Calling All Airheads

By Robert Goldman

May 23, 2019 6 min read

Be honest, now: What's so bad about meetings?

There must be something, right?

Whether the meeting is a brainstorming session, status update or an executive spiel on the company's flimsy future, even the best employees do not look forward to being called into a conference room.

As for the worst employees — and yes, I'm talking thee and me — we would rather be called into a dentist's office (a defrocked dentist who has replaced the numbing power of Novocain with sonic injections of the Bangtan Boys' latest hits).

Now, you may think that the trouble with meetings is the subject matter or the participants or the lack of artisanal donuts, but the problem may not be who is in the conference room. Chances are, the problem is what is in the conference room air.

It's our old friend carbon dioxide, CO2 to its friends. There's simply not enough oxygen and too much carbon dioxide — a main ingredient in our exhalations — which is also the pollutant "whose most detrimental effects are on the mind."

Or so Veronique Greenwood warns in her recent article "Is Conference Room Air Making You Dumber?" featured in The New York Times.

"Small rooms can build up heat and carbon dioxide from our breath — as well as other substances — to an extent that might surprise you," Greenwood writes. "And as it happens, a small body of evidence suggests that when it comes to decision making, indoor air may matter more than we have realized."

I know you don't need any outside help to make you dumber, but if too much carbon dioxide really does disrupt the limited thinking power you have, you can't wait until management resolves to move all meetings outside.

(An excellent meeting site could be the talcum-powder white beaches of Bora Bora, BTW, though you could get sand in your laser pointer.)

One reason conference room air has become so toxic is that modern buildings are sealed. While a sealed building may reduce the energy needed for heating and cooling — and certainly does make it difficult to express your dissatisfaction with management by jumping out a window — it has "also made it easier for gasses and other substances released by humans and our belongings to build up inside."

When stuck in a teeny tiny conference room full of yapping co-workers, the carbon dioxide levels can get seriously high. And it's not just your fellow employees who are to blame.

As Greenwood explains, "Worrisome substances emitted by new furniture, office supplies and carpets could be accumulating in the air."

In other words, you weren't being paranoid when you told human resources that your office chair was out to get you. It is, and it's in cahoots with the carpets!

If management is unconcerned with the problem, scientists around the world have taken action. A series of studies at the University of California, Berkeley; the Technical University of Denmark; and, of course, Harvard have shown that CO2 in the conference room can produce "striking, really quite dramatic impacts on decision-making performance."

On the positive side, this "mental fuzziness" gets more serious as the complexity of the issue under discussion increases. For simpler tests of cognitive ability, the impact of CO2 is lessened. This is good news for you since the matters with which you deal are so simple a monkey could handle them. And does.

The solution to the problem is simple, though probably impossible to implement. Unless you can make the IT department purchase a specialized CO2 sensor, which they wouldn't know how to work anyway, you must convince management to increase the flow of oxygen in your conference rooms.

Plus, all the carpet has to be pulled up and all evil office chairs plotting your doom must be sent to office-furniture prison.

You could also limit the number of people in the meeting. Get rid of the participants whose basic contributions are usually a lot of hot air, anyway. Anyone who has had pizza within the last 24 hours should also be excused. Carbon dioxide is bad business, but pepperoni breath is worse.

Most important of all, excuse yourself. Explain that you are totally fascinated by the subject of the meeting, but for the benefit of those remaining, you will reduce your carbon dioxide contribution to zero. This suggestion should be immediately accepted since your percentage of useful contributions to most meetings is also zero.

If they insist your presence is needed, tell them you'll be happy to participate. All they have to do is move the meeting to Bora Bora.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He now works out of Bellingham, Washington. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at [email protected] To find out more about Bob Goldman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at creators.com.

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