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In a thermostat war? The ideal room temperature for work is warmer than you might think.

And it's not just a stereotype that men and women tend to differ on this front.

man sweating, thermostat on wall set to 69 degrees
Photo (left) by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash, Photo (right) by Sean D on Unsplash

How warm should an office be for optimal productivity?

For a species that evolved in a wide range of climates and conditions and had little ability to choose the temperature around us until recently, humans are awfully persnickety about our thermostat settings. Some of us are so sensitive to temperature fluctuations we can tell if someone has raised or lowered it by a degree or two—a reality that set the stage for many a workplace thermostat war.

If you think 68 degrees is the optimal room temperature in the office and start sweating at your desk when it hits 72, you're not alone. And if 68 degrees has you putting on your parka and begging the office manager for a nice, balmy 77, you're also not alone.

Obviously, there's a huge range of preferences, but is there an optimal room temperature for work productivity? And if so, what is it?


According to a study at University of Southern California, the answer to that question depends on whether you're a man or a woman.

“It’s been documented that women like warmer indoor temperatures than men, but the idea until now has been that it’s a matter of personal preference,” study author and associate professor of finance and business economics Tommy Chang said. “What we found is it’s not just whether you feel comfortable or not, but that your performance on things that matter — in math and verbal dimensions, and how hard you try — is affected by temperature.”

In the study, women performed best when temperatures were between 70 and 80 degrees, while men's productivity increased as the temperature went down. However, men were not as negatively impacted by warmer temperatures as women were at cooler temperatures, which led Chang to pinpoint a number that seems ideal.

“I’m cringing a little bit to say this,” Chang told the Los Angeles Times. “75 degrees to me is boiling. That’s hot. I’m very warm at 75. But in a gender-balanced office environment, our results suggest that something like 75 degrees might be the optimal temperature to have for optimal productivity.”

Of course, there are men who run cold and women who run hot, but a clear difference in gender preference and performance overall was observed in the 543 people involved in the study, which tested productivity at temperatures ranging from about 61 degrees Fahrenheit to about 91 degrees Fahrenheit. This was especially apparent on verbal and math tasks.

“One of the most surprising things we learned is this isn’t about the extremes of temperature,” Chang said. “It’s not like we’re getting to freezing or boiling hot. Even if you go from 60 to 75 degrees, which is a relatively normal temperature range, you still see a meaningful variation in performance.”

For many of us, 60 and 75 do feel like extreme temperatures, but that's neither here nor there. If all else fails, take a poll to see what people's temperature preferences are and find the median to come the closest to making everyone happy. But considering the entirety of a workplace, assuming an even number of men and women, the thermostat should be set somewhere around 75 if you want people to have the greatest productivity overall.

But maybe provide a desk fan for the under-70-degrees folks, because 75 will likely feel like the surface of the sun for them.

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