Many moons ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emmylou Harris for a music magazine. It was midsummer then, too, and the conversation wandered beyond music. We talked about baseball (she’s a huge Atlanta Braves fan) and also about touring and taking care of your voice on the road, which is when she brought up an interesting theory about people getting sick (think “summer colds”) in the warmer months.
Well, I’m just going to tell you straight up: The legendary singer sort of blamed it on the air conditioning. Specifically, it’s not the actual chilly indoor temperatures in some climate-controlled spaces that she saw as the culprit — it’s the jarring transitions between outdoor and indoor temps, and a few to several times a day.
She wasn’t pretending to have any scientific data, of course, just a whole lot of personal and anecdotal evidence over years of moving from chilly venue spaces to hot (often outdoor) stages and back. But I was reminded of the exchange when I saw some assorted survey and study results from the last couple of years.
CHILLING EFFECT ON PRODUCTIVITY
A 2016 article by Zaria Gorvett for the BBC pointed to a survey by the UK’s Andrews Air Conditioning finding that men wasted 6.4 minutes per day adjusting to office temperatures, while women lost over 8 minutes per day doing the same. Gorvett claims the resulting loss in productivity adds up well into the billions each year. Unlike many U.S. offices, the spaces there were commonly found to be too warm in summer. Almost one-third brought their own fans, while 22% occasionally left the office to cool down. In winter, 69% of women put on extra clothing.
Back here in the U.S., a Cornell University study conducted by Alan Hedge, Ph.D., CPE considered performance and environment in multiple business settings. Hedge is in the Department of Design & Environmental Analysis at the school’s College of Human Ecology. He found that raising the temperature from a probably too chilly 68oF to a probably too warm 77oF had some startling repercussions (in addition to the obvious reduction in energy usage). Errors went down by 44% at the higher temperature, while keying output increased by 150%.
That should translate to some considerable efficiency gains and associated financial savings. It might also be some useful ammo for freezing office workers to pull out of the pocket of the third extra layer they’re wearing the next time this topic comes up with the boss.
CHILLING EFFECT ON PRODUCTIVITY
Of course, what Hedge’s study doesn’t get into is how to broker a suitable temperature somewhere between those two settings. Creativity and technology have been attacking this problem with the modern weapons of choice — phone apps and software — but I’ll have to wait until next month to share some of those details.
The older tactics like locked thermostats or even “placebo” fake thermostats are likely still around, but what are you seeing in your own experiences? Harmony is much more reliably found on an Emmylou Harris record than in a typical office climate discussion, so email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with thoughts, links, quick stories, and I’ll include them in the next part of this update.
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