As Londoners, we like to complain about the weather – it’s one of our favourite pastimes. In fact, office smalltalk has survived on it for decades. But is it productive?
With the recent snow and chilly conditions, February has firmly made its frosty presence felt, so complaints from employees about office temperatures will undoubtedly have increased.
The “too hot or too cold in the office” debate should serve as a wake-up call for senior managers to check that the environment they provide for their employees is setting them up for success.
Achieving an optimal temperature should be high on the priority list; it is a vital step towards improving employee productivity – a concerning subject for the whole country.
Legally speaking, the temperature of a workspace should not slip below 16 degrees celsius. But this can still sometimes feel cold, and the knee-jerk reaction is often to crank up the heating and turn on portable heaters to feel more comfortable.
This, however, can mask other issues.
We took part in a new office productivity study, backed by the government, which uncovered for the first time how environmental factors in UK workplaces, such as fluctuating temperatures, wear workers down. Significantly, humidity and carbon dioxide levels were also revealed as important factors.
Plummeting outdoor temperatures can mean that windows in offices are rarely or never opened, limiting the introduction of fresh air and elevating CO2 levels, which can drastically decrease cognitive functions.
The study revealed that, in one building, people actually worked 38 per cent faster when CO2 concentrations were reduced. But compared to temperature, the effect of CO2 in our workplaces generally goes unmonitored and undetected.
Even if buildings meet ventilation standards or use air conditioning, this may not mean that high CO2 levels are being effectively measured and reduced. A symptom of elevated concentrations can be your office feeling “stuffy” – often mistakenly put down to high temperatures.
So while employees may want to feel warmer, think first about how much fresh air they are receiving, rather than just about how changing the temperature may affect working performance.
Admittedly, office ventilation may not be a business leader’s top concern, but it plays a major role in creating a work environment that helps employees feel healthy and happy.
For example, air conditioning, which is commonly used to regulate the temperature in modern buildings, can remove moisture from the atmosphere. And the lack of humidity in an office can inadvertently increase the likelihood of the spread of illnesses – not unlike being on an plane.
Workplace design should also be considered, as temperature complaints often centre on some areas being too hot and others too cold.
Some arrangements might see employees lined up along windows, where space tends to be colder, while the photocopier sits proudly in the middle of the office where it is usually warmer – an obvious error.
This is where hot-desking and flexible working policies can make an impact. Allowing employees to sit wherever they like in the office in order to feel more comfortable can help minimise complaints.
When it comes to settling the office temperature debate, making the case to senior managers that the environment is having a detrimental impact on performance and wellbeing is likely to help move the needle.
A few simple changes around the workplace could make everyone feel much happier, healthier, and more productive.