When your AC doesn’t work, neither do your employees
It’s mid-August, and the summer slump is in full swing. How many of the following symptoms do you see in your office?
- Workers sitting at their desks but clearly daydreaming instead of working
- People taking long lunches outside
- Lots of cigarette breaks (even people that don’t smoke) and Starbucks runs
- Fewer early and late meetings scheduled because so many people are waltzing into the office at 10 and skipping out at 4
Just about everyone is distracted by the warm sunny days and thoughts about what they’d rather be doing than working in the office. And some people even go so far as to admit it: 25% of office workers admit that their productivity declines in the summer.
When you have office temperature problems because your HVAC system is not working like it should be, the problem gets much worse.
How office temperature problems affect productivity
It’s really just common sense: people who are uncomfortable will be more easily distracted from their work tasks. But you may be surprised at the pervasiveness of the office temperature complaints and the size of the impact on your workers’ productivity.
According to a CareerBuilder survey of 4,285 full-time US workers, nearly half felt that their workplaces were either too hot or too cold. That’s quite a lot of distracted people.
Also, a 2004 Cornell University study conducted at an insurance firm on Orlando, FL found that workers who feel too chilly make more mistakes, and those mistakes can cost employers as much as 10 percent more in labor cost. The study found that errors fell by 44 percent and work output increased by a whopping 150 percent when the office temperature was increased from 68 degrees to 77 degrees. (Here’s a related article from the Society of Human Resource Management about how office temperature affects productivity.)
And keep in mind that there are other factors that can compound how people perceive the comfort of the office temperature. You may be aware that your workers’ weight, age and gender can have an effect on how they perceive temperature. But there are even more factors that are working against you, especially in the summer months:
SEASON: Depending on the season, we expect a certain temperature range and become acclimated to them. That’s why people can tolerate a colder temperature in winter and a warmer one in summer. So if your office is too cold in the summer, people are more likely to feel uncomfortable and get distracted.
CLOTHING: What people wear also affects their comfort and their productivity. As a result, people can tolerate cooler winter temperatures because they are wearing thick fabrics, layers and sweaters. In the summer, people are wearing looser, lighter fabrics and are more likely to feel cold when the office temperature is chilly.
HUMIDITY: Too much humidity in the air, which is common in the summer, can have a major impact on comfort and productivity. When the air contains lots of moisture, the body can’t evaporate sweat and the air feels heavy on the skin. If your office temperature is a bit warm but also has humidity issues, you may be seeing serious productivity issues.
Related article: Bad Hair Days & More: Humidity and Air Conditioning Problems.
Office temperature recommendations
Here’s what you need to know when people in your office get hot under the collar about the office temperature:
Ideal office temperature settings
Since you’re probably a veteran of the office temperature battles, you won’t be surprised to learn that there are varying opinions about what the ideal office temperature should be. But most research seems to put the optimal office temperature between 71 and 73 degrees F.
That being said, your location and the type of activities your workers are doing may affect your optimal office temperature. The Cornell study that found an ideal office temperature of 77 degrees was conducted in Orlando, where workers may be acclimated to higher temperatures.
Don’t ignore office temperature variance problems
A common cause of those office temperature battles is widely fluctuating temperatures from one part of the office to another. People don’t know how to dress and get really grumpy when they have so spend part of the day in an icy cubicle and part of it in a sweltering conference room. Talk about productivity decline: how much do you get done in a meeting where everyone can’t wait to escape due to the temperature?
Office temperature variance is caused by problems with your HVAC system, but can be simpler to correct than you might imagine. If you’ve renovated your office without modifying your ductwork, you might just need some re-routed ducts to get your office temperature back to normal. You could also have maintenance issues that need to be addressed. The trick is to get to the cause of the problem, and that means you need to call in a knowledgeable HVAC company to evaluate your system.
To learn more about what temperature variance is costing you and how to deal with the problem, grab our helpful guide to Improving an Imperfect World: Mitigating Office Temperature Extremes.
Tackle high humidity
Too much humidity makes people hot and interferes with their work, but it can have even more far-reaching and serious consequences. Uncontrolled humidity can cause mold and mildew to grow in your air conditioner and your ventilation system. The spores then get circulated throughout the air in your building where they can cause illness.
Related article: Air Conditioner Mold: Can You Get Sick From Air Conditioning?.
Again, your HVAC system is the likely culprit. If you have an air conditioning unit that’s too large for your space, which is surprisingly common, it turns on and off frequently without ever running long enough to remove humidity from the air. There could also be other HVAC design issues contributing to the problem, such as the need for additional zones. You need a professional evaluation to determine a plan of action.
Fix your office temperature issues with HVAC preventative maintenance
Many of the causes of office temperature problems can be easily prevented. How? By being vigilant about preventative maintenance of your air conditioning and heating systems.
Investing in a maintenance contract will ensure that your system is working as it should be. And considering how much the uncomfortable office temperature is costing you in productivity losses, maintenance pays for itself many times over. Here are just a few of the maintenance tasks that keep your office temperature comfortable:
- Your technician will replace or clean air filters and check for any other blockages that are preventing air from flowing through the system.
- Fan blades will be cleaned, speed adjusted if needed, and motors inspected for proper operation.
- Your tech can check the condition of the ducts and look for leaks.
- Evaporator and condenser coils will be cleaned, which helps the unit remove heat more effectively.
BONUS: Did you know that HVAC preventative maintenance also prevents breakdowns and increases the life span of your equipment? Find out more: Air Conditioning Maintenance Doesn’t Cost. It Pays..