THE BLOG

Leaving Employees in the Cold

02/04/2013 21:23 BST | Updated 02/06/2013 10:12 BST

Facebook's offices are known for their cool design, cool thinking, and now for being - well - cool. It recently transpired that founder Mark Zuckerberg keeps their office temperature at a low 15°C (a degree below the legal minimum in the UK).

It seems that this decision is based on a constant drive to create the most productive workforce possible. But this policy doesn't only raise questions around what temperature is the most effective to work in - and if the cold really helps to focus the mind - but ultimately, on the decisions from above which effect our environments.

Facebook employees aren't the only ones at the mercy of an office temperature totalitarian. How many of you have extra sweaters stashed in your pedestal, hot water bottles tucked in your desk drawer, surreptitious under-desk personal heaters?

The fact is, though, temperature is not a laughing matter. Temperature remains one of the most complained about issues among staff, and is exceedingly difficult to manage. There are usually a select few people given the power to control the office temperature, and what power it is! Temperature affects our performance, our health, even how friendly we are to our colleagues. And despite urban myth, cold offices actually make us less productive. A Cornell study found the optimum temperature for productivity was approximately 25°C. But someone - Zuckerberg included it seems - always persists in the belief that "the cold keeps you awake!" Awake maybe, but shivering with mukluks on doesn't seem to say "high performance office" to me.

And throw on top of the thermostat issue the great window debate. To open or not to open. Here at our office in Soho, the looks of shock I received when I first opened the window (to make myself warmer given the meat locker conditions inside) you'd have thought I was inviting in nuclear fallout or some similar otherworldly horror.

At least we can open the windows. In many modern, hermetically sealed buildings, opening the window is not an option, and it is causing significant air quality issues. The US EPA have found that air quality inside most city buildings is worse than that of the ambient air quality on the street. So much so, that this year Google have declared air quality one of their primary focuses in employee wellbeing.

So how do we solve these temperature rows without having to take a Facebook-style dictatorial approach? Some larger offices are actually creating warm and cool zones and allowing staff to self-select their comfort area. Other offices allow staff some degree of control by closing vents, or allowing fans and personal heaters. Smaller teams put it to a vote, and still others split the difference between the ends of the temperature spectrum, which seems a fair enough way to ensure everyone is only a little bit uncomfortable.

I don't suspect there is an easy, one-size fits all, solution. But organisations must recognise that something as primary as temperature is worthy of a bit more focus and communication. Rather than the daily bow and scrape to the office manager or facilities team for some degree of comfort, it should be treated as seriously as other health and safety issues. But I suspect that two universal truths will keep the issue frozen: a) the fear that they'll never be able to make everyone happy, so why even bother, and b) they don't want to relinquish that small sliver of power they have been given.

But with Marissa Meyer's recent command that all staff must return to the mothership and Zuckerberg's temperature totalitarianism, I for one will be would be glad to see this reign of control-freakery toppled!