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Air Conditioning Wars Across Summer

Air conditioning wars across summer!

If you are reading this article in the office, it’s likely that half of your co-workers are currently either too hot or too cold. Workplace design and fit-out company Evoke Projects looks at the summer air conditioning wars happening right now!

Gender or individuality?

A CareerBuilder survey revealed that almost half of workers are not happy with their workplace temperature.1 One in five people confess to sneaky thermostat changes, while 15 per cent actually argue with co-workers. The New York Post explains that today’s office temperature range was set in the 1960s based on a man’s resting metabolic rate. Of course, a man traditionally wore a long sleeve shirt and always had that suit jacket to fall back on!

Women do naturally tend to have lower body temperatures than men, which means the air conditioning wars could perhaps be named the gender wars! However, if you add the variables of age, weight and health, it is not as straightforward as this. Individuality is the real issue.

Researchers can’t agree either published a list of “ideal room temperatures”, which varied between 15ºC to 33ºC.2 No wonder people disagree!

  • 15ºC – Meeting rooms at Facebook prefer this – however, productivity drops to 90%.
  • 16ºC – The minimum office working temperature.
  • 19ºC – Expect productivity to drop to 95% at this temperature.
  • 20ºC – Advocated by Chartered Institute of Business Surveyors
  • 22ºC – Helsinki University recommendation.
  • 25ºC – Cornell University supports this temperature.
  • 33ºC – Productivity drops to 85% at this temperature.

The article reported that “typically warmer temperatures are better for tasks involving creativity, while cooler temperatures keep employees alert while they are performing monotonous tasks”.

Workplace design and compromise to the rescue

It’s clearly not possible to keep every team member at their optimum temperature all the time. However, with the right mix of clever workplace design and communication, it should be possible to reach a happy compromise about the best physical environment.

Let’s start with the HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) system. The best option is a ducted air conditioning system with zones, smart Wi-Fi sensors, timers and geofencing / energy saving capability to save money when the office is empty. Create activity based work zones within your office fit-out, setting different temperatures depending on the task (warmer for creativity and cooler for monotonous tasks—although 15ºC might be taking it too far!).

Your flexibility around air conditioning may be limited by the office space that you lease. Perhaps there is already a ducted or reverse cycle or window/wall box system. Don’t lose hope. It’s often possible to retrofit a ducted system with smart sensors and new zones. Discuss all the options with your commercial landlord during your next office fit-out or lease renewal.

Having an open conversation with your team about the office temperature and trying to reach a compromise is a great way to improve morale. It reduces tension if everybody understands that a compromise is needed, and that the thermostat is strictly out of bounds!

WELL Building Standard

Thermal comfort is covered by the WELL Building Standard. The WELL concept takes a holistic approach, providing a combination of research-based interventions to help design buildings that address individual thermal discomfort and support human health, well-being and productivity.3 You can read more about the WELL concept online or contact the workplace design team at Evoke Projects for more information.

Self-help measures

Even with the best workplace design and air conditioning system, individuality will still mean that some people are uncomfortable. There may be particularly hot or cold spots within your office fit-out, so staff should be permitted to work in their preferred space. The self-help measures below can also improve the employee experience.

Hot under the collar? Cool down with these tips:

  • Desk fan or mini-USB fan
  • Avoid desks that catch the afternoon sun
  • Keep two cooling towels in the fridge so there’s always a fresh one
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Take regular breaks
  • Wear linen clothing

Cold hands? Warm your heart with:

  • More clothing layers, particularly wool
  • Hot drinks instead of cold
  • Space heaters
  • Frequent movement around the office and taking the stairs when you can

Feeling comfortable at work is important for workplace well-being as well as productivity. It is worth spending time at a management and team level to find a solution.

For workplace design and fit-out ideas to reduce the air conditioning wars in your office, please call Evoke Projects on 1300 720 692.

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