Strategy

Why cranking the AC is bad for business

Companies crank the AC, but it turns out employees do better when it’s warm.

If businesses want to improve workers’ productivity, they need to hike the thermostat, according to Cornell University researchers. Each summer, offices across North America blast their air conditioning in a bid to keep workers from sweltering.

Nearly 15% of the electricity consumed in the United States each year is used to keep people cool, meaning America uses as much fossil fuel for air conditioning as Africa uses for all its energy needs. But studies at Cornell’s Department of Design and Environmental Analysis suggest companies may be over-refrigerating their office drones. Researchers found that when temperature increased to 25 from 20 degrees Celsius, typing errors were reduced by 44%, while keystrokes increased by half. A warmer office could mean an 11% reduction in the costs associated with lost productivity.

According to Cornell professor Alan Hedge, one problem is that many offices set their thermostats to compensate for the heat produced by their computers, but today’s more efficient machines produce far less heat than those in previous generations. Buildings are also cooled as if they are full, when most have much lower occupancy. The result is that sales of space heaters in cities like Denver are highest in the summer as workers combat arctic office conditions.