While I normally work out of my home office, I give a lot of speeches at conferences and corporate events. This means that I spend big chunks of time in hotels and convention centers. During summer months, many of these facilities maintain the approximate temperature of a meat freezer.
I have long been curious about this phenomenon, because I find it so miserable. I bring cardigans everywhere, but still. I was once shivering so badly before a speech that I had to really work to keep from dropping the hand-held microphone my hosts had arranged for me. Indeed, I wrote an op-ed for USA Today a few years ago about the topic. I have been interested to see a few recent articles about over-air-conditioning as well.
It turns out that temperature is a matter of personal preference, and some of this preference is gender-based. It’s not so much that women are naturally much colder than men beyond some body-size differences, it’s that air conditioning is set for men wearing long pants, long sleeves, and a jacket (not to mention socks). Women’s summer attire often does not include these things; women’s dress shoes are almost never designed to be worn with socks, for instance (and hosiery doesn’t provide the same warmth). A temperature cool enough to prevent a 200-lb man wearing an undershirt, a dress shirt, and a jacket from perspiring will likely leave a 130-lb woman in a dress, heels, and cardigan feeling frosty. Since men are viewed as the default, the temperature is often set for them. Hence the phenomenon of people bringing space heaters and blankets to their cubicles.
I suppose setting the temperature for the people who like it cooler has some good arguments for it. It’s not actually true that people are more productive in much cooler temperatures (yeah, they’re not productive in 95 degree temperatures, but that’s not the range we’re looking at). But the usual argument is that people who are cold can add layers, whereas the people who are hot can’t take them off.
Except…why not? I certainly think that the expectation of men’s business attire could change for the summer. A snazzy polo, khakis, and boat shoes would be much cooler than a jacket. I imagine that most corporate cultures aren’t quite prepared for men to wear shorts and sandals in the office but the boat shoes and short sleeves could buy a few extra degrees.
Which would save all kinds of money, and be more environmentally friendly. Personally, I think the best balance would be to set the temperature higher, to save on energy costs, and then relax the dress code and have a very liberal work-from-home policy for any job where that was a possibility. Anyone who wants an icy 68 degrees is welcome to work from home and crank up his own AC as much as he wants.
How’s your office temperature these days? How about your home? We set the AC in the house to 77 or 78, though I sometimes put it down to 76 or 75 overnight (only for the upstairs; any zone where people aren’t currently can go up to 88 or so).
Photo: Flowers, not wilting in the heat