Your office is freezing and it’s hurting productivity

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(This post originally appeared on The Washington Post)

It’s August, so naturally you want the air conditioning on. You want to make sure your office is comfortable, cool and a good working environment for your employees. But there’s a problem.  Your air conditioning is set too high and it’s costing your company in a big way other than your electric bill. It’s hurting your people’s productivity.

A 2010 study that measured employees’ computer activity, including errors made, found “noticeably” lower results in output and productivity in offices with temperatures in the low 70’s (which is typical for most companies) when compared to workers in offices with temperatures in the higher 70’s.

“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,” said Alan Hedge, director of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory at Cornell University in an article this week from Bloomberg. “These aren’t bad things to do, but you’re not focusing on work. The cold is distracting.”

This is not the first time that air conditioning has received a bad rap. Cries of gender bias were raised earlier this year after a study revealed that most air conditioning units are more designed for the metabolic rate of a 40-year-old man – which runs up to 30 percent faster than a woman’s. Conditions in offices would need to be four degrees warmer in order to be more amenable to women.

So what’s the optimal temperature for your office? Of course, no one knows for sure. The Bloomberg article cites Japan’s “Cool Biz” campaign that launched back in 2005 and called for public offices to operate at 82 degrees. By most accounts it’s been a success, according to the article, and it has not only saved companies cash, but reduced carbon emissions and even spurred demand for a clothing line promoting the campaign.

The summertime always hurts a company’s productivity, what with casual Fridays, multiple holidays, extended vacations and early office hours. So I guess we might as well add our too cold offices to the list of culprits. The good news?  Labor Day’s only 11 days away!


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