How much thought have you given to your office air quality, or office air temperature? It could be one of the most significant, literally invisible factors in boosting your office productivity.

This article, part of our Future Office series, lays out how you can take your business from survive to thrive, by looking a little closer at the air in your office.

Cartoon business man stands next to an office air conditioner with arrows pointing out of it.

Breathe the office air in…and out…

Reviewing the quality and temperature of your office air can result in surprising productivity boosts. Firstly, there’s the issue of the amount of fresh air an office receives.

Research from Harvard tested a group of employees under different conditions. Some days they tested in a standard office, the other in a simulated ‘green office’, with better ventilation and reduced carbon dioxide emissions.

Employee cognition improved a massive 61% in the scenario with higher office air quality, and doubling the ventilation resulted in an improvement of over 100%! Here’s a video presentation of that research.

This one’s too hot, this one’s too cold!

Now to the issue of office air temperature. Most workplaces seem incomplete without disagreements over how hot or cold the air conditioning is set.

And it’s not just a superficial inconvenience! Research shows office air temperature matters. A 2015 survey found 53% of respondents felt less productive when they were too cold, and 73% felt unproductive when they were too hot.

There’s a gender element too. A study from 2015 shows women are more likely than men to feel uncomfortable with the temperature of an office environment.

It all boils down (pun intended) to average differences in body size, metabolic rate, and different amounts of body fat between people. Because women are smaller, they produce less metabolic heat than men. That means women are on average less comfortable in temperatures comfortable for men. Plus, as Dr Karl points out, men tend to wear heavier clothes, like suits.

Unfortunately, the temperature of office air conditioning tends to be set by men, for men. This puts women at a disadvantage, and they’re more likely to be impacted with less than ideal settings. For a longer explanation of the science of this, check out this article.

Woman sitting at her desk in from of a table fan, clearly the office air conditioner is set too high for her.

Warmer office air temperature – the lesser of two evils?

Despite staff reporting decreased productivity in both colder and warmer than ideal environments, some research suggests slightly warmer conditions are preferable.

But not too warm!

A Cornell study found increasing the temperature from 20°C to 25°C improved productivity and reduced errors. Meanwhile, a multi-study analysis suggest a 2% drop in productivity for every degree over 77°F (25°C). So perhaps somewhere on the top end of 20-25° is ideal, maybe adjusted by season.

Room to Breathe

So, what’s the best way to manage office air temperature? Creating flexibility is key. Remove the gender bias by having a female employee set the thermostat. Your male employees might just get a boost in performance if it’s set a little warmer. Plus, letting the office air temperature rise a few degrees will take strain off your power bill, and be a win for the environment.

You could level the playing field even more by relaxing the dress code a little, if it’s appropriate. That way staff can dress to the conditions, both at work and at home.

And pay a little bit of attention to the office air quality. Open more windows if you can, and talk to building management about increasing ventilation. Plus, add some office air filters in the way of greenery to give your office an oxygen boost. We’ve got a whole article on adding plants to your office.

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