Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Value of a Comfortable Office

As I sat at my desk sweating in the dead of winter, I got to thinking about how people's comfortable working temperature must be cultural. Offices are hot in Japan. In the summer, their CoolBiz campaign has businesses setting the thermostats to 28 degrees Celsius (82.4 degrees Fahrenheit). I just checked, it is winter and the thermostat in my office is reading 30 degrees (86 degrees Fahrenheit). In contrast, offices in the U.S. have traditionally been regulated to 72 degrees Fahrenheit.

I know my productivity suffers when I'm uncomfortable. It suffers doubly when I can only type with one hand because I'm fanning myself with the other. But is this just because of differences in cultural sensitivity to heat?

Out of curiosity, I did a quick search and found this interesting opinion piece written by Professor Shin-ichi Tanabe of Waseda University. Some of the interesting points in his opinion piece are:

  • A guidebook recently published by the Federation of European Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning Associations (REHVA) reports that 21.8°C is the optimal room temperature to foster intellectual productivity.

    21.8°C is a little over 71 degrees Fahrenheit...almost exactly what offices in the U.S. set their temperatures too. Perhaps we have a hint why U.S. and European workers are the most productive in the world?

  • ...28°C seems a little too high for a room temperature setting in summer. The most comfortable temperature when sleeping naked is 29°C. People burn more calories in the workplace than at home where they are more relaxed, and however casually they may dress, they are still not naked in the workplace.

    While there are studies showing some variance in comfortable working temperatures depending on culture and gender, it would seem that 28°C can't be comfortable for anyone.

  • Raising the cooling temperature of a standard building in Tokyo from 25°C to 28°C could increase energy efficiency by 15%, which is equivalent to saving ¥72 per square meter of office space during the COOLBIZ campaign. On the other hand, the resulting decrease in working efficiency could cause a loss of 13,000 yen per square meter of office space.

    What kind of company loses 13,000 yen to save 72 yen? A Japanese company, apparently.

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