficient than just having a window open.

Then on top of that, there's a system to actually heat/cool the building, but that system doesn't need to involve any air circulation. So it can be very high-efficiency (forced air systems are typically not), using stuff like split system heat pumps, radiant panels, whatever.

I learned about some of this stuff as a result of an organization I'm involved in needing to spec a new HVAC system for our building. Commercial HVAC bears about as much resemblance to what people are doing to heat/cool their houses as the CERN supercollider does to 14th century alchemy. Maybe in a decade or two we'll see some of it trickling down, but homebuilders are notoriously ultraconservative.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:32 AM on March 19 [17 favorites]


The Tom Scott/Kurtis Baute video that Gordafarin links to above gives the bad news--the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is going up. There's nowhere to avoid it.
posted by eye of newt at 8:52 AM on March 19


some loser: "I'm fairly certain that's not true. Forced air heating cooling systems usually condition and re-circulate the air within the home/office. Outside air is used to dump heat from the AC coils or to provide combustion air for the heating appliance. Better to open a window if you want "fresh" outside air."

I don't know what it is like in the US but in Canada any house tight enough for this to be a worry will have a fresh air intake on the furnace or a Heat Recovery Ventilator to bring in fresh air or both. As a target the ideal house will have .5 complete air changes per hour without opening any doors/windows. Practically speaking no houses built before 1990 or so will be anywhere near that tight.
posted by Mitheral at 9:05 AM on March 19 [3 favorites]


If the conference room is problematic with 3 people after 2 hours, what about the cube farm surrounding it with 50 people after 8 hours?

They keep sending us emails telling us that the air quality in the government complex I work in is FINE. Totally FINE. We've tested it. Repeatedly. And it's always FINE. Please don't be worried about the FINE quality of the air in the building you work in. It's FINE.

Except, you know, for these 800 people we moved out. But the rest of your are still FINE.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:06 AM on March 19 [3 favorites]


Hold a meeting!
posted by Wordshore at 9:32 AM on March 19 [4 favorites]


"I'm sorry you misinterpreted it." And then links to the dictionary entry for 'crazy'. Oof.

Talk about sucking the air out of the room THANKS G'NITE
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 10:41 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]


What I'm hearing is, holding a "team-building and consciousness-raising retreat" in a sealed room for several hours is a little bit like lying in a closed bedroom all day masturbating with only your farts for company, and calling it auto-erotic asphyxiation.
posted by duffell at 11:30 AM on March 19 [3 favorites]


should I stop using that as my go-to analogy, or
posted by duffell at 11:30 AM on March 19 [5 favorites]


I worked for a company that sought and achieved a wellness certification from the International WELL Building Institute. It's been a while since I looked into it, but as I recall the standards are primarily focused on employee wellness: things like sufficient natural and circadian lighting, sit/stand desks available to a certain percentage of the employee workspaces, etc. Getting our mid-rise office building HVAC to be able to provide fresh air to the meeting rooms when CO2 reached a certain level was a big part of the challenge, especially given that we were the only tenant in a 14-story office building that was pursuing the standard. Our windows did not open, but even if they did, like with many open office designs the conference rooms were in the center of the floor.

Commercial HVAC is very complicated, as Kadin2048 pointed out, and becomes even more so once you factor in employee health and environmental sustainability/responsibility.
posted by misskaz at 11:33 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


So, now I'm looking at the price of co2 monitors on Amazon and wondering how viable a Arduino or raspberry Pi zero plus a sensor chip would be, but apparently this is still patented tech or something, cuz the sensor alone is like 80 bucks.

I'm seeing some sensor chips on octopart for $30 or so.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:43 AM on March 20 [2 favorites]


And here I was thinking my exhaustion during meetings was only caused by existential ennui.

I blame it on (a) 2 hour meetings at 8 a.m. (b) being in meetings where I have to sit there and stare and pay attention to things I know very little about and can't participate or move or take notes, (c) while the air conditioning blasts away in January.

In retrospect, maybe that last one is an issue here.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:53 AM on March 20


"....Something about this doesn't sit right with me. It looks like the study did account for the size of the room and whether there was a good airflow, but still - your average bedroom is about as closed-off as your average conference room, and you've got at least one if not two exhaling in that room for eight full hours with no ill effect. So why is a conference room somehow that much more detrimental?"

Why are you so sure there are no harmful effects from staying in a stuffy bedroom all night? It's my understanding that the ppm of CO2 will adversely affect your function regardless of where, at some point the atmosphere itself may become as bad as a sealed conference room and we will all be impaired to some degree.

Tom Scott did a video and experiment recently on exactly this sort of thing:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Nh_vxpycEA
Basically sets up a greenhouse to camp in with carbon dioxide levels raising over time while documenting the effects. edit: Kurtis Baute is actually the person doing the experiment, Tom Scott is just introducing the video.

I wish I could blame CO2 for the butt-clenching usage of effect and affect in this post, seems right to me but still got that feeling it's wrong.
posted by GoblinHoney at 8:20 AM on March 21


Why are you so sure there are no harmful effects from staying in a stuffy bedroom all night? It's my understanding that the ppm of CO2 will adversely affect your function regardless of where, at some point the atmosphere itself may become as bad as a sealed conference room and we will all be impaired to some degree.

No wonder I make so many questionable decisions in my dreams!
posted by pwnguin at 9:31 AM on March 21


Why are you so sure there are no harmful effects from staying in a stuffy bedroom all night? It's my understanding that the ppm of CO2 will adversely affect your function regardless of where, at some point the atmosphere itself may become as bad as a sealed conference room and we will all be impaired to some degree.

The number of people who sleep 8 hours per day (or at least attempt to do so) is far greater than the number of people who are regularly in closed-door conference room meetings. However, I have not as yet heard of any case studies being done of the dangers of CO2 buildup in bedrooms, despite it being a much bigger selection pool, and hence a much greater likelihood of such an event occurring.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:25 AM on March 21


However, I have not as yet heard of any case studies being done of the dangers of CO2 buildup in bedrooms

There have been studies. Peter Strøm-Tejsen has done a lot of work in the area (eg). NASA has also been worried about the effects of CO2 buildup on astronaut sleep.

This blog post gives a rundown of some studies on CO2 buildup in bedrooms.
posted by painquale at 7:14 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]


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