Business of Well-being

Office Temperature - Cold Workplaces Freeze Productivity

The simple thermostat -- the location and cause of countless office arguments. Finding the right temperature for everyone is difficult even at home, let alone trying to satisfy an entire office. However, there is emerging research that shows a link between office temperature and employee productivity so this long-lasting debate can finally end.

A 2010 study conducted by Professor Alan Hedge and published in the journal, HVAC&R Research, involved monitoring employee computer activity - words typed and percent of mistakes made - and compared the results to a nearby air sampler that recorded the office temperature at their workstation.

At a temperature of 77 F (25 C), the participants typed with just a 10 percent error rate, but when it cooled down to 68 F (20 C), error rates increased to 25 percent.

"Given that we're warm-blooded animals, there is an optimal range of temperatures for us inside buildings to allow us to be comfortable," says Hedge, director of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory at Cornell University.

"The problem is that in most buildings, the temperature doesn't really match what would be comfortable for human beings or an effective one to promote productivity. When people are feeling cold, they will spend time trying to make themselves feel warmer by doing things like rubbing their hands or moving around the office. These aren't bad things to do, but you're not focusing on work. The cold is distracting."

Warm office temperatures - as most comedians and T.V. sitcoms can attest to - affect women more than men. Women are more productive in a warmer office environment than men are because of differences in metabolic rates. So, employers are encouraged to find a temperature that factors in the needs of both men and women.

Making the office temperature comfortable for everyone is more than just comfort; it can come down to affecting a company's bottom line. Aside from improved productivity, employers reduce their CO2 emission and save money.

"The results of our study also suggest raising the temperature to a more comfortable thermal zone saves employers about $2 per worker, per hour," says Hedge.

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