Wellbeing should be a continual focus but with winter upon us the importance of maintaining the highest levels of hygiene in the workplace cannot be overstated. The transfer of germs and bacteria in an office can cause common illnesses such as colds and flu to spread, not only impacting the individuals affected, but often having a significant knock-on effect on productivity and the business performance as a whole.
High footfall environments, particularly in modern, flexible, colocation workplaces can present an increased risk for contamination, particularly in high transit areas. The increased occupier density will increase traffic and the cleaning protocol must take into account the degree to which disinfection and sanitization are necessary. Compound this with the common theme running through the evolution of the property industry, in delivering flexible, mixed use spaces, within ever more flexible tenure arrangements, and an exponential increase in occupiers.
As density increases by design, global influences are now delivering an enhanced hygiene challenge on a local level, because;
- We now operate in a global workplace
- As a society, we are moving to central locations, and importantly;
- We are travelling farther, faster, and more often.
Climate change1 also plays a role, as warmer temperatures expand the range of disease-carrying animals and insects we’re exposed to.
It is estimated that the cost to employers of sick days is more than £550 per employee per year, and this only takes account direct salary costs, not lost business opportunities or the cost of reduced customer service. The increase in agile working, and the demise of individual offices and assigned desks, means that more of us are working in close proximity to each other, often utilising several different working areas during each day.
Your office environment may appear clean on the surface, but everyday objects and surfaces can harbour harmful bacteria, leading to illness amongst employees. Think of how many different hands touch the same objects every day – door handles, light switches, telephones, work surfaces and shared IT equipment. Since 80% of infectious diseases are transmitted by touch2, and the average desk has 400 times more germs than a toilet seat3, it’s easy to see how quickly illness can spread.
A number of small steps in the workplace can help reduce absenteeism and save money.
- Define and implement your office cleaning strategy. A regular cleaning regime should be the cornerstone of a hygiene strategy, as it is a crucial step in helping to prevent illness outbreaks. With agile working spaces, flexible working and the consequent increase in the number of building users, it is vital that frequent cleaning of busy communal areas is carried out to prevent cross-contamination. Proactive cleaning involves the routine disinfection of shared contact points, such as door handles, surface tops and lift call buttons. Antibacterial wipes or dosing stations can also be made available to encourage employees to wipe down shared equipment.
- Encourage employees to be mindful of hygiene risks. The commute to work on public transport, the route into the office and the use of hot desks and shared computer equipment all provide plenty of opportunities to pick up bacterial and viral particles during the cold and flu season. In the modern working world, where pressure is high and time is short, employees may accidentally develop bad hygiene habits, unknowingly facilitating the spread of germs around the office. Helpful reminders and tips on best practise are a useful way to raise awareness.
- Remind employees of good hand hygiene habits, particularly regular, thorough handwashing with soap and water. This is particularly important before eating, to prevent microbes that have accumulated on common touchpoints around the office ending up as an unwanted accompaniment to your meal. When you’re in a hurry, it can be tempting not to dry your hands thoroughly, but germs transfer more easily to wet hands, so this can increase the risk of catching an illness.
- Encourage ill employees to stay at home, to avoid bringing germs into the workplace and risking the health of colleagues. With many employees now set-up for flexible working, it is often possible for them to catch up on urgent work from the comfort of their home. If you are coughing or sneezing, use a tissue to prevent the spread of germs and dispose of used tissues immediately.
In the busy modern world, with people working in close proximity, the risks of cross contamination are heightened, increasing the chance of employees coming into contact with harmful germs. However, with a small amount of time and money, facilities managers can help to provide an environment which will encourage and support best hygiene practice, helping to improve employee health and workplace productivity.
1 Climate Change and Infectious Diseases, World Health Organisation, Chapter 6
2 Bean, B., Moore, B. M., & Sterner. (1982). Survival of influenza viruses on environmental surfaces. Journal of Infectious Diseases
3 Dr. Charles Gerba (2002) “Germs in the Workplace” study, University of Arizona.