“Thermostat wars” have been a well-documented and debated part of office culture for decades. When you cram dozens or hundreds of people into a shared space, you can expect some divergence in comfort. Because the air temperature is driven off a thermostat, every person in that zone must acclimate to the conditions — hence the thermostat war, wherein occupants frequently attempt to adjust the setpoint to suit their preference. So what is the ideal temperature, and how can companies inspire a truce amongst officemates?
According to guidelines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the ideal office temperature is somewhere between 68 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s quite the range of acceptability, created in large part because office attire is much less uniform than when the workforce was mostly men wearing suits and coats. This new range was established on the heels of a Cornell University study which found a 25% rate of errors on computer keyboards when the temperature hit 68. At 77 degrees, the error rate was only 10% but increased 3% for each degree beyond that. Not only is productivity a concern, but offices which over-air condition the building can lose money to high energy bills. There are big dollars at stake when conditioning the office.
Challenges to Perfection
For starters, most people aren’t average. So if the average preferred temperature is 73, you’re going to have people on both sides of the spectrum who are not too hot or too cold. Secondly, female coworkers tend to have a lower metabolism than their male counterparts and more often desire warmer temps, adding another wrinkle to the thermostat war. And of course, building conditions can make all the difference in the world: Where are the thermostats located? Is air distributed evenly? Are solar loads or insulation values varied in different parts of the office? All of the environmental conditions can further complicate the situation.
With significant costs and employee well-being on the line, businesses are being proactive in addressing comfort control. Here are some tips for optimizing your environment:
Involve your employees: Poll the people who work in the space and establish a baseline that will appeal to as many of the employees as possible.
Install smart thermostats: Because conditions vary throughout the day, and the air temperature may not be homogenous throughout the space, using smart thermostats to establish zones and set schedules can make your HVAC system more dynamic and responsive.
HVAC check-ups: Routine maintenance such as changing air filters and inspecting ductwork for leaks can boost the performance of your HVAC system, saving money and ensuring consistent air delivery.
Power to the people: Encourage employees to use personal fans, keep a sweater in the office and otherwise customize their workspace to achieve their ideal level of thermal comfort.
Invest in Their Success
In an office, employees are the most important asset. Investing in their comfort — whether through building upgrades, HVAC technologies or personal empowerment — provides a positive return for companies. Don’t underestimate the impact of thermal comfort on productivity and workplace satisfaction, and start looking at these simple ways to improve right away!