As the hot-desking trend continues, a new study reveals the risk of cross-contamination from shared workspaces
More companies in the UK are opting to move away from traditional personal desk arrangements in favour of hot-desking, where several employees may share a workspace across different shifts or work patterns.
One of the main benefits that hot-desking brings to business owners is the estimated 30% that’s saved on running an office, using space more effectively by not automatically allocating individual work areas to workers who are on the road, work from home or work part-time.
However, hot-desking also has potential adverse effects on a workplace from anecdotal evidence of feelings of isolation staff may have if seated away from their teams, to an increased risk of bacterial cross-contamination and a new study has highlighted just that.
How hygienic is a shared workspace?
An experiment carried out by Initial Washroom took the workplace of a company with over 100 employees who all had their own personal desks and swabbed commonly used equipment and surfaces to test for bacterial contamination.
Following on from this first stage of testing, a shared desk policy was enforced, meaning that employees would no longer have their own personal workspace. After a four month bedding-in period, the same equipment and surfaces were swabbed for a comparison of bacterial load between one user and multiple workers.
After hot-desking was introduced, the ATP bioluminescence reader found that on average, bacterial contamination was 18% higher than before, with shared computer mice a particular issue showing a 41% higher reading of bacterial load.
When it came to the surfaces of the desks, the implantation of the shared scheme had a significant effect on the bacterial load with 32% higher reading than previously. The cause of this was attributed to only 48% of employees admitting to using antibacterial wipes to clean down their workspaces at the end of each day.
Commenting on the results, Dr Peter Barratt from Initial Washroom said: “Levels of residual bacteria naturally vary between people, and when you factor in ‘al-desko’ dining at lunch time, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that sharing a desk space, keyboards and mice with colleagues or complete strangers comes with a potentially increased hygiene risk.”
How to inhibit the spread of bacteria
While most bacteria found on desks may be harmful, a cold or flu virus can spread from one contaminated door handle to nearly 40-60% of commonly touched objects in around 2-4 hours, so practicing good hygiene in shared areas like offices is key.
By identifying exposure pathways where bacteria can be spread, and practicing targeted and appropriate cleaning methods, you can help to break the chain of infection and reduce the risk of others catching avoidable illnesses.
One of the most common methods of bacterial transmission is through our hands, which is why keyboards, mice and phones are of particular concern. Dr Barratt believes address hand hygiene in the workplace is a key area for improvement:
“Poor hand hygiene is the major cause for the spread of common office illnesses such as colds, flu and Norovirus. Businesses need to ensure they have the right facilities in place to promote good hand hygiene across the company. This includes good quality soap from dispensers, hand drying equipment and hand sanitiser stations.”
According to a Government study in 2014, over 130 million work days are lost each year to sickness related absences which costs the UK economy around £100 billion per year, so it’s imperative that employers help their staff be more hygienic at work with improved messaging around hygiene protocols and take steps to help prevent cross-contamination risks.
For a long-term solution, Biomaster antimicrobial technology can be implemented into keyboards, mice and desk surfaces to help inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria in high-traffic, shared areas. Biomaster Hygiene Control Fabric Spray is also proven to be effective against Norovirus, protecting furnishings and uniforms from the virus.