How room climate influences productivity in the office
There’s always a general macroclimate in the office. It’s primarily caused by influences that are controlled centrally, such as heating, air-conditioning, window ventilation and direct sunlight – but it can also depend on the building structure. Of course it’s no wonder you can’t achieve the ideal temperature for the personal comfort of each employee in the room with this approach. But that’s not all: according to studies there is a definite connection between the productivity of individual members of staff and the room climate. In this article, I want to explain how it works.
People are not helpless beings as such. They are equipped with some fascinating functions and skills by nature, enabling them to operate in different climate zones.
Temperature regulation is part of human nature
We can for instance use what we call our thermoregulatory functions to regulate heat and cold by means of unconscious physical reactions such as perspiration or shivering. But we can also use conscious decisions to influence the way we perceive heat and cold – by choosing the right clothing, the intensity of our (physical) work and how long we spend in a particular room. It becomes a problem if our subconscious physical reactions inhibit our work, or there is less opportunity for conscious influences – for example in the case of the office worker who spends an average of eight to ten hours a day in a sitting position on a regular basis, without moving from that room.
Restricted temperature regulation in the office
Essentially four factors can be held responsible for a comfortable room climate in the office: air temperature, air humidity, air movement and heat radiation. However, perception of these factors varies depending on the individual – furthermore they can only be influenced and altered to a certain extent.
As far as temperature is concerned, there are clear specifications especially for offices: according to these, the air temperature should be a minimum of 20 °C and not exceed 26 °C. However this guideline does not take into account the fact that individuals perceive temperature differently, in particular men versus women. So there’s no such thing as an optimum room temperature. The thing is, the general room temperature can only be used to create a universal macroclimate, over which an individual has only limited influence.
There are guideline levels regarding the ideal air humidity as well. For example if the room temperature is 20 °C, the humidity should not exceed 80%. At 26 °C the upper limit for humidity is just 55%. If the humidity is any higher, the room climate feels unpleasant. Furthermore the unconscious thermoregulatory function of “perspiration” is not fully effective because sweat cannot evaporate at high humidity levels. The body does not cool down sufficiently, with the consequence that affected office staff may suffer circulation problems and this will put a ceiling on their productivity.
People whose desk is by a window may find it easier to decide when the window is opened and closed but they are more likely to complain that there is a draught, in other words they have problems with the air movement in the room. The basic rule is this: at air temperatures of 20 °C to 22 °C the recommendation is medium air speed from 0.10 m/s to 0.15 m/s, at 26 °C an air speed of up to 0.20 m/s is OK. If the speed is any higher it feels draughty and the body perceives this as localised cooling. The neck and shoulder area, ankles and back are most sensitive to this. Shivering, which serves as a thermoregulatory function and kicks in automatically in such situations – just like perspiration as mentioned above – is not conducive to work. If your workstation is draughty, you may suffer from muscle tension, neck complaints or even catch a cold as a result. This will also cause a drop in productivity.
The final aspect that is responsible for employees’ wellbeing at work is heat radiation. That’s why a room with cold walls and surfaces doesn’t seem cosy: because the body gives off heat to the air through radiation, and therefore to the surrounding surfaces. That deprives the body of excess heat. But the reverse is also unpleasant: this is when the temperature of nearby surfaces is higher than body temperature as a result of direct sunlight or the effects of heaters. This causes the body to absorb additional heat. As a consequence the body resorts to its thermoregulatory function of perspiration to cool down, and employee productivity is compromised again. The problem is made worse if the surfaces within the room are at different temperatures – for instance warm ceilings, cold walls and floors. Ideally the radiation temperature should not be more than 2 °C higher than the air temperature.
Research confirms the link between room climate and productivity
Evidence of this link has been provided by a study conducted at Cornell University (Cornell‘s Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory) in Orlando (Florida). In a series of experiments, nine office workstations were fitted with a mini sensor that recorded the temperature at each workstation every 15 minutes. At the same time scientists determined how long the employees spent on keyboard-based work, and additionally how high the error rate was as they worked. They found out that the productivity of the test candidates was 100% at a room temperature of 25 °C and the error rate was just 10%. Once the room temperature had been reduced to a cooler 20 °C, productivity of participants was just 54%, and the error rate even rose to 25%. This result speaks for itself, doesn’t it?
Temperature regulation in the office with the Klöber Klimastuhl
To solve the problem of a macroclimate that cannot be adapted for individuals, we at Klöber developed something really special, the Klöber Klimastuhl. With the “heating” and “ventilation” functions on every chair, employees can set their own personal temperature for optimum comfort. The heating/ventilation function is integrated into the seat and backrest, and each has two adjustment settings. The heating function warms the body contact surfaces through the seat and back up to a maximum of 37 degrees – normal human body temperature. The ventilation system conducts excess heat away from the body, as well as allowing up to 95% of moisture from the seat and up to 74% from the backrest to evaporate, which results in a pleasant cooling sensation.