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Comfort is a Workplace Equity Issue Too

Sep. 5, 2019
Comfort is a Workplace Equity Issue Too

As temperatures outside fluctuate throughtout the seasons, so does the debate about ideal conditions in the workplace. Whether employees feel the office temperature is too hot or too cold, no one is ever quite comfortable. As a result, employees often take matters into their own hands by adjusting the thermostat, impacting and controlling everyone’s environment.

Office temperatures don’t just impact comfort, however. A recent study by Dr. Agne Kajackaite, Head of the Ethics and Behavioral Economics research group at WZB Berlin Social Science Center in Germany revealed that temperature impacts productivity too; and men and women are affected differently. According to the study, if temperatures are cold, men perform at a higher cognitive performance and productivity rate than women, presenting a gender gap. But when the temperature increases, the gender gap disappears. This finding demonstrates that thermal comfort should be considered a workplace equity issue, such as family leave and equal pay for equal work, but historically it hasn’t been viewed through that lens. This study is a reminder that facilities themselves play an important role. If a workplace is designed or operated to advantage one group over another, even inadvertently, it detracts from workplace equity. Not only does it warrant employers viewing workplace design as a human resources issue, architects and facility managers need to consider the impact of workplace design on equity as well.  


Rethinking Workplace Design  

In discussions around workplace equity issues, employers should add to the list how workplace design impacts thermal comfort. In conversations with architects, employers should convey thermal comfort as a design goal, as architects can play a major role in bringing that goal to life through the incorporation of design elements such as dynamic glass. Real estate teams should also understand the impact of thermal comfort when approaching a new project or renovation, and how their building may impact (sometimes disparately) the wellbeing of the employees who will spend the majority of their daylight hours there.  Facility operation is just as critical as workplace design, as operations teams typically control temperature set points.

The bottom line: Key stakeholders, from employers to real estate teams to architects, should explore ways to design the modern workplace so that all employees are comfortable and performing to the best of their ability.

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