Illustration: Ashley Siebels
Don’t you dread walking into work on a Monday morning, still groggy from a long weekend, only to get hit in the face with your usual mountain of work…and bitter cold room temperatures on top of all that?
The way most building temperatures are regulated is based on an old model based on the metabolic rates of “the average male,” according to a 2015 study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
But some companies are giving employees more individual control over how cool or warm they want to be while managing their work.
Luckily some offices are offering solutions to this age-old problem.
Where gender comes in
If you’re shivering at your desk, the temperature may not actually be adjusted to your gender.
You read that right: the office thermostat wars are actually backed by science.
A 2015 study published in the journal Nature Climate Change says that the way most building temperatures are regulated is “based on an empirical thermal comfort model that was developed in the 1960s,” according to ASHRAE.
This model isn’t just outdated, and apparently it also doesn’t apply to everyone.
The same 2015 study also says this in terms of the model: “Standard values for one of its primary variables—metabolic rate—are based on an average male, and may overestimate female metabolic rate by up to 35%” — average male in this case meaning a 40-year-old man weighing 70 kg, according to an article in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
What that means: offices are not currently built for women, who give off more heat and tend to be colder as a result.
So if your office tends to keep things really cold, you should know that reportedly, there’s an optimal temperature for getting things done— also according to science.
The perfect office temperature exists
A 2006 study from researchers at the Helsinki University of Technology and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that when temperature is up to 21-22 degrees Celsius, the level of performance goes up, and when the temperature is higher than 23-24 degrees Celsius, the level of performance goes down.
The study also found that “the highest productivity is at temperature of around 22 degrees Celsius,” which is about 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
Some institutions rely on personalization to keep employees comfortable.
The headquarters for the Agnelli Foundation in Turin, Italy is reportedly being revamped with a game-changing feature: “thermal bubbles” that stick with employees wherever they go while at the office, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Carlo Ratti, who leads the architecture company that is making changes to the office space, told the Wall Street Journal about the new technology: the building will have thousands of sensors with the power to change the lighting and temperature. On an app, workers set the temperatures they want, and just like magic, their phones can control heating and cooling systems in the ceiling. If someone leaves an area, the systems switch back to “standby mode,” Ratti said to the Wall Street Journal.
So, what happens when one employee thinks it’s too hot, and the other nearby thinks it’s too cold? The system will reportedly find a happy medium by averaging the temperatures.
“Our aim is to shift the focus from heating or cooling spaces, to heating or cooling people and the space they are occupying,” Ratti told the Wall Street Journal.
Another technology is changing the way people who work in traditional office spaces with chairs and desks operate, and aims to increase energy efficiency.
Enter the Hyperchair.
In addition to Wi-Fi and sensors, the desk chair has heating and cooling units inside- the temperature can be adjusted on the chair, or using a smartphone.
The chair also “communicates with the building,” according to Fast Company.
“There might be a surge in electric prices on a hot afternoon, and so it sends the signal, ‘Hey, let’s use the chairs more today because we’re going to turn down the air-conditioning unit,'” Peter Rumsey, CEO of Hyperchair, told Fast Company.
If you don’t have access to a Hyperchair, you could always try a good-old blanket, but with a twist. The USB Heated Shawl and Lap Blanket warms you up when you plug it into a USB port, and reportedly has a button to keep it from falling off of you as you work.
But if if that’s not your style, you could try something smaller to warm up your cold hands as you type.
The company Smoko makes toast-shaped “USB wired” hand warmers, which gets your hands toasty when you plug them in.
Whether it’s either too cold, too hot, or feels just right, technology is paving the way toward better days at work.
But while we’re not all lucky enough to have control the temperature and lighting in the spaces we work in, we can hope that one day, new technologies like this go mainstream. Until then, we can dream.