Blowing hot and cold: How office temperature impacts mood and performance
We decided to dive into the world wide web and uncover what South Africans typically search for when they type the word ‘office’ into the search bar. (We used this nifty site in case you’re interested). So, what did we find? Aside from standard search results (most related to coronavirus and office safety) we found one that truly titillated our thinktanks, and it was this right here: why are offices so cold?
How. Very. Interesting. (And 100% relatable). Some office workers may be familiar with what we (unscientifically) call the ‘chilled toes and tips’ phenomenon. John, as ruler of the aircon, sets the temp to sub-zero and blasts an icy breeze through your workspace to the point that your toes and every tip of your body – nose, fingers, you name it – feel chilled to their very core. Now you may not think this is too big a deal; a thaw in the carpark often brings sweet relief, but temperature has quite an impressive role to play in how well you function at work (and in general). The South African Labour Guide even dedicated an entire page to the do’s and don’ts of thermal harmony, so perk up and read on we say!
How hot or cold you feel could impact your cognitive ability
Believe it or not, but temperature can aﬀect perceptual, cognitive and psychomotor performance (such as hand-eye coordination). That’s a couple of degrees up or down having a pretty significant impact on task accuracy, overall performance and even the ability to be more customer-orientated and give bigger customer discounts. Anyone else giving the aircon a hesitant side eye?
When office temperatures dip or peak your body gets put under possible thermal stressors which can inhibit performance beyond certain extreme thresholds. Now your body can compensate fairly easily – humans are made to adapt after all – but as things get a little more uncomfortable and your thermal stressors increase beyond what is known as ‘your zone of comfort’, you can experience radical decreases in performance.
In a recent study both heat and coldness were found to have negative impacts on performance beyond certain thresholds. Wanna know what those thresholds are?
From 10°C and lower and 30°C and higher your performance begins to decline.
Man, that’s cold – temperature can impact your ability to be cold towards someone else
Earlier we mentioned that temperature could even impact the likelihood of you giving customer discounts. “But how?!” you might excitedly exclaim. Well, researchers found a link between the experience of physical temperature and feelings of psychological warmth and coldness. If its warmer, a salesperson may feel more inclined to be, ah, warmer towards a customer looking for a bargain. If it’s colder, they may freeze out any discount dreams. Remember, we’re not talking about Sahara levels of warmth or Arctic levels of cold, but warmer and cooler temperatures that still fall within certain zones of comfort.
Think about the psychological impact of temperature when it comes to a team working in an office; how do you think it would impact co-worker interactions, levels of patience and empathy? It’s also worth noting that physical coldness has also been linked to feelings of loneliness and social exclusion. And this is on top of potential decreases in performance. In one study, researchers found that the performance of office workers decreased by 2% per degree increase in temperature between 25-32°C. This temp range is slowly pushing people out of their zones of comfort, so their decline in performance makes sense. As a general rule of thumb 22°C is an ideal temp for an office environment and has been linked to the highest levels of productivity.
So we’ve chatted temperature and performance, but why are offices so cold?
In an article published by the New York Times they quote research citing the origin of chilly office temperatures as coming from “a decades-old formula that uses the metabolic rates of men”. Now we’re not saying men can’t also feel a little cool but the majority of research indicates that office temperature is predominantly calibrated to the thermal comfort of men. This is probably something of a generalisation but it’s worth taking on board. But, having said that, and in the interest of not causing a ruckus…
There’s another reason offices are so cold. According to research done by Popular Science “air conditioning systems are often oversized and struggle to find the right balance of air temperature and humidity” which means they tend to overcool and fumble around a bit.
So, what’s the solution? Ban John from having control over the aircon remote, demand your aircon is set at the perfect 22°C (around 24-26°C in winter) and thrive like the thermo-regulated productivity gem that you are.
At Office & Co. the temperature is always right. We make sure our fully serviced Cape Town and Joburg office spaces have temps to keep you comfortable and productive, on top of boardrooms and brainstorm spaces where the aircon is under your control. Explore our office space today; we’re fully COVID compliant.
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