If you want to improve productivity this winter, turn up the thermostat. Then next summer, turn it down.
It’s as simple as that, at least in offices and workplaces where the winter temperature is below 77 degrees Fahrenheit, the magic setting at which workers are at their peak.
Who says? Cornell University, for one.
Back in 2004, ergonomics researchers at Cornell, which is located in New York’s cold, snowy Finger Lakes region, studied insurance office workers and found that at 77 degrees Fahrenheit, the workers were keyboarding 100 percent of the time with an error rate of 10 percent. At 69 degrees, typing time went down and the error rate shot up to 25 percent.
A temperature price tag on productivity?
The issue of office temperature is bubbling up again, spurred by a summer of record setting temperatures across the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere in the world. New studies now not only confirm Cornell’s findings, but are putting a productivity price tag on the Goldilocks’ dilemma of being other than just right.
This summer as records were being shattered from Denver to Des Moines, energy companies urged us to set our thermostats higher to conserve power. In some parts of the U.S., brownouts and air conditioning shut downs were as regular as the rising sun. The utilities saved power, and customers saved money.
But as indoor temperatures got nudged north of 77, an insidious price was being paid by employers. For every degree rise in temperature productivity was declining about 2 percent. With a setting just four or five degrees higher workers are about 10 percent less productive. That’s about 30 minutes of lost work time.
Japan discovered the consequences of higher thermostat settings after the earthquake and tsunami that wiped out the Fukushima nuclear plant in March 2011. The government ordered reductions in energy usage, and suggested offices be set no lower in the summer than 82.4 degrees (28 Celsius). Studies by Waseda University architecture professor Shin-ichi Tanabe found that productivity was being lost at the 2 percent per degree rate.
In 2010, Solomon M. Hsiang published research on the effect of high temperatures on productivity, estimating the correlation between a one degree Celsius rise and a 2.4 percent loss of productivity. He looked at national economies, rather than individual workers, while Prof. Tanabe examined the effect on groups of employees.
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The Washington Post fretted just this week that “a hotter world could make us all less productive.”
For now, most of the country is safe from the effects of warmer temperatures. As the northern hemisphere heads into winter, the issue becomes warmth, which brings us back to Cornell and the low temperature effects it found.
In the intervening years, other studies have been conducted confirming productivity losses as office temperature changes. Where Cornell found 77 degrees to be the winter magic setting, others suggest a lower temperature may be just as good.
Analyzing some two dozen studies of call center workers and simulated office work, researchers from Helsinki University and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory determined office worker “performance increases with temperature up to 21-22 degrees C (70-72 F),
and decreases with temperature above 23-24 degrees C (73-75 F).”
So to be productive, make sure your winter thermostat is set somewhere in the “not too hot, not too cold” comfort range. Of course, you won’t please everyone. CareerBuilder surveyed workers just before winter three years ago and found almost half of them thought their workplace too hot or too cold.