The Battle for Control Over the Office Thermostat

A smart thermostat mounted on a wall.

Offices are known for being cold. The cold office has been a subject on notably credible websites like CNN and the New York Times, to trendier sites like Bustle and Mental Floss. Most of these articles say the same thing:

Offices are too cold for women… and yet thermostats are stuck in the 60’s, literally.

Most women I know that work in an office are cold. Office thermostats are often set to the high 60’s, and a lot of research points to this number being decided upon decades ago, when offices were full of men wearing suits all the time. Nowadays, with workforces mixed and dress codes more lax, office spaces are shared by men and women who are wearing less layers and lighter fabrics.

Of course, I can’t forget to mention that in some cases, HVAC systems are set to move air through offices that are full. Every cubicle has a vent blasting air down into it, but not every cubicle has a body and electronics warming it. That heating/cooling system is working overtime to make sure that non-existent employee is “comfortable”, while half of the actual workforce is huddled around space heaters or wrapped in blankets.

The wasted energy (and money) surrounding it all never ceases to amaze me.

In many offices, the thermostat sits inside a clear, locked box, and getting a bump from 67 degrees to 69 is like asking for water to be turned into wine. I used to ask when I was too cold. Before doing so, I’d take a quick survey of those around me, and if it wasn’t just me that was frigid I would find someone and ask for the temperature to be pushed up just a degree or two. And nearly always I was met with an unsympathetic person, a programmed thermostat that can’t be messed with, or someone who didn’t have the key. And if, by some miracle, I was able to get a couple degrees added to the thermostat, it wouldn’t last long because there was always someone who got it changed back.

In nearly every office I’ve worked in there’s been a thermostat battle. In some, it’s been downright war.

I have shared spaces with men who “run hot”, menopausal women, fellow Raynaud’s sufferers, and people who don’t seem to care about temperature (or just keep their mouths shut). The battle for control over the thermostat has ranged from “can’t do anything” to a passive-aggressive war of constant changes. I have even seen thermostats switched to “cool” in the middle of winter!

It seems that there are always a handful people who are uncomfortable, one or two who are extremely vocal about their discomfort, and a majority who keep their head down and get their work done, regardless of how they feel about the temperature in the office. At this point, I try to stay in the last bucket, because I’ve learned something when it comes to office climate control.

When it comes to office thermostats it’s every woman for herself.

It doesn’t matter if you have a medical condition like Raynaud’s that causes physical pain when you’re cold. It doesn’t matter if you’re less efficient when you’re cold, or that you’re using more energy (and costing the company more money) by using a space heater. The thermostat is what it is, and if you don’t like it put some fingerless gloves on, drink some coffee, wear a jacket, and don’t roll your eyes too hard when someone makes fun of your blanket. Conversely, if you’re too warm, you’d better get yourself a fan (on your own dime, of course), drink a cold beverage, and wear short sleeves. Do what you gotta do, but you’re on your own. Complaints fall on deaf ears and just end up annoying all of your coworkers (and no one wants to be “that girl”). Consider it training for the apocalypse or something.

If you run an office, check out the Bustle article I linked to above. It talks about why it might be worthwhile to change the thermostat a little and keep the office a tad warmer. Definitely worth a read!

Featured image by Dan LeFebvre on Unsplash

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