The End of the Office Air-Conditioning Wars

Fighting over temperature, possibly the most divisive issue in workplaces across America, might finally be behind us.

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Photographer: RyanJLane/Getty Images

It wouldn't be summer at work without arguments over office air conditioning. But this divisive issue in workplaces across America might finally be behind us. There is a better way, and it's coming soon to an office near you. 

No single temperature will appease everyone in a given space. Different people (and different genders) have bodies with competing preferences, and then those people come to work dressed for different climates. On top of that, an office is a complicated space to heat and cool to everyone's liking. People who sit near windows bake all day, while those under air-conditioning vents are blasted with icy winds. 

Despite the irreconcilable needs of the workforce, some temperatures are better for more people—those between 71.3F and 74F, to be precise, according to data collected by Comfy, an app that lets office workers control the office climate. Comfy gives users three options: "Warm My Space," "Cool My Space," or "I'm Comfy." The building's heating and cooling system responds to requests with 10 minutes of warm or cool air. The app also uses machine learning to figure out the temperature preferences of different office quadrants and to adjust those sections accordingly. 

Comfy collected data from 16 offices and found that the average request to warm up a space comes in at just over 71F and the average request to cool things down comes in at 74F. "If you wanted to go on averages," said Lindsay Baker, the president of Comfy, "then you would want the office be between 71.3 and 74." That range, it's worth noting, is slightly warmer than the conventional room temperature wisdom. Building managers tend to keep the thermostat in a 2 or 3 degree range between 68F and 74F. 

Comfy said worker complaints diminish over time, to about two to three a month, as the building gets to know the tastes of its occupants. Some combination of relief and having control over the temperature may lead to happier and more productive workers: The company said that more than half its users report being more productive after using the app. 

Soon this could be your perfectly calibrated reality. The company this week announced a $12 million funding round that includes a strategic investment from CBRE, a property management company that works with more than 600 enterprise clients and controls 5.2 billion square feet of space around the world. CBRE is testing Comfy on some of its employees and will "be quickly moving to our home clients," said John Murphy, the chief operating officer of CBRE's Global Workplace Solutions.

WeWork, a co-working company with 104 locations in 29 cities, is also experimenting with Comfy. WeWork plans to run a pilot in some of its New York and California locations and expand to more areas if the results are good. "The comfort of our members is way high on our list of priorities," said Joshua Emig, head of research and development at WeWork. 

From smart windows to crowdsourcing apps, Comfy is just one of many ways offices are learning to manage the office air-conditioning wars. But in general, the best way to unite a country divided is to give power back to the people. "When you give people control of their environment, they tend to feel more comfortable," Emig said. 

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