As someone who spends most of their working life in different business premises and training rooms running workshops, I’m very aware of the need to make sure every participant is feeling comfortable.
So the latest debate about the ideal room temperature at work has caught my interest. Much is being made of some research which suggests men and women have a different ‘ideal’ room temperature for their working environment, with claims that there’s as much as a 2.5 degrees Celsius difference between them.
Here are a few quick points based on my own experience of running around 160 workshops a year in venues all over the UK, for hundreds of participants.
1 – Venues have a responsibility to make sure their air conditioning and heating systems are well maintained and in good working order.
2 – Trainers have a responsibility to find out how these systems work. Extremely good quality demonstrations can be found on YouTube for all the major models. There’s really no excuse for not knowing the basic operation of an air conditioning unit.
3- In my experience, one of the traits that makes us human is our ability to adapt. We are able to work and get on with each other in a fairly wide spectrum of office temperatures. We might have a ‘preference’, but to make out that we start arguing with each other and become wholly unproductive if the temperature drifts from 20 to 22, or down from 21 to 19 degrees is ridiculous. The vast majority of us are able to adapt to these changes – we might put a jumper on, or roll our sleeves up, or take a hot or cold drink. We also, all of us, retain the ability to speak up and ask for a window to be open, or for the air conditioning to be switched on or off or the heating turned down etc. If people don’t feel able to do that in your office or your training environment, then the issue is not so much the temperature, or our bodies and how they feel, but the environment you have created where people don’t feel able to speak up. If that’s the case, the heating and the differences between men and women is not the problem. It’s you.
4 – I’ve never had a single complaint where the air conditioning system is set to maintain the temperature of 21.5 degrees. That means most people taking part in the course, especially if the sun is coming in the window will be slightly warmer than that. Get to know the air conditioning and heating systems and push venues to maintain them properly and above all, encourage participants to speak up and let you know if they’re uncomfortable and all should be fine. I’ve met a few people who will recognise that they prefer it warmer or cooler than that and take steps themselves to maintain their comfort. They don’t expect everyone to change to accommodate them. That’s my issue with a lot of this research and these debates – they make out that everyone is being asked to accommodate an extreme, when in fact, many people who prefer the ‘extreme’, recognise it as such and make adjustments themselves. I’ve never met anyone who expects their colleagues to work in an environment where the office is 25 degrees. Neither have I met anyone who insists on 17 degrees. It isn’t true that we’re at war over room temperature.
5 – Question research which doesn’t make sense. An ‘exam’ type environment, where there’s a prize on offer for correct answers is entirely different from a day spent at your desk, doing a job you might not feel engaged in, or on a training course your boss has sent you on. Your expectations and threshold will be entirely different. It doesn’t follow that ‘comfort’ is related to performance when it comes to a false ‘test’ environment. The cash prize and temporary nature of the test means you are likely to tolerate more extreme variations in temperature than you ever would sitting at your desk on an average Monday morning or on a training course you might have paid a significant sum of money to attend. While I fully accept that our bodies vary according to biology, I don’t believe it is true that women prefer a room 2.5 degrees warmer than men. There’s research that says it’s true, but I don’t believe it is. Listen to the people around you, whether they are colleagues or participants on a course and find the happy medium which works for everyone. The vast majority of us are perfectly capable of arriving at that.