Temperatures across the country are rising, which means tempers in most offices are also flaring. For workplace operations, facilities teams, building managers, and other folks responsible for optimizing the workplace, temperature complaints often surge during the summer months. As the AC kicks in (and the new season of Game of Thrones premieres) July and August are all too often dominated by snide jokes from some employees about how "winter is coming" and exasperated retorts from others to "just put on a sweater."
One of the reasons why temperature wars flare during the summer is over-air conditioning. Theories abound regarding why it occurs, whether it's even an issue, and how to fix it. Time to set the record straight. Here's how to respond to some common misconceptions about the role of AC in the office temperature wars and some tips on how to make peace in the office.
Myth: Sure, the AC is high, but it’s not a big issue.
Reality: Over-air conditioning is a rampant—and expensive—problem.
Facilities teams are often under-resourced and under-appreciated. Compared to big capital projects, addressing individual comfort issues in the workplace might seem low priority. However, over-air conditioning is a rampant problem that can have a big impact on an organization. A 2009 federal report on public buildings noted that a significant proportion of its buildings were operated at temperatures well below an optimal indoor temperature, leading to 61% of building occupants feeling too cold. Numerous studies have found upwards of 40% of workers dissatisfied with the temperature in their offices. Overcooling is costing U.S. businesses billions of dollars every year in unnecessary energy use, decreased worker productivity, and increased sick days.
Myth: Thermostats (and the people who set them) are sexist.
Reality: The building standards that govern comfort criteria for the indoor environment are based on decades of ongoing research in thermal comfort.
When tempers flare, the finger-pointing begins. In the summer of 2015, a flurry of media outlets, from local morning shows to heavy-hitters like The New York Times, TIME Magazine, and Fortune Magazine claimed that over-air conditioning happened because of gender-bias in the buildings industry. Catchy headline, but not exactly true.
Much of the recent press regarding gender and office temperature cites a Nature Climate Change article based on a research study from the Netherlands with a sample size consisting of only 16 Dutch women. By contrast, ASHRAE 55, the industry standard on Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy, is based on a body of research analyzing various factors that impact the perception of temperature.
Myth: Women are always cold and men are always hot.
Reality: Gender is just one factor to consider in the complex issue of personal comfort.
Part of the reason why the "thermostats are sexist" story caught on so quickly was because everyone from building managers to receptionists assume that women are always cold and men are always hot. We hear this misconception a lot. We hear it so often that our President Lindsay Baker and one of our resident "thermal comfort nerds" took a look at data collected from Comfy to answer the question is there a correlation between gender and temperature preferences?
Our conclusion: people fall on a spectrum of temperature preferences. Although women might fall towards the cooler end and men fall towards the warmer end, we didn't see a big gender divide. Gender is one of many factors to consider when calculating temperature preferences. Personal temperature preferences are really complicated and constantly changing. The way we experience temperature is impacted by a lot of factors.
Myth: It's impossible to satisfy everyone.
Reality: Comfy can help.
Although building managers want to make their buildings comfortable for everyone, catering to every person's perception of temperature is humanly impossible, without some help.
The best way to address different temperature preferences is to give employees choice and control over where and how they work. Comfy is unique in that it can make this happen easily, by connecting to existing building management systems and allowing employees to request warm or cool air through an easy-to-use app. In addition to enabling easier, more precise control over heating and cooling, Comfy uses machine learning to identify patterns and automatically tune temperature settings in different parts of the office with those preferences in mind.
Is your office prepared for summer? If not, it's time to get Comfy.