With one of the hottest summers on record, your office is sure to have had its share of temperature issues. Employee preferences for office temperature differ but steps can be taken to enhance employee comfort.
With hot and cold calls constantly topping the list of employee complaints, IFMA conducted a survey of over 450 Facility Managers in 2009 to investigate the issue of office temperature. Different preferences resulted in employees using everything, from blankets and gloves to personal fans, for temperature control. During the summer one Facility Manager even reported seeing an employee bring a wading pool into the office under their desk, to cool their feet.
While some employees complain about the sweltering heat, other employees are simultaneously freezing. Uncomfortable employees mean more than complaints. Productivity suffers. The costs of this are much more substantial than the energy costs of over-conditioning a space. While utility costs are a large driver of finding HVAC savings in commercial buildings, consider the 3-30-300 rule and work to optimize for occupants as well.
Linking Office Temperature and Productivity
Ergonomics expert, Chris Adams, notes that as temperature increases or decreases, productivity is affected. This occurs even within the ASHRAE Standard 55 acceptable temperature levels. In general, ASHRAE Standard 55 states that levels can range from 67 and 82 °F (specifics can be generated based on season, clothing worn and more).
Often cited is the Cornell study of productivity at a large Florida insurance company. The study found that: as office temperatures rose from 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit, typing errors fell by 44% and output increased by 150%.
So how can office temperature issues be addressed to increase employee productivity as well as comfort? Several options can be used together to help increase employee comfort.
Throw The Old Dress Code Out The Window
Some organizations are moving towards more casual dress days. In organizations with a casual dress code like many tech, media or ad firms, employees have more freedom to dress appropriately for the weather outside. Where possible, encourage behaviour to allow all employees to dress comfortably and appropriately for the weather.
Specific summer exceptions for organizations that have a strict dress code can be a welcome change to employees. It can also serve to mitigate differences in summer attire between men and women in the office.
According to the IFMA survey, only 43% of respondents relax their dress codes in the summer. Adopting a summer dress code, however, is the fastest and easiest way to help mitigate some temperature complaints. For example, Japan has been running a Cool Biz campaign nation-wide for over a decade during summer months. Cool Biz helps promote more moderate office temperature.
Revisit Office Layouts
Your office layout can significantly impact occupant comfort. Office layouts are constantly changing based on your business. With the office trending towards more employees in less space, thermal comfort is a concern. Consider the amount of employees your office HVAC unit was designed to condition. If you exceed the designed capacity then issues are likely to occur. Conversely, if your HVAC unit is oversized for the amount of space you have, it will be difficult to achieve and maintain an optimal temperature.
Seating arrangements can also impact comfort on an individual level. A new seating arrangement can result in someone with the unfortunate luck of being right in front of a cool blast of air. This can cause severe thermal discomfort. It comes with an easy fix though. Identify these cases and areas where there are chronic office temperature complaints. Follow up and look at changing the layout or adjusting dampers accordingly.
Flexible Workspaces, Flexible Temperature
You can’t talk about office layouts without realizing that they are changing drastically. Layouts aren’t just about fitting more people into less space. Workplaces are being designed differently to become more human. They are now being built to create healthy environments, with employee wellness in mind. Temperature plays a big part in a healthy environment.
We have seen workplaces move towards custom rooms for different tasks – from collaborative spaces to areas for concentration. Temperatures in these rooms can be further adjusted to the type of task being completed. In a room for creativity temperatures could be slightly higher, freeing up more energy for creative efforts. In an area where less strenuous tasks are being performed a cooler temperature can be provided.
The WELL Building Standard supports this idea. The standard sets out the importance of providing flexible office temperature zones for the Individual Thermal Comfort (1 of 100 different performance metrics that make up the standard):
Thermal comfort preferences are highly individual, and can be affected by metabolism, body type and clothing. These factors make it nearly impossible to find a temperature that will satisfy all occupants in the same space at the same time. Providing areas with different thermal gradients, as well as individual thermal comfort devices can ensure that building occupants can choose areas with temperatures that best fit their thermal preferences (termed “free address”).
This feature requires spaces to vary in temperature and gives occupants the flexibility to select a work area where they are most comfortable (termed “free address”). The feature also provides personalized thermal comfort devices allowing occupants to adjust the temperature in their immediate surroundings in order to achieve better thermal comfort. (WELL Building Standard v1. with May 2016 addenda)
As the WELL Building Standard highlights, comfort preferences are highly individual. The best feedback you can get on thermal comfort is from your employees themselves. Work with your employees for feedback on temperatures.
Certain apps can make this easier. The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted technology solutions in a discussion on Facility Managers dealing with employee comfort. CrowdComfort, Comfy and Vector Occupant were among the office thermal comfort apps highlighted. These apps provide an opportunity for employees to be heard and have control over their own comfort levels.
For example, Comfy provides immediate response when 2 or more occupants make a request for cool or hot air in their space. Aggregated information is compiled to trend on a long term basis. HVAC adjustments are automatically made over time. However the system requires a direct connection to, and ability to control your Building Automation System (BAS). This may not always be possible. Other options like CrowdComfort handle the aggregation of temperature complaints and provide an open feedback loop between Facility Manager and employee.
These types of tech applications give employees control over the temperatures that actually make them personally productive. Studies show that despite overall trends, employees perform better in the temperatures they prefer, even if outside recommended comfort zones. Further, the Smithsonian reports that when workers can control the temperature near them, sick leave is 30 percent lower than in places that they can’t.
Workplaces are already looking to empower employees by providing more choice for employees in terms of where they work. Including a feedback mechanism for temperature, whether it be through an app or otherwise lets employees know they are being heard. Adding an additional level of control over something like office temperature serves to further empower employees.