Access Michigan LLC Blog

Thermonuclear War in the Office: The Reasons – and Hopefully the Answers – on Controlling the Thermostat


We’ve all experienced it. Sally has the heater on in her cubicle and Roger is sneaking to the thermostat to turn the A/C on. Summer or winter, office temperature wars are here to stay.

With IoT in commercial and industrial settings, not just the facilities person or plant engineer is in charge of setting the temperature. With new apps, temperature control can be provided to the individual. This means the engineers and designers of new, expansion and retrofit projects have to go to a whole new level in their thought process when designing for temperature control.

The following article is a re-print from the Wall Street Journal. It illustrates new ways of thinking of temperature control in large facilities.

The Article

The first thing Valerie Riley does when she arrives at the office is turn the thermostat up above 74 degrees. The first thing her colleagues do when they arrive is turn it down below 70. As many as 10 times a day, employees at LifeSquire, of Oklahoma City, bump the thermostat up or down.

“It’s a daily battle of, ‘I’m cold. I’m hot. Turn it off. Turn it up,’” says Ms. Riley, the founder of LifeSquire, a personal-assistant franchising company. She often dons a coat at work, while her colleague Katy Gibbons, manager of client and employee relations, strips down to a T-shirt and sandals.

Never mind messy desks, noisy colleagues and smelly office kitchens. No workplace dispute is as divisive as where to set the office thermostat. Some 3 in 5 employees tamper with the thermostat without asking colleagues, according to a 2015 survey of 301 employees by Survey Sampling International for OpenWorks, a Phoenix commercial-cleaning company.

It is the season when many take up guerrilla tactics to get the temperature they want, taping cardboard over air vents or trying to tamper with locked thermostats. Others pepper bosses or facilities managers with complaints, according to a 2009 survey of 452 facility managers by the International Facility Management Association in Houston.

More than 3 in 5 participants in the survey use personal fans or heaters or don lap blankets and fingerless gloves. Some employees stay cool by placing a “small wading pool under the desk to ‘paddle’ their feet,” one participant wrote.

Cadi Withers was swamped last year with summertime air-conditioning complaints from employees at the New York City offices of AppNexus, an online advertising-technology firm. “People were dressing to stay cool on the commute, then they come inside and they were freezing, wearing blankets and sweaters and hats and socks,” says Ms. Withers, senior manager, global office operations.

Here are some of the apps people are using to manage thermostat disputes.

  • Comfy, a smartphone app that allows occupants to request one of the following: Warm My Space, Cool My Space, or I’m Comfy. It then sends a blast of hot or cool air to their area
  • CrowdComfort, a crowd-sourcing app that enables office occupants to send complaints via smartphone to the building manager; about 30% to 40% are from people who are either too hot or too cold
  • View Dynamic Glass, a smart window that enables smartphone-app users to lighten or darken the shading to heat or cool the interior, without blocking the view of outdoors
  • Vector Occupant allows smartphone users to register complaints about office temps with the building’s control system Honeywell is introducing the app this summer, after testing it since last fall.

AppNexus started using an app last summer that allows employees to order up a 10-minute blast of cool air or heat on command. Users can send one of three messages via the app, by Comfy, of Oakland, Calif.: “Warm My Space,” “Cool My Space” or “I’m Comfy.”

To avoid inciting conflict, AppNexus requires at least two people in the same office zone to make an identical request within 10 minutes before sending a blast of air. “Some people are comfortable at 72 degrees. Others are freezing,” Ms. Withers says. “We didn’t want people to fight.”

Honeywell Building Solutions in Minneapolis plans this summer to launch a similar app it has been testing since last fall, called Vector Occupant. The app lets occupants use their smartphones to register complaints about the temperature with the building’s control system.

Building managers typically strive to maintain temperatures in a 2-degree or 3-degree range between 68 degrees and 74 degrees Fahrenheit—levels shown in research to be comfortable for most people, says Diane Coles Levine, managing partner of Workplace Management Solutions, a Long Beach, Calif., consulting firm.

To placate chronic complainers, some facility managers install dummy thermostats. They’re equipped with buttons or dials to give occupants an illusion of control, but lack any connection to the air-conditioning system.

Ms. Levine doesn’t approve of the tactic, but says she has seen dummy thermostats actually make office workers happier, because they felt as if they have some control over the temperature. Research shows office workers perform best when they have control over their physical environment.

