How Air Conditioning Impacts Productivity

Companies are constantly on the hunt for ways to fine-tune employee productivity. It’s all about maximizing the efficiency of the people and their work environment, down to details like office layout, furniture, and even wall colour.

Just about everything around us seems to have some impact, however small, on the quality of work. While some of this research is questionable (can a plant really make you work harder?), there’s no arguing that temperature has a huge effect on our ability to get stuff done.

The Importance of Climate Control

There’s a strong link between the temperature of a workplace and the productivity of its workers. If it’s too cold, people have to expend energy to keep themselves warm, which means less energy available for concentration and insight.

A team at Cornell University studied the effects of temperature on productivity by measuring the computer activity and keystrokes of employees. They examined both the number of keystrokes per minute, as well as the amount of mistakes they made while typing.

The results were clear. Workers in offices with temperatures below 21 degrees Celsius had both a lower output and more mistakes than those in warmer offices. While keystrokes aren’t the best way of measuring productivity, workers in warmer offices made more than twice as many, showing a clear difference in output.

But turning up the temperature doesn’t always mean a rise in productivity. While workers in a warmer office had a higher output than their chilly co-workers, the boost plateaus around 25 degrees. And productivity actually starts to decrease when the temperature hits 29 degrees or higher, so air conditioning is essential in the summer.

The Ideal Office Temperature

It’s clear that air conditioning is a major factor in worker efficiency, and employers stand to benefit from creating a comfortable workplace. So why do many companies get it wrong?

According to one survey, 80% of office workers complain about the temperature in their workplace. Of those 80%, 42% find it too warm, while the rest are left in the cold.

Not only does an errant temperature make the office’s occupants unhappy, it impacts the bottom line as well. In the United Kingdom alone, workers waste an average of 2% of office hours dealing with climate control, costing the economy an estimated $13 billion in lost productivity each year!

The trouble is, there’s no such thing as the perfect office temperature. The ideal temperature for productivity is one you don’t notice. That temperature is not the same for everyone.

To start, men and women tend to feel differently about it. On average, women have lower metabolic rates than men, and fewer muscle cells that produce heat. As a result, women tend to feel the effects of the cold faster than their male co-workers. The ideal temperature for women is often 1-3 degrees warmer than that for men.

Sex isn’t the only factor that impacts how we perceive the temperature. People with a higher body mass index feel the effects of the heat, and older people are more susceptible to the cold.

That’s not accounting for the effects of humidity, which makes the temperature feel warmer for everyone.

In the end, when it comes to setting the thermostat in the workplace, there’s no perfect solution for everyone. Employers who want to maximize productivity may be better off investing in personalized heating and cooling solutions for their workers. Small space heaters and mini air conditioners may well be the future when it comes to maximizing productivity.