It's a familiar debate in any professional setting, but believe it or not, there's a science to setting the best office temperature.
You wear a short-sleeved shirt to work in the winter and a sweater in the summer. If you don't get to your desk and get your jacket off quickly enough, you're drenched with sweat—in February. You head to the thermostat only to find a locked case because some unknown entity decided the best office temperature is one that makes everyone uncomfortable. Does this sound familiar?
It's not just your office, either, that debates this classic conundrum. A Google search results in 104 million articles about the best office temperature. Everyone from the BBC to The Wall Street Journal to the government of Australia has something to say about the comfort of employees. Chances are, you don't need to search that far; ask almost anyone who works in an office and you'll get the same answer: it's always too hot or too cold.
Why does office temperature matter?
In some ways, this seems like an easy problem to solve. If you're cold, you put on a sweater. If you're hot, loosen your tie or take off your jacket. It's not so simple, though.
Comfort and employee productivity go hand in hand. Try to type while your hands are ice cold. It doesn't work so well. Cold conditions take your mind away from your work, too. It's hard to concentrate on that important memo while you're shivering.
Likewise, if you're too warm, just try staying awake after lunch. It's a challenge, at best. You squirm in your seat trying to find a cool spot. You fan yourself with magazines, and you take extra trips to the water fountain to fill your bottle with that cool elixir of hydration.
It's not just you, either. Research backs this up. In a study published in the journal Building and Environment, worker motivation and performance both increased at a comfortable temperature. What is that temperature? In this study, it's between 71.6ºF and 78.8ºF.
Another study referenced by the Association for Psychological Science notes that a comfortable office environment could save a company "up to 12.5% of their wage costs per worker." And what magical point do they suggest is the best office temperature? 77ºF in this particular study.
Certainly, there's more to employee productivity than just finding the best office temperature. But by some estimates, poor productivity costs between $450 and $550 billion each year. You read that right: billion. That's no small change in exchange for turning up the heat (or the AC) a couple degrees.
What to do: finding and setting the best office temperature for your team
Research studies aside for a moment, you'll never make 100% of your employees happy with any temperature. There's always "that guy" who wears sandals in the middle of winter and the woman who wears a cashmere sweater to the beach in July.
For that matter, you may not be in a building where you have any control over the temperature. Here are four suggestions to help individual employees regulate their own environment:
1. Buy desk fans.
You can find personal fans for around $15. That may add up if you have a couple hundred employees, but take a second to refer to those lost productivity numbers above. It might not be such a bad investment after all. Incidentally, this tip applies to personal heaters, as well.
2. Open windows.
Fresh air does wonders for morale. If you can, open some windows on those balmy spring days. As a bonus, you'll also save on your utility costs.
3. Move people around.
This might take some effort, but for a smaller team, it may be well worth your time. Is there a warmer section of your office? Or an area that stays cool as a cucumber? Try moving desks so people can be in their preferred environment to some degree.
4. Buy foot warmers.
The cost on this ranges dramatically, but you can opt for the simple hiking-style foot warmers, electric insoles, or even heated mats. While this may seem like a silly solution, the journal Energy and Buildings notes that foot warmers can counterbalance cooler office temperatures.
So what is the best office temperature?
When it comes to finding one single number, is it impossible? With different metabolisms, different ideas of comfort, different tasks, and different needs, is there any one number that we can (mostly) all agree on?
Both Singapore's former prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, and The Smithsonian Magazine agree, the best office temperature is 71.6º F. So go set that thermometer and work in comfort all year long.
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What do you think? Is your office too hot or too cold? Let us know if you've found the perfect temperature for you and your team.