Office climate

For nearly twenty years now, I’ve had office jobs. Whether telephone technical support, software testing, document scanning, or technical writing, the setting is your typical office environment. You’ve certainly heard the phrase ‘corporate culture’ but my experience has shown that there’s also an office climate. I mean ‘climate’ in the meteorological sense. In every office I’ve worked, the climate control is more aggressive than required. As a result, it’s too hot in the winter and too cold in the summer. I have no explanation for why this is so common.

You may recall my mentioning that the company I work for moved its local office earlier this year. The space they’ve rented seems to suffer this same season inversion. I don’t have an entire year of experience in this new building so I can’t say for sure, but it’s following the pattern so far. The surprise is another variable is at play in the new office space.

It’s all about humidity. In the summer months, the office was ridiculously humid when we’d arrive in the morning and would get gradually more comfortable throughout the day. The morning humidity was so palpable that Don bought a hygrometer to see how humid it actually was. The humidity was as bad as we thought. First thing in the morning, the humidity was within a few percent of 100%. It would gradually drop during the day, dipping below 70% by the time we’d head home.

Of course we talked to the building management about this. They explained that the ventilation is greatly reduced over night so the humidity has time to build. This sounds ridiculous to me because even if the ventilation is shut off, the humidity will only increase if there’s a moisture source to feed it. It’s a typical office without any obvious source to boost the humidity 40% during the overnight hours.

High humidity is something I can deal with as long as the temperature isn’t also high. Low humidity is far worse. To my complete surprise, the humidity in the office is also undergoing a seasonal inversion. It’s only November, but the humidity in the office when we arrive in the morning ranges from 15% to 20%. This is surprisingly low. I’ve experienced 15% relative humidity and it did not make for a pleasant working environment.

20071104_four_percentAs low as the humidity is, this is just the morning starting point. On Friday, the relative humidity dropped to just under 4% before I left for the day. Not only is such a dry environment uncomfortable for employees, it’s also bad for electronic equipment. Damage from electrostatic discharge will be more of a matter of when than if.

Speaking personally, low humidity has a worse effect than just discomfort. Over the last decade, winter has given my skin a dryness problem. I’ve talked to my doctor about it and I am suffering from a mild case of eczema. It’s strictly seasonal, usually first making its presence known after Christmas and finally disappearing when warmer weather arrives in the spring.

Hygrometers aren’t known for their extreme accuracy, but I can tell the humidity is very low in the office. My skin is starting to show signs of dryness nearly two months earlier than normal. Already, regular moisturizer isn’t enough to keep the dryness at bay. I’ve got some prescription medication I have to be diligent in applying it to trouble-spots. I also have to consciously avoid scratching.

I have seen photographs of eczema and what I’ve got is nothing like the severe cases. I hesitate to even use the name of the condition because my condition looks more like severely dry skin than eczema.

I’m just hoping the building management can control the humidity more than they have been. I’m going to be a mess if this is a preview of what the office will be like during the winter.

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