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FM Clinic: Taking the heat out of summer

Some recent reports suggest that those employees who are in the office over the summer don’t think that employers support them enough through the summer months, from providing better air conditioning when it’s hot to holding summer events. What can FMs do to ensure that those staff working through the season feel supported and motivated when half the office is on holiday?

WORKPLACE CHANGE EXPERT’S VIEW
ANDREW MAWSON, 
MD OF ADVANCED WORKPLACE ASSOCIATES (AWA)

Most offices house a mixed community. Parents tend to stick to school timetables and are likely to take their leave over the six weeks’ holiday, that begins towards the end of July. However, those without children usually avoid the school holidays in order to grab a better deal – or just because they value peace and quiet! Childfree employees are therefore more likely to opt for an early or an Indian summer break. That essentially means that the summer season is from early June until the end of September; an entire quarter of possible disruption!

When we think of summer, the first thing our minds turn to is probably the weather. It’s usually hotter, right? From the research we’ve conducted, temperature is one of the factors that impacts cognitive performance; hot weather can impede someone’s ability to work effectively. Being uncomfortable distracts people from work – it’s that simple – so the first step for FM is to provide the right conditions so people who are tearing themselves away from the sunny outdoors can work optimally indoors.

Research shows a significant negative effect on our cognition when temperatures are high, and although the underlying factors are not well understood, it’s widely recognised that temperature is the modal form of stress – linked to our very survival. It is believed that we have a greater tolerance for cold as opposed to heat. Warmer temperatures seem to tax us more significantly, leaving less resources available for cognitive tasks. Interestingly, cold temperatures (i.e. less than 12C) tend to result in moderately faster response times in cognitive tasks when compared to high temperatures. However, you don’t want to turn your office into a freezer – it is, of course, all about balance!

Water helps to regulate internal body temperature, so keeping hydrated is important. We know from our research that cognitive performance drops sharply if body water levels drop by just 2 per cent of body weight. No matter how mild, dehydration can cause an imbalance in bodily functions and symptoms include headaches, feeling tired and weak, confusion and mood swings. Dehydration can adversely affect cognitive capacity and interfere with performance associated with skills such as perception, attention, immediate memory and brain/physical interaction – so it’s pretty important that FMs ensure staff have access to a fresh water supply, especially over the summer months. The European Food Safety Authority recommends a daily intake of 2.5 litres of water for men and 2 litres for women. Other sources, such as Bupa, suggest that 1.5-2 litres per day is sufficient.

In the old days, FM was all about maintaining a building. These days, the profession is moving into a health and wellbeing function. Part of this means educating people to ensure they’re looking after their health. Work with your colleagues to ensure they’re aware of what they’re drinking and how the conditions around them impact hydration. We’ve all heard and seen the announcements on the Tube, imploring us all to stay hydrated over the summer months – well, the office shouldn’t be any different.

Finally, it might well be worth monitoring space utilisation over the summer months to see whether it could be reconfigured to better support employees, ensuring there’s a sense of community and perceived supervisory support even when a high proportion of staff are away. If utilisation was very low, maybe companies should think about mothballing a floor for three months by consolidating occupation in the rest of the portfolio. 

THE MD’S VIEW
MICHAEL PAGE
DIRECTOR OF WORKPLACE CONSULTANT, SARACEN INTERIORS

When summer hits – and we’re talking proper sunny days; the type that generate the ‘heatwave headlines in our (very British) press – it’s best to establish the most pragmatic approach and recognise that staff aren’t going to have quite the same degree of motivation.

During hot and sunny days, the temptation to down tools is high; the ‘off’ switch is often flicked when the weather is nice outside. We can also feel a bit lethargic. If the nights are particularly warm, we’re probably not sleeping that well which means that it’s harder to stay focused and motivated during the working day.

This is the weather that, historically, can generate a drop in productivity of up to approximately 20 per cent as we inadvertently slip into holiday mode. Best to anticipate it, show some empathy with the team and consider the type of concessions that can be made and the practicalities involved in making them.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to show willing from small gestures like filling the freezer compartment in the kitchen with complimentary choc ices and ice lollies to allowing the workers to down tools and finish early on particularly hot days.

By giving employees the option to finish early or to take time out during nice days, to be made up in the evening, or when they see fit, you’re demonstrating empathy as an employer as well as a degree of trust and flexibility and the majority of employees will be far happier and willing to work harder as a result.

Similarly, as some employers offer bonus Christmas shopping days, it’s nice to reward those who haven’t booked out half of August with a bonus ‘garden’ day or afternoon during the summer months in recognition that they are putting in the hours during what is regarded as the holiday month.

Days or half-days like these also give a nod to those who don’t have kids who can feel their needs come second to those with kids of school age when it comes to time off during the long school holiday period.

Overall, what’s essential is to demonstrate a degree of flexibility. That flexibility can be applied to anything from relaxing the dress code (if you have one) when it’s hot, and allowing shorts and t-shirts, to making the hours flexible.

As has been acknowledged, significantly less is achieved when the weather is nice anyway as workers are more likely to be working in less comfortable conditions (particularly if they are working without air-conditioning) and / or they are feeling resentful of the time spent indoors on a beautiful day.

Far better to have those workers out of the office, if possible, during this time, to return refreshed or to make the hours up in conditions more conducive to work.

Summer most definitely isn’t the time to micro-manage. Let staff take charge of their own workload and how and when they complete it, be it working from home, starting earlier or finishing earlier or making up time at the weekend.

You’re more likely to get a higher degree of productivity and, most definitely, goodwill if you take a more relaxed and positive approach and show some flexibility. 

About Sarah OBeirne

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