As winter turns into spring, or summer gives way to fall, people in heavy coats coexist with those in sandals and shorts. Similarly, in an office where the thermostat is set at 68°F, some workers will be comfortable in short sleeves, while others will be wearing sweaters and scarves.
Underlying this disagreement are the different ways people perceive cold; as someone who is severely anemic I can attest that I feel cold much differently than other people. Obviously anemia is a medical condition, but there are millions of people in offices across the world that feel my pain when it comes to shivering in an office that don’t have any medical obstacles, it’s just cold! Scientists are still trying to understand all of the different reasons why two people can be standing in a 68°F office and have completely different levels of comfort at that temperature. In work settings, men and women often have different opinions about the ideal temperature. A 2019 study found that women performed better in math and verbal tasks at temperatures between 70°F and 80°F, while men did better below 70°F. The researchers proposed that gender-mixed workplaces might boost productivity by setting the thermostat higher than the current norm (which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration suggests should be between 68°F and 76°F).
The discrepancy has a known ‘physical basis’: Women tend to have lower resting metabolic rates than men, due to statistically, having smaller bodies and higher fat-to-muscle ratio. According to a 2015 study, indoor climate regulations are based on an “empirical thermal comfort model” developed in the 1960s with only male workers in mind, which overestimates female metabolic rates by up to 35 percent! To compound the problem, men in business settings tend to wear suits year-round, while women generally have more flexibility to wear skirts or sundresses when it’s warm outside. These dress codes are equally to blame for discomfort than temperature standards. Women have the opportunity to adapt much more easily with their clothing in the spring/summertime to the outside temperature than men do, thus the air conditioner is usually cranked so men wearing business suits feel comfortable. This action leads to women (and some men) layering up with “emergency sweaters” to compensate for the chilled environment, and in some cases even having space heaters at their desks.
The Link Between Warmth and Productivity
Whether you sit near a vent, or use your desk to store you “emergency sweaters”, the question of temperature warrants serious consideration. The experience isn’t simply unpleasant. It comes with a real financial cost. To find out just how much, Cornell University researchers conducted a study that involved tinkering with the thermostat of an insurance office. When temperatures were low (68 degrees, to be precise), employees committed 44% more errors and were less than half as productive as when temperatures were warm (a cozy 77 degrees). Cold employees weren’t just uncomfortable, they were distracted. The drop in performance was costing employers 10% more per hour, per employee. Which makes sense. When our body’s temperature drops, we expend energy keeping ourselves warm, making less energy available for concentration, inspiration, and insight. We can tell from these studies and personal anecdotes that cold temperatures worsen productivity. What new research is showing is that it can also corrode the quality of our relationships. And this, ultimately, is why office temperature matters. Great workplaces aren’t simply the product of good organizational policies. They emerge when employees connect with one another and form meaningful relationships that engender trust. What’s often overlooked is that connections don’t operate in a vacuum. It seems obvious that the temperature of a restaurant or theater can alter our experience. So why do we continue to neglect it in the workplace?
While we do not provide heating and cooling services, we will help you optimize your workplace in every other way! At Davies we will expertly re-engineer and rework existing furniture by remanufacturing it to like-new condition with our fully customized design solutions. From space planning and project management to delivery and installation, there’s nothing our professional team can’t handle. Give us a call at 518.449.2040 to get started.