How air conditioning changes the way we work

In severe cases, heat-exhaustion can set in as a result of lost water and salt. This in turn can lead to a loss of blood pressure, headaches, cramps, fatigue, and a host of other symptoms. This can not only cause a loss of productivity – it can lead to serious medical problems, like heatstroke. Clearly, heat-regulation is something which should be taken seriously!

Air conditioning is the latest and most effective technology when it comes to regulating the heat of an indoor environment. It allows us not only to keep the temperature down when the weather gets hot, but it allows us to keep warm when things get chillier. In this article, we’ll explore how regulating the temperature using air-conditioning can yield substantial improvements in productivity.

How did air-conditioning come to be?

It’s worth addressing how air conditioning came to be. Heat is a tricky problem to fix. Keeping air moving is one way to do it – you might have seen depictions of important looking people being fanned with enormous leaves during hot weather. As time went by, this technology eventually evolved into small, hand-held paper fans, and then to electric ones. But electric fans are nowhere near as efficient as air-conditioning systems. Rather than transferring heat from one area to another, they simply blow it around the room. Clearly, something had to be done.

But the air conditioner was actually devised to meet an entirely different need. It came to be in Brooklyn, thanks to an engineer named Willis Havilland Carrier, who worked in a publishing company. During summer, the humidity within the factory became so great that the paper became unworkable. Carrier devised a solution whereby the air in the building would be blown over cold pipes – where the moisture there would condense. In doing so, Carrier would begin the development of a technology that would have a profound impact across the globe.

How does heat effect your productivity?

It’s very easy to devise an experiment where we can test the effect that heat has on performance. Take this one by high school students in Portland, Oregon. They asked several classfuls of fourteen-year-olds to perform an aptitude test, and varied the temperature. The tests required students to store shapes in their short-term memory, recall and name them, and solve a few basic maths problems.

To no-one’s great surprise, the student’s ability to perform dipped enormously when the room was hotter, and dipped slightly when the room cooled down. This finding has been echoed in studies performed across the world, in a range of conditions.

Despite this, there is still some disagreement as to what the optimum temperature is. Most studies conclude that around twenty degrees Celsius will result in best performance for most people. Researchers at Cornell University recommends a temperature of around twenty-five degrees. To complicate matters slightly further, there is often some disagreement as to what the optimum temperature is among the group being tested – some people will perform better at some temperatures.

Let’s touch upon some of the differences that might cause variation.

Clothing

Clearly, wearing lots of heavy clothing is going to make us hotter. On the other hand, wearing fewer, thinner clothes will make us colder. This allows for a little bit of flexibility – if you’re feeling a little bit on the warm side, you might consider slipping off a layer. If the office is a little colder, then you might add another one.

Body Fat

Obviously, if clothing provides an appreciable layer of insulation, then body fat is going to do precisely the same thing. If you have an office with one fat person and one rakishly thin person, then there may be disagreements over the thermostat.

Expectations

Human beings, like all animals, are predisposed to expect a certain temperature at any given time of year. When these expectations are thwarted, we can’t help but feel that something is amiss. This sensation might be a subtle one, but it might still have a measurable impact on performance. It’s markedly difficult to test for this factor, and so it remains a theoretical one.

Humidity

Our final consideration might be the one that we have the greatest control over. The moisture content of the air around us has a significant impact on our perception of the air temperature. When it’s humid, it often feels as though the world is suffocating us. And that’s true for observable physical reasons: when it’s humid, it’s impossible for air to move across your skin, as it’s impossible for your sweat to evaporate. Consequently, the same temperature at different humidity levels can feel vastly hotter or colder.

By ensuring a comfortable moisture level of around 40%, we can ensure that workers in an office, or students in a school, can concentrate fully without being distracted by discomfort.

How can Air Conditioning help?

An air conditioner has the twin benefits of both regulating the temperature and keeping the humidity to a manageable level. This allows the occupants of a building the best chance of achieving a comfortable temperature – after all, we’re able to adjust our temperature by adding or removing clothes, or by opening a window – but if the ambient humidity is over a given threshold, it’s going to be impossible to achieve that comfortable temperature level we crave. With the help of an air conditioner, it’s possible to keep both temperature and humidity within an ideal range that will please most people – and keep them as happy and productive as possible.