The impact of office comfort on productivity
Have you ever noticed that in some offices during the summer, many of the ladies have donned sweaters and some have even powered up space heaters beneath their desks when it’s 85-95 degrees outside?
Back in the day, many of the men usually wore long-sleeved shirts with a jacket and tie. Such heavy attire might have been the original reason to keep offices cooled to below 73 degrees in summer, but that rationale for blasting the AC is long gone, now that business casual dress codes are squarely on-trend.
Ergonomic studies have shown that temperature is a key variable that can impact worker performance. A Cornell University study from 2004 found that chilly workers use their keyboards less on an hourly basis and make more errors. It also showed that both the quantity and quality of work output climbed with temperature increases up to 77 degrees. Another study published by Berkeley Lab indicates that the performance of office work is maximized at a temperature of about 73 degrees. The corollary is that the same temperature is the upper bound for optimal office temperatures in winter. However, mismatches between actual indoor office climates and optimal working conditions persist.
A survey of 100 U.S. offices buildings found that winter workday indoor temperatures were near the upper boundary of ASHRAE's thermal comfort zone for winter during a significant fraction of the time. Given information on how temperatures affect thermal comfort, work performance, and sick building syndrome symptoms, there is an opportunity to simultaneously improve thermal comfort, decrease sick building syndrome symptoms, and improve work performance by avoiding work-time temperatures in winter greater than approximately 73.4 °F in U.S. offices.
The total estimated annual economic benefit is $3.4 billion with an annual implementation cost less than $0.4 billion.
Based on analyses of this opportunity, the estimated benefits include an average 0.2% increase in work performance in 40 million workers, an average 12% reduction in winter dissatisfaction with thermal comfort in 40 million workers, and prevention of 8 million cases of weekly sick building syndrome symptoms. The total estimated annual economic benefit is $3.4 billion (see Figure 1) with an annual implementation cost less than $0.4 billion. Energy costs for space heating would be reduced by an amount that was not quantified.
Figure 1 - Estimated annual benefits of eliminating winter work time temperatures greater than 73.4 °F in U.S. offices. Not shown are thermal comfort improvements and energy savings for which no economic estimates are available, and annual implementation costs roughly estimated at less than $0.36 billion.
So the first step is simply to acknowledge the reality that bad temperature controls negatively impact work performance and productivity, - not to mention employees’ comfort levels. The reasons for poor control of indoor temperature in U.S. offices are not always obvious, but options for improvement are increasing.
New technology allows building managers to more easily make positive changes in temperature set points, calibration of thermostats, and adjustment of the balance of air supply to different rooms. Smarter buildings with better environmental control systems are becoming the norm.
Better indoor temperature control and air conditioning management are worth the effort to improve the work environment. Optimal thermal zones may be achieved by monitoring a building’s air conditioning system using the Internet of Things (IoT) sensors strategically placed around the workplace. Using an intelligent dashboard like those that digi thermo provides, facilities managers can monitor their systems and be alerted if anything goes wrong. IoT technology and the power of data analytics make it easier to reach and maintain better thermal comfort.
As a bonus benefit, any business can save energy and money on their utility bills by adopting smart systems for indoor climate control. By avoiding temperatures below 72, or even 75 degrees in the summertime, there’s an opportunity to simultaneously improve employee comfort and work performance, while reducing energy consumption and your carbon footprint. It’s good for business, the bottom line, and the environment.
Cornell University. Study links warm offices to fewer typing errors and higher productivity.
Berkeley Lab, a U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory Managed by the University of California. Better Control of Indoor Temperatures.