It’s something we’ve all wondered during the summer as we make the step from the scorching outdoor heat into an ice-cold office building or commercial space: does the air conditioning have to be turned down so low?
You’re not just imagining the frigid temperatures of your workplace. All across the globe, offices are cranking up the air conditioning ever higher, even when the weather doesn’t call for such intense levels of cooling.
“My typical summer dilemma: dressing appropriately for the weather outside as well as the office inside #goosebumpsalldayeverday #freezing,” Twitter user @ottogrl tweeted on June 24.
But rather than lament your refrigerator-esque office, you should feel proud. That’s right: a cold office is actually a bona fide sign of success.
“Being able to make people feel cold in the summer is a sign of power and prestige,” Richard de Dear, director of the Indoor Environmental Quality Laboratory at the University of Sydney, Australia, recently told the New York Times.
Just look at the retail world’s air conditioning protocol. Luxury stores like Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman keep their interiors much colder than the more plebian Target, Walmart and Old Navy.
This is going to be the case no matter what you or anyone else says. To large companies, customer and employee comfort is irrelevant when it comes to reputation, de Sear explained. And this air conditioning overload is certainly something to keep the $71 billion heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) industry happy.
In addition to upping the prestige factor, many companies believe that keeping their employees in cold offices will improve their productivity and focus on the job. In reality, the opposite is true. Researchers have found that employees are more prone to mistakes and less productive while working in an office that’s 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit versus 74 to 76 degrees.
Lower temperatures can also impact workers psychologically, with studies showing that people are more prone to be uncommunicative and unfriendly after working in a frigid office. This isn’t that surprising when we consider that we’re biologically wired to associate warmth with the safety and comfort of our parents’ arms, while we instinctively associate the cold with vulnerability and hostility.
Nor are our bodies accustomed to drastic temperature changes that occur when we walk inside a cold building on a hot summer day. The hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates our thermoregulatory system, goes into panic mode when this happens. While the cold might feel good at first, it soon leads to discomfort and unease.
Given the body of scientific research that lends itself in support of higher office temperatures, this should be an easy decision for many offices to make.
By turning up the thermostat just a few degrees during the summer, companies could keep their employees happier and more productive and slash their energy bills, all while maintaining indoor air quality.