Thermal Comfort  

Workplace well-being: what's the best temperature to work in?

Thermal comfort in the workplace is paramount for physical and mental well-being. Today, employees need to be as productive as possible to meet their working goals and employers are increasingly designing workspaces with this in mind. Not only is workplace design important for well-being (natural light and open spaces, for example), the temperature of a working environment is significant as individuals are more focused and make fewer mistakes in comfortable temperatures.

The British Government suggests a minimum of 13ºC- 16ºC to work in; and by law, employers must stick to health and safety regulations which include providing clean air and keeping the temperature at a comfortable level. Individuals work best in temperatures between 16°C -24°C, although this varies depending on a worker's tasks, e.g. jobs which involve physical movement are better performed at lower temperatures. 

The Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers recommends the following temperatures for various working environments: factory work: 13°C- 16°C, offices: 20°C, and shops and hospitals: 18°C.  These temperatures can vary if buildings are constructed from materials that radiate heat more, for example, facades made from glass heat a building quicker and more readily than green biofacades.

Temperature choice in the working environment can affect productivity. According to a study by Helsinki University of Technology and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, working performance increases when temperatures are at 21°C-22°C, with the highest work productivity rate being at 22°C. In addition, a study by Cornell University (2004) suggested that workers who feel colder make 10% more mistakes than workers that feel thermally comfortable.

When the temperature is too hot or cold workers can be more susceptible to illness as temperature changes can promote mould and bacteria growth. In addition, when temperature varies, individuals can become faint and dizzy; and if the temperature rises above 39°C, there is a risk of heat stroke or collapse. On the other hand, cooler temperatures can lead to workers being uncomfortable and can have an effect on mood. 

Employers need to be mindful of various individuals' in the workplace and alter temperature with this in mind (e.g. if a woman is pregnant). For well-being and safety, employers should also insulate hot pipes, and place workspaces away from drafts or areas which radiate heat. Cooling systems and air-to-water heat pumps increase ventilation within the building, which can provide a thermally comfortable working environment.