The most legendary of household rivalries has now extended to the office: the war for the thermostat. That’s right, the latest news in office productivity has nothing to do with technology, strategy, or software. A recent study revealed that the temperature of the office has the potential to drastically affect productivity.

Co-author of the study, Tom Chang, told NPR that women’s performance rose drastically with temperature increase, while males’ work performance steadily declined. And everyone’s productivity was “more drastically affected” than he initially thought. While the study came to the conclusion that the optimum temperature for a gender-balanced office is 75 degrees, the temperature may not be the only thing sucking productivity from your office.


Open vs. Closed

The 2000s brought in the popularity of the open office, and by 2014, 70% of offices boasted an open floor plan as opposed to “traditional private offices.” This made it more affordable in some respects, particularly by requiring less floor space and decreasing rents. Geoffrey James of LinkedIn does the math, explaining that “the same area that would accommodate 5 employees in private offices could accommodate anywhere from 15 to 25 employees” if an open floor plan were used.

However, science is showing that the open floor plan may have more faults than benefits. Unless you’re really good at multitasking--which most of us, truly, are not--the various stimuli of the everyday office will indeed be distracting. Neuroscientist Dr. Jack Lewis explains that “the brain responds to distractions,” whether we’re aware of it or not, affecting productivity in ways we may not even notice.

This doesn’t mean more traditional office spaces are off the hook, though. Workers from offices of all kinds have reported that some of their largest distractions come from within the office--like impromptu or unnecessary meetings, loud coworkers, or workplace gossip.

Costs of Distractions

SurePayroll reports that each year, various distractions cost American businesses $1.8 trillion in lost productivity. You read that right; it’s not just billions, but trillions. And the stats aren’t concerned with the thermostat.


The Price of that Commute

Whether an office floor plan is open or closed, the commute is a necessary evil. Global Workplace Analytics shares that traffic jams “rob the U.S. economy of $78 billion a year in productivity.” Not to mention the contribution to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Surepayroll reported that America loses $90 billion a year to what they refer to as “excessive commuting,” which can easily be alleviated by offering more flexible work options such as telecommuting.

Meanwhile, the conditions of our infrastructure and transportation systems continue to buckle under stress. Global Workplace Analytics laments that “new roads are being built to meet the needs of ten to twenty years ago,” and still not keeping up. It turns out only 6% of U.S. roads have kept up with demand over the past decade.

Unsurprisingly then, the overcrowded roads increase the odds of getting in an accident on your way to work, which will definitely stifle ambitions of productivity. According to another Global Workplace statistic, implementing half-time telework where possible would save more than 1,600 lives and prevent almost 99,000 injuries.


The Price of Powering Through

Illness and injury present another significant drain on productivity. The truth is that most of us try to power through when we’re sick, and often still go to work despite illness in ourselves or close family members. This phenomenon is called “presenteeism,” and can turn out to be just as costly as absenteeism.

Hangovers alone can cost $160 billion in productivity, let alone more urgent operations, appointments, or chronic illnesses. Even insomnia saps away productivity, to the tune of $63 billion a year. Yet a traditional office setting often puts workers under pressure to be present, which ultimately causes them to be less productive, not to mention spreading illness to their coworkers, initiating a wave of absence or poor performance that inevitably comes along when our immune system fails us.


The Price of People-Pleasing

Just like we want to be present at work to be perceived as loyal, committed, and productive, we often engage in office practices that are distracting just to please managers or coworkers. One study actually showed that 95% of employees want the ability to work privately, and only 41% had the opportunity to do so.

Sure, these social pleasantries and noise distractions don’t amount to The Office-level antics, but they are enough to get the brain’s attention and simulate multitasking. And unfortunately, even multitasking, conscious or subconscious, can reduce productivity by up to 40%.


Getting Productivity Back

While there’s no way to magically restore workplace time that’s been wasted, there are changes that can be made to counter the hidden productivity cost of the traditional office. Remote working options, for example, reduce costs and are proven to statistically result in higher productivity.

Collaborative software can synchronize communications, and consolidate information so that you can do away with the meetings that could be e-mails, and even work simultaneously on documents and spreadsheets without having to be in the same room or even the same building.

In some ways, technology has distracted us more than ever. Our attention has been drawn to the thermostat when other time-wasters, more easily resolved, persist in offices around the world.

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