Working from home during the pandemic has presented a multitude of challenges and benefits for those who have been able to. For some, the comfort of the workplace was an advantage.
While the conversation about gender gaps in workplace thermal comfort isn’t new – men tend to report being more comfortable than women – our research into the behavior of teleworkers during the pandemic has found that women are more comfortable in their home offices felt because they were could control the temperature, add or remove layers.
In particular, our results and previous research suggest that workplaces that do not offer personalized thermostat settings or require formal attire do not promote appropriate thermal comfort conditions.
Survey of teleworkers
Our research team at Carleton University’s Human Building Interaction Laboratory surveyed remote workers (many of whom were relocated to remote work) during the COVID-19 pandemic by conducting in-depth interviews.
We wanted to find out how teleworking affects the behavior of workers at home compared to their behavior in traditional office spaces.
Our results strongly suggest that teleworkers have experienced many benefits, including increased productivity, less mental fatigue, and greater thermal comfort.
Relaxed formal dress requirements
Our data shows that improved thermal comfort at home is due to personal control over the thermostat and greater flexibility in clothing throughout the workday.
In our study, unless they had a child, most teleworkers’ main measure of comfort was adding or removing layers of clothing when they felt too hot or too cold. When teleworkers had a child, they kept the thermostat set at a temperature that was comfortable for their children.
“I feel more comfortable now [at home] because it is warmer and it was colder in the office,” said one of our interlocutors.
In traditional office environments, employees typically cannot adjust the thermostat or temperature to suit their needs, which can cause discomfort.
The situation can be even more difficult for women in settings where relatively formal attire is required. This is because office thermostat settings were originally designed based on men’s formal office wear.
“I remember being cold over there the whole time [office] […] Definitely, that doesn’t happen anymore because it’s my own home and I’m comfortable with the temperatures here,” said one interviewee.
Teleworking brought with it looser dress codes for employees because often there were none. Both men and women indicated during the video conference that they only wore formal clothing on the part of their bodies that was visible to others through the camera.
Justice in the Workplace
While equal opportunity in the workplace has many different facets, such as B. salaries, providing comfortable working conditions for all is one of the most important sub-categories of workplace equity.
Our and many other results show that this principle of workplace equity in relation to thermal comfort is not achieved in many workplaces.
There is still a need to take action and improve conditions in traditional work environments by giving employees more ways to control temperature and comfort. Some solutions may offer them flexible or less formal clothing options, or develop other ways to improve thermal comfort such as desk fans, windows that open, and chairs with built-in heaters. Perhaps it’s also time to reconsider ideal office thermostat settings.
Thermal discomfort is just another reason employees might prefer to continue teleworking.
Economic researchers Katherine Karl and Joy Peluchette found that workplace attire was related to productivity, as well as employees’ perceived authority, trustworthiness, friendliness, creativity, and competence. In other words, a company’s goals are directly linked to how employees are required to dress.
For example, banks might require their employees to convey a sense of trustworthiness and therefore require their frontline employees to dress more formally, while organizations in creative fields may allow their employees to dress more freely.
Our research suggests that employers should reconsider formal dress codes and consider personalized thermostat settings. By employing such strategies, organizations can move toward improved workplace equity and benefit from increased productivity and performance.