There’s a way to help everybody at the office stay comfortable, and it doesn’t include fiddling with the thermostat

Sound familiar? A British newspaper reports that 70 percent of office workers polled said they were unhappy with the temperature in their office. What’s more, a third of them said they actually got into arguments with coworkers about the issue more than once a month.

Then there are the fellow office workers who secretly adjust the thermostat when no one’s looking. The survey reports that one out of every eight employees admits to doing this. Taken altogether, the survey determined that differing preferences about the temperature is the top cause of office arguments.

Why do we feel so strongly?

We might differ on what the temperature should be, but we tend to all agree that an ideal office temperature contributes to office productivity. A CareerBuilder survey reports that 53 percent of us say we are less productive if the office is too cold.

There’s also research showing that the type of work we do can determine an optimal office temperature. For example, it might make sense to keep meeting rooms warmer because collaboration and creativity increase, as warmer temperatures make us more comfortable and relaxed.

Battle of the sexes

While much of the workplace is regulated, there are no mandates about specific office temperatures. The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does have a recommendation, though. The federal arm says that employers should try to keep thermostats between 68- and 76-degrees Fahrenheit.

That’s a big swing. University studies indicate that an ideal temperature should be about 71.6 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are a woman, you might disagree, and science would back you. A study from the National Institutes of Health says that women often feel colder than their male counterparts at the same air temperature.

“Men are literally freezing women out of the workplace” because of workplace climate standards that were set nearly 50 years ago – when the average office worker was a 40-year-old male weighing an average of 154 pounds.

So, men want it colder while women prefer it to be warmer. There’s also more to it.

What contributes to how we perceive temperature

We now know that keeping the thermostats at 71.6 degrees Fahrenheit doesn’t mean that’s the way it’ll feel for everyone – especially women. Office building designs also contribute to the way we perceive temperature.

Ample amounts of natural sunlight, for example, can make an office feel warmer. Inadequate air distribution caused by older buildings with high ceilings causes HVAC systems to work harder, meaning that the heat or air conditioning might be running continuously. That’s painful to a company’s bottom line.

Today’s offices are not populated by 40-year-old males weighing less than 160 pounds. People with a high body mass index (BMI) will feel warm more quickly, while a low BMI will make us feel cold faster. We also become more easily affected by the cold as we age.

Humidity also can change the way we perceive temperature. Inefficient HVAC systems may not correctly regulate humidity. Office environments with high humidity can hinder your ability to perspire, which can cause exhaustion. So, it might not be just the temperature causing you to feel drowsy. Conversely, extremely low humidity will make the ambient temperature of an office feel colder than it is. The lack of moisture in the air dries out our skin and irritates the membranes of our nasal passages and throat.

And, the perfect office temperature is…

Perfection is an impossible state. The best you can do is determine a happy medium and avoid temperature extremes. Try to maintain a temperature between 72 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

Regardless of the temperature you select within this range, it’s important to discourage office workers from adjusting the thermostat. The better choice is to keep the temperature constant so that people can get used to it and make personal adjustments.

It also might be time to have an audit done on your office’s HVAC system. You might discover you can significantly reduce the energy costs associated with your HVAC system by having it upgraded to use variable frequency drives. This can dramatically change airflow problems, which often are the cause of complaints about it being too hot or too cold.

It’s estimated that installing VFDs on an HVAC system can reduce energy consumption in a building by as much as 70 percent. Learn how we can help you retrofit your HVAC system with VFDs.