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Ask any office worker about their No. 1 workplace gripe and be prepared for some venting about the temperature.
It’s a valid complaint – just a few degrees difference can affect everything from mood to productivity and, in some cases, health.
But temperature preference is highly personal and getting an entire office to agree on the right thermostat setting can feel next to impossible.
In fact, a 2015 survey of 129 U.S. office workers found 42% thought their building was too warm, while 56% found it too cold.
In case you think this is all just guess-work, building managers use a specific formula for determining office temperature, known as the “Predicted Percentage Dissatisfied,” or PPD. The PPD considers everything from clothing to metabolic rate.
But as the war of office temperature rages on, PPD is being brought into question.
To settle this debate once and for all, we’ve outlined the case for warmer and cooler offices, along with some tips on how employers and employees can try to find a compromise that works for everyone.
The Argument for the Warmer Workplace
Let’s go back to the PPD for a minute. First established in the 1960s, the formula assumes the metabolic rate of the average office worker is that of a 40-year-old, 70 kg man.
But a recent study from the Maastricht University Medical Centre found that women have lower metabolic rates and would on average prefer offices to be 3°C warmer.
A study measuring the activity of nine women in an insurance office found that their productivity spiked when the office temperature was set to 25°C, while they were half as productive with twice as many mistakes when the thermostat was set just 5°C lower.
And the benefits aren’t just for women. Studies have found that warm environments are better for creative thinking, and that being in a warmer room increases “warm feelings” towards coworkers.
The Case for a Cooler Cubicle
So why have a colder office, given these findings?
A study that asked students to choose the most cost-effective phone plan in both a cool and warm room found that the group in the cooler room chose the right plan twice as often.
Cooler rooms have also been found to keep workers alert when doing repetitive tasks, and high temperatures (above 27°C) have been found to negatively impact the ability to do math.
What Should Employers Do?
In the face of competing evidence, striking a compromise is often the best solution.
Somewhere between 22 and 24°C is considered “room temperature” in many workplaces, a range that should suit most worker’s needs.
But it’s also important to listen to employees who express their discomfort and to show that you take their concerns seriously.
If possible, arranging seating plans so colder employees can sit next to windows and warmer ones can remain in the shade acts as an acknowledgment of their needs and comfort levels.
Those workplaces that want to go the extra mile could consider zoning, where multiple thermostats are used to control temperatures in different areas of the office.
A warmer-than-usual copy room might need a cooler setting, while an area that receives limited natural light could have a higher one.
Similarly, lighting has been shown to have a psychological impact on how employees experience temperature.
A cooler light can produce the sensation of coldness, while a warmer one can have the opposite effect. Providing a range of lighting options to employees can increase their comfort.
Even with all these considerations in mind, temperature-controlled offices might not be best for employee health to begin with.
Some studies suggest that too much time spent in a climate-controlled environment can contribute to obesity and metabolic disorders.
Employees unhappy with their office temperature should consider moving around throughout the day and spending some time outdoors. Quick at-your-desk fixes can include blankets, sweaters or desk-fans.
Of course, if you’re really concerned the temperature is affecting your work, you should speak with your employer. But a little bit of compromise can go a long way, and so can warm or cold beverages when you’re looking for some relief!