If your office is too cold, chances are that you might not be typing as accurately, or as much, as you could be, says Dr. Alan Hedge, an ergonomics professor at Cornell University. In a landmark study evaluating the impact of indoor environmental conditions on worker productivity, Hedge found a 74 percent increase in typing mistakes and a 46 percent reduction in typing output when office temperatures fell from 77 degrees F to 68 degrees F. The findings were presented at the 2004 Eastern Ergonomics Conference in New York City.

"The purpose of the study was to investigate the link between changes in physical environmental conditions and changes in work performance," Hedge explains. "Temperature is certainly a key variable that can impact performance."

During the study, Hedge placed miniature temperature recorders at nine individual workstations at the Insurance Office of America's corporate headquarters in Orlando, Fla. The loggers, which are commonly used to validate comfort complaints in the workplace, sampled air temperature every 15 minutes for an entire working month. This data was then correlated with a month's worth of ergonomic data to show how typing performance worsened as temperatures fell.

"As employees typed, we knew the amount of time they were keying, and the amount of time they were making error corrections," says Hedge. "At 77 degrees F, employees were keying 100 percent of the time with a 10 percent error rate, while at 68 degrees F, keying rate went down to 54 percent of the time with a 25 percent error rate."

Hedge estimates that the decreased productivity resulted in a 10 percent increase in labor costs per worker, per hour.

He adds, "This study shows that when employees get chilly, at least in this case, they are not working to their full potential. We will continue to study the impact of the environment on worker productivity with the ultimate goal of having much smarter buildings and better environmental control systems in the workplace."