Workplace hygiene - the age of shared workspace

4th of April 2019
Workplace hygiene - the age of shared workspace

Steve Nurdin, marketing manager at Cannon Hygiene, explains why hygiene should go beyond the basics as flexible working practices become more prevalent. He gives four steps to consider in the battle against germs.

Offices have evolved to accommodate flexible working practices, with collaborative working hubs and hotdesking aiming to boost productivity while reducing overheads. According to a survey by the Institute for Leadership & Management, 65 per cent of UK managers say that flexible working helps commitment and motivation. But there is a hidden cost of implementing them.

Bad hygiene practices can quickly lead to a fall in productivity as sick days become more prevalent because germs, bugs and illnesses can easily spread when several people share the same working spaces. This can quickly deplete a workforce, especially during cold and flu season.

Facilities managers can tackle this by creating robust hygiene strategies that include procedures to mitigate the negative impact of this shift in workplace culture. The question is where to start. There are several key zones estates teams should bear in mind.

Washroom germ hotspot

Washrooms have the highest footfall in most buildings and so are natural hubs for germs. While you’d hope people would wash their hands, it’s not always the case. As a result, germs can be transferred quickly from one surface to the next in any office – especially as hands are responsible for the spread of 80 per cent of infectious diseases.

For those businesses with hotdesking policies, germs like E.coli and norovirus can rapidly spread across an entire building. In fact a study conducted by The University of Arizona found that traces of a harmless virus placed on a door handle spread to half of the surfaces in the same office within just four hours. This makes effective hand hygiene the best and most cost-effective way to prevent this.

It won’t come as a surprise that many germs start to grow in washrooms so having reliable handwashing and drying systems is fundamental. Automatic and no-touch taps, soap dispensers fitted with antibacterial hand wash and high quality hand dryers or towel dispensers will encourage handwashing.

Automatic soap dispensers will distribute the right amount of soap to kill bacteria and limit spillage, which will make washrooms appear clean and well looked after. Even so, there’s no guarantee that people will stick to the basic rules, so facility managers should prepare for this. There are now systems on the market that spray an antibacterial mist on washroom door grips each time the door is closed, killing bacteria and stopping it being transferred on to clean hands.

Shared responsibility

Excellent hygiene remains the best defence against infection, but it needs to be practised by all staff and visitors alike. This can be quite a challenge as people’s attitudes and vigilance towards cleanliness differ greatly.

If you are going to promote good hygiene practices, you need to have the tools in place to help employees do this. Installing hand sanitisers in key areas like receptions and hotdesking zones can allow people to make sure they’re frequently keeping their hands free of germs.

It is also vital to make sure employees have access to guidance on topics such hand hygiene. Adding a communications plan to promote consistency is an important part of a thorough hygiene strategy, even if it may feel overzealous. Posters placed around washrooms, shared kitchens and even near hotdesking zones and collaborative working hubs is a good way to ensure staff keep cleanliness front of mind.

For example, the 12-step method to wash hands properly, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends, is one of the most effective ways some of our customers encourage people to wash their hands.

Attention to detail

Better hygiene practices will make little difference in preventing the spread of bacteria if the simplest daily cleaning tasks are overlooked.

Staff should be extra vigilant when cleaning areas such as vents, ledges, carpets and upholstery where dust can settle unseen. Regular cleaning of keyboards, mice and desks should also help ensure germs don’t have a chance to linger.

According to a recent study office desks harbour 400 times the amount of bacteria than a toilet seat and the average desktop is covered in 20,961 germs per square inch – in addition to 25,127 on the phone, 3,295 on the keyboard and 1,676 on the mouse. This highlights how important it is to have effective hygiene practices in place, which can prevent the accumulation of bacteria in offices with hotdesking policies.

The study, which featured in The Independent national newspaper in the UK, also found that one in 10 workers don’t disinfect or clean their desk when starting a shift. As simple as it sounds, providing antibacterial cleaning wipes in key areas will remind and encourage employees to clean surfaces and equipment before use. If practised by everyone, this is an inexpensive way to prevent the outbreak of illnesses.

Doormats are also often overlooked by cleaning personnel. While vacuuming may seem sufficient, it only removes the top 10 per cent of dirt and mats can quickly become clogged and ineffective if they are not thoroughly cleaned. Especially true in offices with hotdesking, making sure these are regularly laundered can help reduce the spread of dust and dirt from outside.

Invisible dangers, automatic solutions

Airborne germs are some of the easiest to transmit, and the hardest to prevent since they are invisible and are easily forgotten about.

Poor indoor air quality can lead to the quick spread of illnesses and deplete a workforce. Particularly during the colder months seasonal flu outbreaks, coughs and sneezes can lead to the rapid transmission of bacteria from one person to the next.

The issue with regulating indoor air quality is that it is often hard to know where to start. A good tip is to think about the number of air conditioning units you have versus open windows and whether germ filled air is being recirculated into the office. For those with limited natural ventilation, technology is available that actively filters and cleans the air to kill bacteria and remove dust and pollen. There are also fragranced options to help keep premises smelling fresh throughout the day.

There is no silver bullet and facilities managers need to invest time to review an office layout before making a start to any hygiene strategy. Concentrating efforts around likely germ hotspots like collaboration hubs, hotdesks, receptions and washrooms can make a significant difference and is the first step in reducing the spread of bacteria throughout the office and increased staff absences.

Once key areas have been identified, automatic solutions such as soap dispenser, hand dryers, towel dispensers, air filters and hand sanitiser dispensers can be installed to make sure hygiene standards
are consistently maintained in the background. But the efforts should not stop there and keeping your fingers crossed that staff will wash their hands is not enough. Facility managers should incorporate a communications plan into their strategy and place guidance posters around the building to keep hygiene at the forefront of everyone’s thinking.


Our Partners

  • ISSA Interclean
  • EFCI
  • EU-nited