No two people have the same working styles, and thus, no two people have the same flexibility needs. But now we have proof that employees also have different working temperatures. A new study, published this month in the journal PLOS One, shows that men and women perform differently based on the thermostat setting.
In the study, researchers Tom Chang and Agne Kajackaite administered various tests—logic puzzles, mental math, and word anagrams—to 543 Berlin college students in a room set to temperatures between 61 and 91 degrees Fahrenheit. As the room got warmer, the women got more questions right in the math and verbal tests, with each 1-degree Celsius increase correlating with a 1 percent uptick in verbal performance and a nearly 2 percent uptick in math performance. (As The Atlantic notes, the nearly 2 percent increase in math scores is equivalent to about half the gap in performance between American high-school boys and girls on the math portion of the SAT, which is about 4 percent.) However, the men performed better in the same two subject areas when the room was colder.
This disparity is a big problem, especially because prior research showed that most building thermostats follow a "thermal comfort model that was developed in the 1960s"—one that is biased toward men, since it was based off a man's resting metabolic rate and "may overestimate resting heat production of women by up to 35 percent," as the New York Times reported in 2015. This new study, however, shows that blasting air conditioning doesn't just affect female workers' comfort, but it affects their performance, too.
We already knew that access to flexibility improves productivity, and this study makes an even stronger case for the flexibility types Remote and DeskPlus, both of which are defined as location-based modifications to the workday. When employees have access to location flexibility, they can find the workplaces—and the climates—that help them maximize their productivity and increase their performance. In most circumstances, performance shouldn't involve parkas. So if your employees keep complaining that it’s too cold, don’t ignore them—take their concerns seriously and try to find a more comfortable temperature that works for everyone. If you can't find a happy medium, it's probably time to put flexibility to work.