People also perform better on challenging tests of working memory when the temperature is set at the level they prefer, even if their preference is outside the range regarded as best for the majority, says a recent study, published last year in Psychological Research.

Researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands asked 28 participants whether they “prefer the heater high or low,” then gave them a challenging test of working memory twice at different temperatures. Those who said they liked the heater low performed better at a room temperature of 59 degrees, well below the normal range. Those who said they like the heater high did better when the room was at an above-average 77 degrees, the study found.

Knowing that the room is at a temperature you prefer may help shore up the ego strength required to persevere at challenging tasks, the study says.

Many variables affect individuals’ basal body temperatures, says Chris Paras, an endocrinologist and associate clinical dean of internal medicine at Brookdale University Hospital, New York. One is different circadian rhythms: Night owls may feel cold when they arrive at work because their body temperature tends to hit its lowest point around dawn, more than two hours later than morning people, research shows.

Exercise, greater muscle tone or eating a lot of protein, unsaturated fats or foods that are spicy or rich can elevate one’s basal body temperature, Dr. Paras says.

Gender plays a role, too. Women typically prefer warmer temperatures because their metabolic rates are slower; they’re often cold when thermostats are set to suit males, says a widely reported study last year in Nature Climate Change.

Control over the thermostat has sparked a long-running battle of the sexes at Paul and Kathy Lyons’s Troy, Mich., family business, Beef Jerky Outlet. Ms. Lyons, the office manager, and her daughter Jenn Szlachta, the company’s marketing manager, like the thermostat set at 72—a level that feels like a sauna to Mr. Lyons, the president. He and his son Steve, new-store systems manager, “would have snow and ice on the floor keeping us cool if we could,” Mr. Lyons says.

“I’ve thought about moving the office outside” to keep warm in the summer, Ms. Lyons says.

“And I’ve often offered to help her do that,” her husband responds.

Instead, the two have an uneasy truce: Ms. Lyons refrains from adjusting the thermostat and runs a space heater. Mr. Lyons tries to “be as tolerant as I can until I just can’t take it anymore. And then I go for a walk.”

Paul Avona calls his co-worker Carla Sutter “my archenemy at the office. She likes the temperature at 90. I like it at 70,” says Mr. Avona, chief operating officer at Synergy HomeCare in Gilbert, Ariz. He recently used a temperature-control app to secretly lower the thermostat in Ms. Sutter’s area by 10 degrees. “She came and found me right away” to protest, he says.

Ms. Sutter, director of operations, says she realizes her colleagues sometimes suffer because her thermostat is so high and tries to dial it down when that happens.

CEO Peter Tourian recently intervened and relocated managers’ offices based on their temperature preferences. Ms. Sutter and another manager who likes it hot have windows facing west, where rooms tend to heat up more in the afternoon. Those who prefer cooler temps are along the east side.

Some employers give managers who are chronically overheated separate offices with their own thermostats, says Dave Hicks, director of facilities solutions for OpenWorks. Others move overheated employees away from windows and sunlight.

Other employers are crowdsourcing employee feedback to help them manage office temperatures better. An app called CrowdComfort enables occupants to send complaints instantly by phone to the facilities manager, says Eric Graham, co-founder of the Somerville, Mass., company that makes the app. This helps managers quickly adjust temperatures that are out of the target range, or fix problems such as broken air conditioners, says Robert Schiaroli, operations manager for GE Oil & Gas in Billerica, Mass., who is using the app.

Facility managers don’t always change the temperature when employees complain, but being able to give instant, specific feedback “is empowering to people,” Mr. Graham says. ”They feel like they’re being heard, even if the outcome isn’t what they want.”


Few workplaces are immune to temperature wars. Locking the thermostat is not the answer for building management. With the tightness in the labor market, and the need for skilled employees, building and business owners will need to address this issue as part of employee retention. That’s where Access Inc and our experienced engineers can provide assistance. Highly trained in our extensive product line, they can design a system – and temperature monitoring and control – that best meets the needs of your particular application.

The original Wall Street Journal article entitled “Let the Office Thermostat Wars Begin” can be found Here It also appeared in the June 8, 2016, print edition as ‘Office Thermostat Wars.’

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