Recently, a city-sized wildfire blazed through northern Alberta, blanketing most of the Canadian province with smoke. Air quality in the region was worse than in Dehli and Beijing, widely known to be among the most smog-choked cities in the world. I’d say that very little got done amidst the smoke and heat.
Is that a surprise? After all, everyone knows that heat has an adverse effect on productivity. When people are sweaty and uncomfortable, they find it hard to focus.
Naturally, the best response to this problem is to crank up the AC, right?
Not exactly. As it turns out, people have just as much trouble focusing when they’re too cold as they do when they’re too hot. The key lies in finding a happy medium, something which unfortunately is easier said than done.
“For many women, productivity goes up along with temperature: that’s the finding of a new study that is the first to look at worker performance along gendered lines,” reads a piece in Popular Science. “Women are also more likely to be uncomfortable in lower temperatures, because on average, they have less fat-free mass, and linked to that they have less heat production.”
The differences described above are only exacerbated by differences in office attire.
“Until men are allowed to wear shorts to work, there is no way a building should be 76 degrees,” explained graduate student Marc Starvaggi. “I had to wear a button-down shirt and I’m sweating and they have a blanket on because they’re wearing a dress or a skirt.”
Fortunately, there’s an easy solution to this problem, though it will likely require a minor shift in corporate culture.
The first step is to do away with your office dress code. The idea that men and women should each dress in a particular way is both dated and irrelevant in the modern workplace. As long as they still dress professionally, people should be allowed to wear what they want to work.
There are exceptions to that rule, of course. Certain client-facing positions still demand the traditional suit-and-tie approach. In situations like that, I’d recommend providing your staff with a stipend to purchase dress manufactured out of lighter, more breathable material such as linen, fresco wool, or chambray.
Finally, talk to your staff. Ask everyone in the office at what temperature they’re most comfortable, and try to find a happy medium that helps everyone stay focused and productive. And if there’s a day here or there where the temperature or air quality is too poor for work, don’t sweat it too much.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do for everyone’s long-term productivity is to acknowledge that nothing is getting done.