Can We End the Thermostat Wars?
Office workers complain it’s too hot or too cold; it’s hard to make it just right
The so-called “thermostat wars” in office buildings have been written about in both the consumer and trade media. Some in the office say it’s too hot. Others say it’s too cold. Building operators, and their HVAC contractors, try to find a satisfactory solution, but it’s elusive.
Software Advice conducted a survey of office workers to provide greater understanding of this subject. It examined employee preferences regarding office temperatures, if greater employee control over temperature would have an impact, and how new technologies might bring an end to these “wars.”
What temperature should the thermostat be set to ensure that employees are comfortable? As the results of this survey show, that’s very difficult to determine. Key findings of the report are:
• Forty-nine percent of respondents report being dissatisfied at least several times a month with their office temperature.
• Forty-three percent of respondents say the office is too warm during the summer, while 57 percent report that the office is too cold in the winter.
• A majority of respondents (57 percent) say that having more control over their office’s temperature would increase their productivity.
• The median preferred office temperature for women is 72°F, compared to 70° for men.
• Frequency of dissatisfaction with temperature increases with age: 46- to 55-year-old employees are 37 percent more likely to be dissatisfied than 18- to 25-year-olds.
ABOUT HALF ARE FREQUENTLY UNHAPPY
The survey found that 49 percent of employees are dissatisfied with their office’s temperature several times a month or more (Figure 1). Ten percent said they are dissatisfied “every day.”
The level of dissatisfaction varies with the seasons. During the milder seasons, the spring and fall, a majority of respondents indicated the office temperature was “just right” — as shown in Figure 2, this was 51 percent in the spring and 54 percent in the fall.
The summer and winter are when the problem is predominant. In the summer, 43 percent say the office is “too warm;” only 26 percent say it’s “just right.” In the winter, 57 percent say the office is “too cold.”
MORE CONTROL OVER TEMPERATURE WOULD IMPROVE PRODUCTIVITY
A large percentage of workers, 40 percent, say they have no control over their office temperature (Figure 3). Just 24 percent say they can set the thermostat themselves.
Asked if having more control over office temperature would impact their productivity, 57 percent said it would significantly improve or somewhat improve productivity (Figure 4).
Similarly, asked if greater office temperature control would improve their morale, 69 percent said it would significantly improve or somewhat improve morale (Figure 5).
TEMPERATURE PREFERENCES VARY BY GENDER AND AGE
As noted above, there are different temperature preferences for men and women. The study found the median preferred office temperature for men is 70°, while for women it is 72° (Figure 6).
Forrest Burnson, market research associate, Software Advice, noted, “It’s not too surprising that most people are dissatisfied with their offices’ temperature on a regular basis. The apparent differences in temperature preference between men and women also compounds the problem, especially in offices with more formal dress codes.”
With a more formal dress code, men normally wear suits, which would often be warmer attire than that of women in the office. This would tend to exacerbate the different temperature preferences in the workplace.
The age of workers also impacts temperature preferences (Figure 7). Among younger workers, a much lower percentage are dissatisfied with office temperature. For 18- to 25-year-olds, only 32 percent are frequently dissatisfied (several times a week or more). For 26- to 35-year-olds, it’s just 34 percent.
On the other hand, 69 percent of workers aged 46-55 say they are frequently dissatisfied
CLIMATE CONTROL SOLUTIONS
Software Advice noted that one system that gives workers more control over their office temperature is called Comfy, from Building Robotics. It integrates with the HVAC system and allows employees to make requests from their computer or smartphone to have their space warmer or cooler. It gives them a vote, which is visible to their co-workers, and it provides temporary heating or cooling for 10 minutes. It also learns office preferences, so it can dynamically adjust to make employees happier.
Smart thermostats such as those from Nest and Network Thermostat could be used because they intelligently learn user preferences and patterns and adjust accordingly. Advanced systems can be linked with sensors to gain temperature data from various spaces within the building.
Another possibility is an online suggestion box where employee ideas are discussed and rated by other employees. With respect to office temperature, this can help bring about a collaborative solution.
Finally, Software Advice offers three suggestions for ending the thermostat wars:
• Determine what employees want — Consider sending out an online poll or survey to determine what employee temperature preferences actually are.
• Evaluate new technology solutions — There is a business case to be made for retrofitting an office’s HVAC controls beyond improving employee comfort: These solutions help improve energy efficiency, which saves energy and dollars.
• Consider alternative solutions — Even with smart technology, some employees may still be dissatisfied. Encourage them to speak up if they’re uncomfortable, and see if they can be relocated to a different part of the office.
Burnson said, “Even though the problem is so widespread, there likely will never be an end-all, be-all solution. The new climate control technologies out there definitely help, but open communication and compromise between co-workers goes a long way too.”
Publication date: 8/17/2015