15th Aug 2022
Summer Scorcher: How to Create Thermal Comfort in the Office
Thermal comfort describes whether a person feels too hot or too cold. We all know the feeling… Someone turns the air conditioning or heating up too high, and the temperature gets uncomfortable.
As we’re in the height of summer, we thought we’d share why and how exactly heat makes it hard for you to do your work properly.
Of course, we also give some tips for employers to help keep your office cool this summer.
Is there a legal maximum office temperature?
If this summer has taught us anything, it’s that most offices in the UK aren’t designed for hot weather! When the mercury starts to rise, the combination of poor ventilation, heat-retaining materials and little to no air movement is a recipe for disaster, which caused an outbreak of google searches for the legal office temperature.
The truth is, while there’s no legal “maximum temperature” for UK offices, we think it’s a moral obligation for all employers to make sure their employees are comfortable. Not only is it the right thing to do, but extreme office temperatures can lead to multiple problems.
How High Temperatures Affect Health
When we can’t cool down properly, we risk developing ‘heat stress’. This is common in high-temperature environments with little-to-no air circulation, especially when we’re doing physical work. If your body can’t cool down quick enough, it loses the ability to control certain elements. You can then get cramps, low concentration, exhaustion and in extreme cases, heat stroke and fainting.
How High Temperatures Affect Concentration
When you get too hot, it’s significantly harder to concentrate. Our brains are constantly looking for ways to cool down, and usually, the easiest way to do that is to leave wherever you are. So if you’re too hot, you’re likely to ‘switch off’ and dream of how to escape the heat rather than cracking on with your work.
How High Temperatures Affect Motivation
It’s already hard to be motivated by work when the sun is beaming down and you’d rather be outside! But when the office is too hot, it makes it even harder. Even more so, when people know the office will be uncomfortably hot, they’re less likely to go into the office in the first place. Meaning they work from home, or if your company isn’t flexible, they might call in ‘sick’.
How to ensure your people have thermal comfort
The most effective way to maximise thermal comfort for your employees is through a proper Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system. HVAC systems are both cooling and heating. A good one controls the indoor climate in your office and ensures that people aren’t too hot in the summer, but are warm enough in the winter.
Your HVAC system can be run by renewable energy sources too, so if your building has solar panels for example, it can be an energy efficient installation.
Something that affects the performance of your office’s heating and cooling system is the building’s windows. It’s not rocket science here – if your office has unobstructed south facing windows, it’s going to be exposed to more sunlight.
In some instances, clever design of sills or the construction of the windows themselves can combat the amount of sunlight that filters in to the office. This therefore helps to regulate the temperature on particularly sunny days. In the absence of ‘clever design’, simply ensuring that people can close a blind over a sunny window that’s creating screen glare or making the space too hot is a simple fix.
Open plan offices allow for greater movement of air than closed off, cubicle style offices. When cooler air can move around the office, it helps to cool down the overall temperature of the space. Likewise, it allows heat to dissipate more easily, reducing the chances of “office hot spots”.
Here’s another tip for those with multi-room/floor office plans. Set the office thermostats slightly cooler in one room than the other. That way, people who are too warm can move into the cooler environment, and vice-versa.
Over the last decade or so, there have been numerous innovations in furniture that can help us to stay at a comfortable temperature. One great example of this is the Celliant material used in many items of Steelcase furniture. Steelcase claim that this material, embedded with naturally occurring ‘thermo-reactive minerals’, can ‘increase energy, increase blood flow and offer better thermo-regulation’.
We’re also seeing a huge increase in “mesh” furniture. This material allows air to pass through easier than traditional ‘upholstered’ furniture, which gives greater levels of thermal comfort.
It might sound unbelievable at first, but a company’s culture can be a big factor in the thermal comfort of its employees. Those with a more relaxed, flexible culture may encourage people to move around the office more. So people can to work in a place that is the most comfortable to them, whether that’s a cooler, more draughty space, or somewhere in the shade.
We’ve all witnessed arguments over the office temperature, so if people can dress how they like, they can pop a hoodie or jumper on if the AC is a little chilly for them, or remove layers if they’re a little warm.
Create a comfortable office for your people
It’s not just during the summer months that we need to provide comfortable spaces for our people. If you’re looking to create a space that your employees love to work, talk to us.