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Thermal comfort isn’t currently a hot topic, if you’ll pardon the pun. Keeping cool in the office might not seem important right now, as we’ve had a very wet month that’s apparently been the coldest May in 25 years. But with headlines proclaiming that we’re about to enjoy a two-week heatwave, then it might not be long before it’s front of mind.

Office overheating is pretty much an annual problem in some buildings, but this year it takes on some additional resonance. With workers only really now beginning to return to the office, and many being reluctant to do so for a wide variety of reasons, comfort levels in the workplace are just one of the factors that can either help keep employees happy and healthy, or alternatively make them reluctant to change their work-from-home habits.

Thermal comfort at home: personal choices

Depending on personal circumstances of course – for example, it’s not been such a positive experience for younger employees in noisy houseshares, or those with preschoolers at home – working from home has suited many people. But it’s not just about the hours and minutes freed up by losing the commute and so enabling people to spend more time doing what they want to do, or the chance to work a more flexibly timed day (enabling a morning run, or fitting around childcare). There’s an element of personal working environment autonomy that comes into this.

If it’s too hot, homeworkers can easily make sure the curtains are closed to keep direct sunlight out, that windows are opened to create a cooling through-draft, that they have a suitable fan or portable air conditioning unit, or just that they have a supply of ice to add to their drinks. Or, if it’s too cold, there’s a wardrobe of warmer clothes within the same four walls, and the heating can be boosted if necessary. These choices don’t have to be run through any kind of approval process, they can just be done by the individual, and the problem is speedily fixed.

Happy employees are comfortable employees

If the office environment features poor thermal comfort, then this can be another factor in the collection of reasons why employees don’t wish to return to the office, since they will again be subject to whatever solutions to overheating are used by their employer (if any), and to some extent they will be unable to personally influence comfort levels.

Some business leaders may shrug, and take the bullish line that the office environment was suitable pre-COVID, so there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be suitable now, without any changes. But a shift in attitude has certainly been noted widely in the press over the past year or so, and people are thinking more about their wellbeing on a variety of levels, not just in terms of COVID infection control, but also about health and happiness. Career (and life) changes are seemingly more common, plus people are seeming more likely to change jobs in order to re-balance their lives. With more vacancies being advertised as ‘remote’ than ever before, this seems achievable for a good number of people. Staff retention could come down to – in some small part at least – office thermal comfort.

Thermal comfort for better productivity

Then there’s another argument for thermal comfort in offices that has a business reason behind it – productivity. Aside from the ethical reasons behind ensuring staff don’t have to cope with extremes of temperature, it’s common sense that when people are too hot or too cold, they don’t produce their best work, making mistakes or simply not reaching the levels of quality that they might otherwise.

So how can businesses make sure that their offices are at a comfortable temperature, for employee wellbeing and productivity? You might be surprised to hear that there are a number of ways to do this that are either low-cost or no-cost:

  • Have UV window film installed, to deflect solar radiation, or simply keep blinds lowered to block any direct sunlight.
  • Convert to low-energy lighting, such as LEDs, as these don’t generate as much heat. Also, switch of any lighting or equipment when it’s not being used.
  • Make sure the building has optimal wall and roof insulation levels, and insulate any hot pipework that runs through the office.
  • Ventilation is important for keeping the temperature down (as well as for keeping an office space COVID-safe)
  • Fans can’t reduce the ambient temperature because they only move air around, but they can still improve comfort levels – to the equivalent of a 2°C drop in ambient temperature.
  • Consider implementing a relaxed dress code when temperatures reach a certain point – though it’s important to be clear with staff what this means. It’s also a good idea to position thermometers around the space so it’s very clear when the policy applies.
  • Flexible working hours can help, with earlier starts and longer lunch breaks.
  • Making plenty of cold drinks available will help staff remain cool and hydrated.
  • If your office has an air conditioning system, it should be maintained, cleaned and serviced regularly. With COVID in mind, recirculation should be switched off, and the rate of air change increased.

Naturally, if you are building a commercial structure from scratch, there are many more anti-overheating measures that can be designed in, to improve the wellbeing of the building’s future occupants. To find out more about how we can help your project achieve optimal thermal comfort, call us on 01206 266755 or email mail@ajenergy.com.