Within the office, frequently reported sources of dissatisfaction include excessive or insufficient temperatures and excessive air movement. Draughts from inconveniently located or directed air conditioning vents are a common problem for some people, and may be associated with increased risk for complaints of musculoskeletal discomfort. Draughts are only a major problem for the preconfigured workplace; the freedom of individual location within the new workspace should allow people to site themselves and their tasks where excessive air flow is not an issue.

Temperature within the workplace also elicits individual dissatisfaction. In preconfigured single occupancy cellular offices that provide local control over temperature, occupants may fail to make adjustments to thermostats for a variety of reasons, including poor controls in terms of user interface design (Karjalainen & Koistinen, 2007). If user-adjustable controls are to be provided in any area, these must be designed for maximum usability—which should be evaluated by non-expert user trials of the controls—and if necessary, simple “quick guidance” instructions should be positioned adjacent to thermostatic controls.

In open plan work spaces, which are those ideally suited to the flexible environment, present heating technology makes it highly unlikely that every worker’s thermal preferences can be satisfied. In this case, a simple experiment and survey will enable the employer to establish the temperature that satisfies the highest percentage of people. The availability of local cooling fans or heaters might enable more people to be optimally accommodated, albeit with increased energy costs, including the costs incurred as the main temperature control system adjusts to the altered thermal profile.

New heating and cooling technologies might be available in the future which will overcome the problem of a lack of control over the individual thermal environment, but for the time-being, there are no perfect solutions.

This article is extracted from our white paper ‘Strangers in the Office. You can download the full report here.