There are few topics as touchy as the office temperature among employees in the UAE.
While we all agree it is too hot outside for a large chunk of the year, it is often hard to find common ground among colleagues on the ideal temperature indoors.
Now a study has explained why that might be the case.
On average men like the office cooler, at 70°F (around 21°C), compared to 72°F (just over 22°C) for women, according to the survey by Software Advice of 129 female and 123 male American office workers in the US.
Almost a quarter of the women surveyed, 23 per cent, actually preferred the office temperature between 75°F and 80°F, compared to just 5 per cent of men.
“This is kind of an interesting thing because it is probably equal parts physiology and culture. Working age men probably have a little bit more body fat than their female counterparts, so they are more prone to heating up a bit,” says Forrest Burnson, a market research associate with Software Advice, which offers detailed reviews and research on thousands of software applications.
“But then think about men in a corporate atmosphere, they are wearing a full suit year-round whereas women might have a little bit more flexibility when it comes to what they can wear throughout the seasons. So that can probably explain the difference there.”
Here in the UAE, though, men wearing the kandura may also feel more sensitive to the cold because of the style and fabric of the garment.
Whatever the reason, it is important to achieve a consensus because a majority questioned in the survey said having control over the office temperature would improve their productivity and morale.
So what can be done?
Mr Burnson suggests trying non-technical solutions first, such as clothes layering. Or employees could switch to a different area in the office, such as closer or further away from an air-conditioning unit depending on their preference. Among the more technical solutions to the conundrum is an app called Comfy, which integrates with an office’s existing air-conditioning system. Employees can make a request through their smartphone or web browser to make the temperature cooler or warmer, resulting in a blast of air up to 10 minutes long.
“It is very much a 21st-century problem,” adds Mr Burnson. “There is a mountain of evidence that shows different temperatures have different effects on workers productivity, so companies do take this seriously.”
What are the temperature guidelines in the UAE?
Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa) has run campaigns urging residents to set their air conditioning to 24°C, which is both closer to women’s preferences and the “optimal temperature for the human body,” according to Dewa.
How are air conditioning standards set?
Standard 55, a formula based on two numbers created by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning in the US, dates back to 1966. The first number, the metabolic equivalent of a task (MET) was originally based on how much energy it takes for a 40-year-old, 154 pound man, to carry out a specific task. That number is combined with a second which calculates the effect of the insulation of an employee’s clothing on a scale (the clo scale) which registers a man’s business suit as 1.0. People involved in the design of buildings and their systems then apply this formula to different workplaces. For example a higher MET score and higher clo score (such as a workshop where workers wear overalls and carry out manual labour) need more powerful air conditioning.
What have previous surveys said about the subject?
A 2004 study by Cornell University found that women were more productive when their office was warmer, with a 10 per cent error rate in typing when the thermostat was set to 77 degrees F (25 degrees C) compared to a 25 per cent error rate when the temperature was 68 degrees F (20 degrees C).