How You Can Take Control of the Weather


How You Can Take Control of the Weather

We’re having an exceptionally warm autumn here in Melbourne. A cool change always comes as a welcome relief, but the perfect weather never lasts long. True, Melbourne is known for giving us four seasons in one day, but experiencing varying temperatures is part of our lives regardless of where we live.

Spending most of our days indoors, perhaps at home or in our office, doesn’t necessarily shelter us from unpleasant temperatures. Well-functioning heating and cooling systems are as rare as hens’ teeth. So ironically, many of us spend our summer days shivering and our winter days sweating under overactive air-conditioners.

Even if you’re the lucky one, blessed with an adequately air-conditioned office, some of your team members might still feel uncomfortable. The truth is that there’s no such thing as a perfect temperature for everyone. In any given conditions, a few people still feel hot or cold.

So instead of trying to tightly control the temperature of your environment, you’re better off learning to use it to your advantage – whether hot or cold.

Our invisible friend (or enemy)

How hot or cold we feel at work is not just a matter of wellbeing. It can influence our ideas and decisions, affect our productivity and shape our relationships – often without us realising it. In fact, as little as +/- 5 degrees compared to the ideal temperature can make a huge difference to our psychology, behaviour, and subsequently our work results.

While this may appear far-fetched, we need to remember that our body uses energy maintaining a healthy internal temperature. And when too much energy is used for fighting heat or cold, there’s less energy available to support ‘non-essential’ brain functions such as concentration or creative thinking.

4 ways temperatures influence us at work

Hot and cold can create different problems, but also present different opportunities.

1. Decisions

In warm environments we tend to find it more difficult to make complex decisions. We may give up early, make the wrong choices, or even avoid making such decisions in the first place. We are compelled to take the easy way out, which also means that we’re likely to shy away from innovative ideas, because we don’t have the energy to deal with the complexities inherent in the innovation process. In contrast, in cooler environments we are better at evaluating our options and picking the best one.

2. Productivity

Countless studies have looked at how temperatures affect productivity. Some have found that warm temperatures are somewhat better then cold temperatures, while others have come to the opposite conclusion. Well, we’re facing two equally unappealing options: heat can make us feel drained and lethargic, while on the other hand, cold is especially distracting and can narrow our focus. What’s clear, however, is that feeling too hot or too cold both undermine our productivity. We work more slowly, have difficulties concentrating, and subsequently make many errors in tasks requiring focus.

3. Creativity

Whether we feel hot or cold, we’re tuned into different kinds of creative thinking. Warm helps us with creative activities that have something to do with the relationship between people and/or things – for example, coming up with gift ideas for people, drawing creatively, or categorising objects. In contrast, in cold environments we might be better at abstract creative tasks such as brainstorming names for new products, playing with language patterns, or developing abstract concepts.

4. Relationships

Temperatures affect the way we perceive and relate to others. Our brain seems to be cross-wired, having difficulty differentiating between physical warmth and psychological warmth. When we feel cold, we are more likely to see others as cold and ungenerous, and there’s a greater chance that we feel isolated. On the other hand, in warm environments we tend to be more unguarded, warm and friendly, and to see others as more similar to us. We also trust others more, partly due to our evolutionary programming; as infants, being kept close to our parents is vital for our survival.

Note that we don’t even need to be sweating or shivering; touching a cold object already alters our perception of others. Studies have found that people relate to others noticeably differently when they hold a hot drink or a hand warmer, as opposed to holding a cold drink or an ice pack.

How can you use this information?

Awareness is power. Once you understand how the temperatures of your environment can affect your thinking, you can avoid falling into any of the traps.

Whenever possible, schedule your tasks according to the temperatures of your workspace. For example, you may choose to do analytical tasks on chilly mornings and artistic work on warm afternoons. Make sure that you do the tasks that require intense concentration when you’re most comfortable. And refrain from making difficult decisions when it’s very warm, or running team meetings in freezing temperatures (if you must, at least give your people a mug of hot drink).

Make the most of the temperature differences in your workspace. For example, use warm rooms or corners for people-centric tasks, and cool spots for abstract thinking.

Finally, build up your tolerance to deviations in temperature. How you can do this? By looking after your health and wellbeing, spending plenty of time outdoors, minimising stress in your life, and gaining a sense of control over what you do. The more adaptable you become, the less you will be swayed by the whims of the weather – or your air-con system.

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