If you’re running a business or you’re leading a department or team, it’s fair to assume you spend at least some of your time assessing key metrics, or outputs. These output metrics may include sales closed, leads generated, milestones hit, MVP launches or an array of completely obscure metrics that are relevant only to your specific industry or departmental goals. Either way, as the saying goes, if you aren’t assessing, you’re guessing.
But what about inputs? Measuring certain inputs can be a strong predictor of output. For example, most organisations measure absenteeism rates. If people aren’t at work, they’re less likely to produce the required outputs. It’s a simple formula. Same with sales calls. While the number of closed deals as a function of the number of calls made is the key metric, the number of calls made is a strong predictor of outputs.
Some inputs, however, are less commonly measured despite being consistently reliable predictors of output. Comfort is one such input. Uncomfortable workers are not productive workers. They are distracted and unmotivated. A 2019 study conducted by a London property maintenance firm revealed the top sources of workplace discomfort for employees. They included poor ventilation, intrusive noises, bad smells - all common sources of low-level distraction at work. However, the one source of distracting discomfort that really stood out was temperature. Almost half of those who took part in the study said their workplaces were uncomfortable because of the ambient temperature.
Professor Sir Cary Cooper CBE is a specialist in organisational psychology and health with a focus on workplaces. He believes employers are failing to get the basics right when it comes to creating a comfortable working environment. "A physically unpleasant or even unsafe workplace is obviously bad for productivity and for an organisation's external image. Issues like intrusive noises, uncomfortable temperatures, and general shabbiness can be a distraction, but it's also a matter of respect from employers toward their people.
“Employers ought to go further than simply meeting health and safety requirements to ensure workplaces are as pleasant and comfortable as possible. Those that don't are sending a signal to their people that their physical comfort and freedom from distraction are a low priority, which can be demoralising for any workforce. That's not to say organizations need to invest in high-spec fit-outs and luxurious surroundings, but they should focus instead on meeting a basic standard of environmental comfort appropriate for their industry.”
Being too hot or too cold is bad for productivity. Other studies bear this out. In 2019, German researchers discovered that when women were asked to work in uncomfortable temperatures, they performed less well on rudimentary math and typing tasks than they did at comfortable temperatures. The 2019 study by Aspect also found that women are disproportionately affected by uncomfortable temperatures. More than half of the women involved in the study complained of workplaces that were too cold, compared to the still significant proportion of 42% of men.
So next time you’re considering whether you’re measuring the right things in your business, take a look at that thermostat. But also, solicit feedback from those around you. Are they comfortable? Are any of your team bundled up in woolens trying to fend off the chill of the air conditioning? Both of the studies above show that it’s almost impossible to adopt one-climate suits all policy without harming productivity.
But that doesn’t mean everyone needs to experience discomfort. Businesses should now be looking at ways of establishing areas with varying climates, to suit all preferences. Offices already have quiet areas, break-out spaces, collaboration zones. The next frontier in productivity hacking could well be related to ambient temperature.