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There is a mysterious law that says offices are invariably the wrong temperature. (Hemera Technologies/Getty Images)
There is a mysterious law that says offices are invariably the wrong temperature. (Hemera Technologies/Getty Images)

LUCY KELLAWAY

Facebook’s offices are too cool for women Add to ...

Here is how it goes: A successful woman writes a book about being a successful woman and then other women write angry articles about her and it.

So I’ve been duly leafing through Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In trying to find material for my own angry column, only I can’t find anything to feel angry about – or to feel anything about at all. I was about to give up when I stumbled on a fact in an interview the author and Facebook chief operating officer gave to The Times. It has nothing to do with women or success or leaning in or leaning back or even staying vertical. It’s that Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg likes to keep the conference room at a chilly 15 C.

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Now here is something I can really get steamed up about. This single fact hints at all sorts of things about the way we work now. It tells us about the Young Turks of Silicon Valley. It tells us about men and women. It tells us about productivity and the lack of it. But, most fundamentally of all, it raises the question: What is the right temperature to work in? You would think that this was something easy to get right. Yet there is a mysterious law that says offices are invariably the wrong temperature: scorchingly hot in the winter, and Arctic cold in the summer.

Academics from Cornell University have researched the matter and concluded that the magic number is 25 C. They tested staff in an insurance office and found that at this temperature the number of mistakes made was minimized.

I find this impossible to believe. The temperature at my desk right now is 24.2 C (a man from facilities paid me a visit with a thermometer). That’s a nice heat for watching the telly at home, but is far too cozy for work.

It’s true that so far today I have made no mistakes, but that is because I haven’t done any work either. The temperature is saying: Relax! Take it easy! Check Twitter!

The trouble with being too hot at work is that there is limited scope to adjust your clothing. When you are cold, you can always put your coat on, whereas I took off my jacket the minute I got in, and would like to do the same with my woollen trousers, only decorum forbids it. Instead, at my elbow I have a little fan supplied by an entrepreneurial colleague who buys them in bulk for about $6. It is blowing at me coolingly as I write, though this solution comes with considerable cost to my hair: I end the day looking like Barry Manilow.

Cold focuses the mind. I did the best work I’ve ever done in my parents’ unheated cottage. When you are that uncomfortable you don’t mess about. Cold is particularly useful in meeting rooms as it eliminates the desire to carry on pointlessly. The best board meeting I’ve attended was in a room where the heating wasn’t working at all.

Mr. Zuckerberg is right about cold, even if 15 C is a little extreme. However, his decision to impose discomfort on others is more controversial. In doing this, he is exhibiting the very latest in management fashion from San Francisco: what I call dot-com dogmatism. He is second only to Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer – who recently told all staff to stop loafing about in Starbucks and to come to the office instead.

It is as if these companies, having spent years competing to be like cool friends to their employees, have finally realized that chilling – at least metaphorically – doesn’t work. So they’ve gone to the other extreme and it’s: Get your asses into the office. And then freeze them off once they get there.

In opting for Arctic meeting rooms Mr. Zuckerberg is presenting a dictatorial face not just to staff but to Facebook’s guests. The home team has been forewarned and so can be warm in the hoodies favoured by the boss himself, while guests are left shivering and at a disadvantage. The chill also has implications for the battle between the sexes. Women feel the cold more than men as more of their blood goes to protecting their organs – a biological difference that shows men and women were never designed to share offices, let alone beds. At 15 C Mr. Zuckerberg puts himself at a distinct advantage to Ms. Sandberg and Facebook’s other women. So now I think I get what “leaning in” is really all about. If women are that cold, they need to huddle together to keep warm.

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