Blog Entry

The Office Temperature Wars

Posted on: February 6, 2008 3:15 pm

temperature affects productivity

But it's not just a comfort thing. Studies show the temperature in a workplace affects productivity. Alan Hedge, a professor in the department of design and environmental analysis at Cornell University, conducted two studies on climate's effect on productivity (a third is still in progress). Hedge and his team placed monitoring devices on employees' desks to measure keystrokes and mouse movement at different temperatures.

The results surprised him. Hedge placed the temperature in the low 70s in the winter, basing the temperature on standards set by the American Society for Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers; they say 76 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal in summer, and 72 in the winter. "We expected that when you cool people down, they work harder and better," he says. "We found the exact opposite. When it was cool to colder in the office, people did less work and made more mistakes."

Steinberg doesn't need a scientific study to figure that one out. "It's really hard to type when wearing gloves," says the senior sales director at the trade show group Go Green Expo.

Hedge explains that temperature is adaptive. So the ideal thing to do is measure what the outdoor temperature was the previous month and set the thermostat accordingly.

Wouldn't it be nice if life was so easy? In the case of employees at Go Green Expo, their building is pre-war, which means the heat comes from a radiator and is nearly impossible to regulate. Things are complicated by the air-conditioning unit, which opens to the outdoors, sending chilly air throughout the building's ducts. The copy room gets the brunt of it -- employees literally see their breath when they go in to make copies -- though vents open onto the main floor. One employee has placed plastic bags over the vent to minimize the chilly draft.

women get colder than men

If it seems like there's a gender divide, you're right. Muscle insulates, says Hedge. Since men tend to be more muscular than women, they tend to run warmer. Their clothing adds to it too. Men often dress for work in suits and pants and sweaters that allow only their face and necks to be exposed, whereas women's clothing tends to expose more skin.

Many women turn to the trusted office sweater draped behind their chair for comfort. That's not enough for Nicole Bradshaw-Jackson, who works as a public liaison for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. She comes to work dressed for the warm Atlanta days, but you'd hardly know that it's 75 degrees outside. She keeps wool socks, a long scarf and a sweater at her desk, and frequently wears all three. She supplements them with a space heater under her desk and about five glasses of hot tea throughout the day.

"I have to wrap myself up to keep warm, and when I'm cozy, I get sleepy," she says. She recently switched to a new department at the CDC and is hesitant to call building services to raise the thermostat because she doesn't want to start a temperature war in her new office. "Yesterday I was cold and the people on both sides of me were burning up," says Bradshaw-Jackson. "I had my thick sweater on."

Before the department switch, she was "infamous" to building services. She didn't want to seem like she was nagging them, so she made sure to ask how their families were doing and what they were up to for the holidays.

heated arguments

Temperature wars at the office are a real problem. Judith Bowman, a workplace etiquette expert and author of Don't Take the Last Donut, was once called in to mediate an office fight over the temperature. One employee was notorious for sneaking to the thermostat and changing it to her liking while the others weren't looking. To solve the dispute, Bowman recommended taking a poll. If 99% of the people are comfortable, then there has to be a give and take," she says.

Hedge, the Cornell professor, says technology is getting to the point where companies can individualize workspaces, similar to cars. He says it's possible to put ventilation openings in the floor and allow employees to control the air that comes out and even the direction it flows. Another approach is to separate the "spines" that connect cubicles and put ventilation in there, or do it through the duct work in the floor.

That way, employees can dress for the weather outside -- not the weather inside.

Category: General
Tags: Cold, Warm

Since: Mar 13, 2008
Posted on: April 24, 2008 11:36 am

The Office Temperature Wars

I am in my late 20's and work in a small office with two women (50+) who must go through constant hot flashes coupled with extreme coldness thereafter because the thermostat goes from upper 70's to low 60's in a matter of an hour.  I have a space heater and a desk fan handy througout the day.

Since: Jan 24, 2008
Posted on: April 18, 2008 1:03 pm

The Office Temperature Wars

welcome to my a commercial landlord I deal with this issue everyday...and in over 15 years of managing office buildings, the one thing that is clear is you will never satisfy everyone with regards to temperature long as you are dealing with the "human element" there will also be someone who complains...insofar as the effect on productivity, I would have to believe that whether it's too hot or too cold, either way you will have less productivity out of employees 'cause they're going to spend their time complaining instead of's easier that way I guess...enjoy your weekend!

Since: Feb 22, 2008
Posted on: March 12, 2008 9:43 pm

The Office Temperature Wars

i had the extreme pleasure, or displeasure, depending on who you ask, to be the keeper of the temperature for a large office complex with around 200 employees...........

it was a tough balance keeping the varying temperatures, personalities, hormones, and still trying to be in compliance with the work place guidelines..............for you see this was not just any workplace, it was a "federal" facility with "federal" guidelines and "federal" bean counters that I had to answer to.  Thankfully the entire system was realtively new and computerized with easy access controls from a central monitoring point, my office........  they expected us to reduce energy consumption by 10% per year....after a few years,  you bottomed out and where left with unhappy was at that point i was more concerned with providing comfort without sacraficing employees frostbitten extremeties...........

Since: Aug 4, 2007
Posted on: February 11, 2008 11:06 pm

The Office Temperature Wars

If you are an aspiring sports journalist, who do you talk to about changing the temperature outside?  I am tired of sitting through college baseball games in the cold, wind and rain.  Likewise for soccer games.  Or what about in the gym?  They keep the temperature down so the players dont die from heat exhaustion but everyone has to wear a coat.  I would like to see an expert on doing that and I will buy the book or whatever. 

Since: Aug 16, 2006
Posted on: February 7, 2008 8:00 am

The Office Temperature Wars

Interesting information. I know where work I am constantly fixing the thermostat. People complained about the drafts from the vents, so our facilities will close the vents if requested. This just forces more of the hot/cold air out of the other vents. So I sit here at my desk with a vent directly above me. Someone gets hot, so they move the thermostat switch to C. The temp in my cubicle will then drop about 10 degrees as I get hit with an arctic blast. It happened again yesterday, so I went over and put the switch back to the middle. Someone noticed and said, don't move that it is hot in here. I asked her to step into my cubicle. Her first response was, "wow, it's cold". I said exactly, leave the switch alone. Use a fan at your desk if you are hot.

Since: Sep 9, 2006
Posted on: February 6, 2008 4:39 pm

The Office Temperature Wars

Nice informational article.  Interestingly enough, we're constantly cold here (unless I'm going through hot flashes, then that's a different story), but I have a space heater, usually have a sweater and in the winter, I actually have a blanket (Steelers of course), to wrap up in just to stay warm. 

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