Baby, it’s cold outside. And possibly inside, too. Building engineers are gearing up for the usual complaints that it’s freezing on one side of the office while it’s too hot on the other side.

The result is likely higher utility bills as temperature setpoints go haywire in attempts to reconcile complaints. This can lead to ad hoc solutions — a space heater under one desk, a fan on another — causing a push-pull that leads to higher energy use and more dissatisfied employees.

You CAN Please (Almost) Everyone

ASHRAE standard 55 dictates that comfort is achievable for no more than 80% of occupants within a temperature band, but companies still try to please everyone. While admirable, this expectation means that it becomes more difficult to achieve ENERGY STAR scores, lower utility bills, and achieve higher building valuations, all of which are likely on the list of building owner resolutions for 2013.

There is a green solution. Give your employees a choice about where they want to sit and install fixed-temperature zones throughout the floor plan.

Today’s knowledge worker is more connected and more flexible than any other generation on record. Cookie-cutter cubicles and crowded workstations are not only unappealing, they are now unnecessary when employees armed with a laptop and mobile phone can work almost anywhere.

Having different fixed-temperature zones throughout the floor plan enables an owner to set 80 percent of the space to an average comfort level, 10 percent slightly warmer and another 10 percent slightly cooler. Along with flexible configurations that allow employees to sit wherever they want, everyone can be comfortable and productive. Think about it — no employee complaints and a more energy-efficient building.

Implementing the Plan

The tools to implement this concept are likely things you likely already have: mobile IT (laptops, smart phones, headsets), and open office plans.

Add lockers for staff to keep their personal items safe and a place to hang their family photos. Then simply allow everyone to select his or her own seat for that day. Do away with permanent workstations where people are forced to sit. This gives employees multiple options at any point in time during the day to work where they want.

Too hot? You no longer pick up the phone to log a complaint. You pick up your laptop and move. Chances are, someone who is cold is already eying your workstation. So just do a swap.

Seem like too much change to implement? Not for organizations that want to attract Generation Green – Millennials who overwhelmingly want to work for companies with strong green reputations and offer them flexibility in their jobs.

We’re in the dog days of winter in many parts of the country. It’s not too late to start implementing sustainable solutions. Instead of constantly adjusting the thermostat, flex your floor plan. You’ll make your employees happy while achieving energy efficiency.

Brad Pease AIA, LEED® AP BD is the leader of Paladino’s Signature Buildings Practice that guides owners to embed core organizational values around sustainability into their significant single building projects.

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