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Work and Heat

If you are working on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, odds are it is from home, where you can (usually) control the temperature in the home. Which, from the standpoint of productivity, is a good thing. According to a study from Cornell, raising the office temperature from 68 degrees to 77 degrees increased keyboarding performance in two ways:

  • Boosting the percent of time the subjects spent keyboarding from 54% to 100%

  • Reducing the error rate from 25% to 10%

What about longer working hours? Another study found that, for a given increase in time spent working, the amount of work actually done only increased by 90% of that increment. That study was of workers at a European call center.

Keyboarding and handling tech support calls are both highly routine operations whose output can readily be quantified. The Cornell researchers calculated that the warmer temperatures translated to $2 in savings, per worker per hour (and this was in 2004, when the study was done). One interesting thing about the Cornell study – it was done at an insurance company in Orlando, where the 68 degree temperature would be maintained mainly by air-conditioning, so there would be energy savings from a higher temperature. It was conducted as an experiment, so the data were relatively clean.

The European call center study was not an experiment, so the researchers had to draw conclusions based on observed data, incorporating worker characteristics that might also affect productivity. These studies join a host of other studies that compare working hours (i.e. duration) to productivity. The data for some of these studies dates back 100 years, for example, data on worker hours and output at UK factories producing shells in World War I. Another source of data was the famous Hawthorne studies of industrial work environments (they gave rise to the term Hawthorne effect, in which the mere fact of studying something alters it).