Free food, fitness memberships, brand new devices. In the summer months, none of these work perks matter as much as a well-regulated air-conditioning system.
Comfy is an app that allows employees to control their immediate environment simply by tapping “Warm My Space,” “Cool My Space” or “I’m Comfy.” Once the app learns these preferences over time, it begins to regulate temperature by office quadrant. Think of it as a Sleep Number bed for the air around you.
Last week, Building Robotics, the Oakland, Calif.-based company behind Comfy, announced it had closed $12 million in a series B funding round. The round included an investment from CBRE Group, one of the world’s largest commercial property management companies. Comfy has begun testing in many workplaces, including WeWork offices in New York and California. Bloomberg, in a story published on Friday with the headline, “The End of the Office Air-Conditioning Wars,” hailed Comfy as the solution to disagreements about temperature in offices nationwide.
But this momentum begs the question, like so many innovations out of Silicon Valley: Will this tech trickle down to the masses?
At the Entrepreneur.com office in New York, we fight about air-conditioning daily. Our A/C is set to cold. We bring our jackets despite 80-something-degree weather outside, taking them off before embarking on our evening commutes. I sit close to the center of the office, away from the walls, yet my hair and the papers on the bulletin board behind my monitor flutter in the artificial wind. My right hand, exposed so I can use the computer mouse, turns to ice as I keep my left hand under my knee for warmth.
More than once, my neighboring colleague has propped up a space heater on a vacant swivel chair to neutralize the frigid breeze. Not to mention that whenever the system boots up for a new cycle, the ducts make a rumbling sound that’s a cross between a garbage truck and thunder. In some nooks and offices along the floor’s perimeter, however, the sunlight beaming in keeps other co-workers nice and … comfy.
Comfy is positioned to address a first-world problem for an upper percentile of the first world. It’s an example of innovation designed for the tech elite -- another perk to tack onto a job listing between air hockey tournaments and locally sourced catered lunches. For many companies, who juggle lessors, boards and other bureaucracy, adopting a service such as Comfy is out of the question.
Comfy may be compatible with a building’s HVAC infrastructure, but what if your company only occupies 2,000 square feet? The only “cloud-based” systems that have any bearing on climate for many workers are the ones outside in the sky. Not everyone gets to be a picky Goldilocks at the office.
Plenty of studies show that happy employees are more productive, and Comfy has found that 83 percent of users report being more comfortable setting their temperature preferences with the app. The best managers take time to assess employees' complaints and suggestions, but the reality is, not all managers have the resources to implement a system such as Comfy. The idea that every office will soon adopt smart technology seems utopic, overlooking traditional office environments where basic human decency, such as honoring labor laws and maintaining open dialogue, is the extent of employee pampering.
Maybe we’re just envious of more temperate offices and need to “Let It Go,” like Elsa in Frozen, but it seems that Comfy’s takeover is far from imminent. Perhaps personalized temperature control will be a work-perk requirement of generation Z prospective hires in a decade or so, up there with unlimited time off, Soylent on tap and student-loan reimbursements.