The rain, wind, and falling leaves make it feel like fall is officially upon us in most of the United States (although some regions are still experiencing an Indian Summer). This makes many of us think of warm beverages and sweaters, unless you work in an office that turns the heat up WAY too high all winter long. In fact, working in a space that is either too hot or too cold can effect productivity:
One of the painful ironies of office life is that we can never quite get the temperature right. We spend our summers shivering in meat lockers and our winters sweating in saunas.
Central air hasn’t made us comfortable, so much as made us uncomfortable in a different way.
The experience isn’t simply unpleasant. It comes with a real financial cost… [according to one study], when temperatures were low 68 degrees, employees committed 44% more errors and were less than half as productive as when temperatures were warm a cozy 77 degrees.
Cold employees weren’t just uncomfortable, they were distracted. The drop in performance was costing employers 10% more per hour, per employee. Which makes sense. When our body’s temperature drops, we expend energy keeping ourselves warm, making less energy available for concentration, inspiration, and insight.
This importance of creating comfortable work environments is interesting to me. I know a lot of freelance workers that have a favorite coffee shop to camp out in, often one of the criteria being it’s warm and cozy in the fall and winter.
I also vaguely recall a couple of studies that found play did not occur for animals outside of certain temperature ranges. (If anyone can find one of the studies please let me know).
As humans, we are adaptable to almost all climates from the Arctic to the Serengeti. So I think it is surprising to people to discover just how fragile we are.
Speaking of fragile, the article also mentions the connection between feeling cold and feeling lonely:
In a fascinating study reported in the prestigious journal Science, psychologists uncovered a link between physical and interpersonal warmth. When people feel cold physically, they’re also more likely to perceive others as less generous and caring.
When we’re warm, on the other hand, we let our guard down and view ourselves as more similar to those around us. A forthcoming paper from researchers at UCLA even shows that brief exposure to warmer temperatures leads people to report higher job satisfaction.
The unconscious desire for physical warmth is thought to be the reason lonely people bathe longer, more frequently, and use higher temperatures.
We often describe people as “cold” or “warm,” so it makes sense our perceptions would match our physical sensations. I wonder if this has anything to do with the reported “Seattle Freeze” phenomenon and in contrast the southern United States’ reputation for being open and hospitable.
While the article in Fast Company focused on job productivity, I think this is an interesting observation into overall well-being and improving environments in general.
Do you find you perform better at certain temperatures? Is one temp better for working over playing? For example, I like it to be warm but not hot while doing non-creative work, but if I’m doing an art or construction project or something creative I actually like it a little bit warmer. Leave your complaints or comments below.
- Want More Productive Workers? Adjust Your Thermostat (fastcompany.com)
- The Office Temp That Matters (andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com)
- Cold employees make more errors (blogs.vancouversun.com)