Can the office aircon wars ever be won?

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It seems like a small niggle, but the temperature in a shared office is a remarkably common gripe, whether employees are complaining it’s too hot or it’s too cold. Interestingly, recent research has shown that women perform better on maths and verbal tasks in higher temperatures, while the reverse effect is observed for men. The researchers go as far as to suggest that gender mixed workplaces may be able to increase productivity by setting the thermostat higher than current standards.

Of course, while this may boost productivity, there are likely to be those who complain it’s too hot. “No matter what the temperature is, there are bound to be a few unhappy people,” says Matthew Louw, Corporate Marketing Supervisor at LG Electronics South Africa. “The trick is to opt for a medium that most people are comfortable with, and then to encourage the outliers to take measures to make themselves comfier, such as bringing a blanket or a small desktop fan to work.”

Louw notes, however, that many issues may come down to inefficient aircon systems. “Outdated air-conditioning systems will struggle to keep an even temperature throughout any size office space,” he says. “If the sizing is wrong, you’re bound to have problems keeping a consistent temperature. Another common problem is when thermostats malfunction, which can also lead to temperature fluctuations and hot and cold spots in the office.”

Sometimes, fixing a cold spot is as easy as changing the airflow direction. Most modern aircon offer the ability to adjust airflow direction to some extent, but Louw suggests choosing one that allows for vertical and horizontal adjustments.

“Another useful functionality to look for is what we call ‘two thermistors control’. This means that indoor temperature can be checked using the thermistor in the remote-control unit, as well as from the indoor aircon unit,” she explains. “There may be quite a difference between ceiling and floor air temperature, so comparing two thermistors means your aircon can optimise temperature more effectively.”

Other features to keep in mind if you’re planning on installing a new ceiling cassette AC system are wide jet flows, which provide better air and temperature distribution, and independent vane operation, which means you can direct air to different areas and in different directions from the central unit. If you have high ceilings, ensure your aircon is equipped to deal with larger distances to the floor. And don’t forget to investigate sound levels. The only thing employees will get more upset about than a change in temperature is a noisy change in temperature!

Bear the future in mind. As workplaces and homes move towards smart technologies, more are likely to make use of integrated systems, and this may be an option worth exploring. “With an integrated building management system, companies can ensure both their indoor climate and their energy use are managed efficiently,” says Louw. “It may not keep everyone happy, but it’s certainly more effective than squabbling over the aircon remote.”

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