This summer, while Texas was experiencing record heat, Courtney Goss wore a thermal undershirt and pants instead of a skirt or dress and a hooded ski jacket before heading to the office.

“I dress like an Eskimo. It’s ridiculous,” Goss said, adding that she also uses a heater and blanket to keep warm in the office.

And she’s not alone: ​​When temperatures rise in Houston each summer, the so-called “women’s winter” begins when air conditioners blast in office buildings. While remote work has given employees control over their environment, this year, as the city battled heat waves and more employees returned to the office, the temperature differences between outside and the office seemed more pronounced.
“I’m in my home, I can control the environment and the temperature. I keep my home temperature at 77 degrees,” said Goss, 38, an information pharmacist at Houston Health Care Network. “When I first went back to the office, I was wearing… beautiful. And then I said, “I’m freezing.” So I started changing the way I dressed.”
Not only are overcooled offices less energy efficient, but research suggests that women are more likely to feel uncomfortably cold in offices – revealing an often overlooked gender disparity that some experts posit. It affects employee productivity and satisfaction amid the back-to-office campaign.
“Because of the job market, employers are really trying to encourage people to come back rather than force them to come back,” said John Myers, regional director of property management services at JLL Real Estate. “But if they’re trying to encourage people to come back, and that space is uncomfortable, the staff will say, ‘Yes, no, I’m not coming back.’

In 2021, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, analyzed 16,791 tweets about office temperatures. People in the South were more likely than those in other regions to tweet about cold offices even when it’s warm outside. The same study also analyzed 38,851 responses to surveys conducted in 435 office buildings in the United States and found that 76% of women believe their offices are too cold during the summer, compared to 24% of men.
“Especially in the summer, there is a disproportionate impact of this unhappiness on women,” said Stefano Schiavone, one of the researchers and a professor at the Center for the Built Environment at UC Berkeley. “The injustice exists. We know that if you’re not comfortable, you’ll get distracted, you’ll be less productive, and you can focus less. Why that happens is not yet known.”
There are some possible explanations though. A 2015 study in the journal Nature Climate Change revealed that the industrial formula for calculating what temperature a typical building should be is based on the metabolic rate of a 40-year-old man weighing 154 pounds. Females often have a higher percentage of body fat than males, which lowers their metabolic rate, but the formula, the magazine said, overestimated female metabolic rates by as much as 35%.

Some speculate that differences in clothing between men and women could be the reason. If most decision-makers are men in offices with the best views, they may feel warmer because of their window-side location, Schiavone said.
Although it may feel like winter inside, many Texas building owners keep their office temperatures above 70 degrees. For example, one of Houston’s largest office owners, Parkway, aims for a score of about 73. Some tenants’ leases also require a specific temperature range, Parkway said.

Most building owners don’t work to a standard formula and instead respond to individual tenant feedback, usually in a conversation with one person in the company, experts say.
Sometimes, despite the best intentions of an office manager, inefficient HVAC systems or building design can mean that one employee can get blasted by the air conditioner while another employee melts due to the humidity.

Energy help: Are you having difficulty paying your electricity bills with the ongoing heat wave? Here is a list of resources
Melissa Taylor, a law firm receptionist who works in a 1980s-era office building in west Houston, said asking her building manager to turn up the heat didn’t help. She wears pants and a wool coat, even in the middle of summer, and has recently started bringing a blanket.

“And I’m not skin and bones,” Taylor said. “The secretary freezes too. Sometimes I see her warming her hands under hot water. And we all have coffee all the time.”
Rick Davis, CEO of Maxx AC and Heating, a Houston-based HVAC provider, said many older office buildings in Houston, especially large towers, may be running on chilled water cooling systems that are decades old, making it difficult to Tenants control temperatures. Many offices also rely on air conditioning to dehumidify the space, and humid days force the air conditioner to work harder, Davis said.
Finding the perfect temperature is like trying to find one shoe size that fits multiple people, Schiavone said. He said there will always be someone whose feet don’t fit.

the cost: The analysis found that a heat wave in Texas could cost the state’s economy nearly $10 billion

That’s why he and his colleagues recently tested the effect of giving employees individual desk fans while raising temperatures by 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Employees remained comfortable, and energy consumption was reduced by 32%.
Encourage employees to wear casual, lighter clothing instead of formal clothing as well, Schiavone said.
So, instead of heaters and ski jackets, perhaps the solution should include more fans and slippers.

To listen to the Looped In podcast on this topic, including excerpts from interviews with JLL’s John Myers and UC Berkley’s Stefano Schiavone, you can listen in the podcast player above, or check out listening on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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