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Office temperature and productivity: the hot and cold of it.

Posted by: Megan Troster

When thinking about your ideal working environment, do you ever give consideration to what the air temperature would be?

 Whether your boiler breaks down or the air conditioning system gives up on you, it only takes a couple of degrees change either way to have an effect on how comfortable your working situation is. Recently, our air conditioning broke down during the hottest week of the year and this is when we really noticed the dependence on what is recommended as an optimum office working temperature. Our employee’s became lethargic, inefficient and distracted from their tasks.

There have been a number of studies conducted to determine what temperature the thermostat should be set at for optimal productivity. Of course, it should come as no surprise that with more studies comes even more disagreement. A key issue that arises regarding an optimum ‘working condition’ is getting the condition right for the varying demographic of people in the one room. Gender variation is one of the biggest issues mainly because men and women’s different biology creates varying ideas as to what constitutes as a comfortable working environment.

An ergonomics study conducted by Cornell University headed up by Alan Hedge (2004), Director of Cornell’s Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory has proven that a thermostat altered from 68 Fahrenheit to 77 Fahrenheit over a gradual monthly period reduced employee typing errors by 44%. The study used miniature personal environment sensors for sampling air temperature every 15 minutes. They then measured the amount of time that employees typed and the amount of time they spent making error corrections. At the start of the research, workers were nearly 50% more productive when the thermostat was set at the higher temperature of 77 Fahrenheit. At this temperature the workers were keyboarding 100% of the time with a 10% error rate, but at the lower 68 Fahrenheit their keying went down to 54% of the time with a 25% error rate. The study proved that when the temperature was lower, employees didn’t just feel cold; they felt distracted from their roles. Therefore we can conclude that the drop in temperature cost employees 20% per hour, per employee.
So what is advised? The majority of research has demonstrated that the optimal office temperature is between 70 and 73 degrees Fahrenheit and this temperate is best for maximum worker productivity. Advice from independent sources such as EOC Services who provide air conditioning services for domestic and office use, recommend the optimum air conditioning temperature to be around 73.4 Fahrenheit whereas Cornell University suggested 77 degrees Farhenheit (25 degrees Celsius) as the optimal temperature.

Here in the UK the British government recommends 74 degrees Farhenheit and in addition it also surfaced that this temperature would appease around 70% of people.


Here are the statistics:


The statistics clearly show that just a few degrees difference can have 5% or more degradation on productivity levels. Research claims that a simple one degree shift in temperature can have an impact on the output of the office. Unfortunately, dialing a given temperature into the thermostat is unlikely to solve the problem because you need to take into consideration other variations such as the temperature outside, clothing, weight, age, and humidity.

Humidity in particular effects the way you perceive temperature. If it is humid your body cannot evaporate sweat as easily because the air doesn't move over the skin as much and this makes it feel heavy, leading to heat exhaustion. This is one of the key elements for worker productivity, being either to humid or not humid enough affects your perceived temperature and comfort level. Too cold however, and the human body consumes more energy to keep warm, making less energy available for concentration.

So, next time somebody fiddles with the air conditioning, consider what it might do to you and your team’s productivity.


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