Aah, the poor office. Much maligned, actively shunned, and positively demonised since Spring 2020.
Well, now it’s mounting a comeback. Fewer staff, but sparkling and good to go. A leaner, cleaner, office mark 2. And – wouldn’t you know it – a welcome sanctuary all of a sudden, from the chaos that is home-working: wifi instability, visits from the kids, and a steady stream of delivery drivers…
But we’re entering a new phase. This hybrid – whereby we spend half the week at home, and the other half in the office. Many companies see this model continuing for some considerable time, with their staff very much in favour, given the reduction in commuting time.
But a lower turnout in the office has seen companies downsize their premises, and a move towards hotdesking has been adopted by countless employers across the UK.
Which, in the age of COVID, brings some obvious new challenges to office hygiene.
Hot-desking to offices full of staff – why cleaning matters regardless
You may think that a full office requires more of a deep clean than an office at 50%. And it does make sense: the more people, the greater the likelihood of bacteria/viral transmission through the air, as well as via more surfaces.
But if a workforce at 50% is confined into a smaller space – as is increasingly the case – then:
- There’s no significant risk reduction from the respiratory perspective, as the ratios of people to space may not have changed much.
- There’s arguably increased risk of surface-surface transmission, given the likelihood that the other half of the company occupied the room the previous day. So, what is actually happening is that 100% of the company, over the course of 24 hours, is condensed into a smaller area, with staff sharing office equipment and appliances far more frequently than they would normally have done.
Hotdesking suddenly got risky. But with the right products and the right approach, there are ways in which risk can be minimised in this new scenario, giving staff the reassurance they need to go about their working day.
In essence, this boils down to a combination of contracted deep-cleaning, via professional cleaners, who will set to work on the office once staff have left the building, and the employees themselves, who, through simple routine practices, can actively play a role in office hygiene, lowering the level of risk for everyone.
Types of office cleaning to introduce as part of your cleaning protocol
As the office manager, you’ll want to ensure that employees feel comfortable coming to work. As the office manager of a newly formed hotdesking environment, there’s added pressure to get it right.
We’ve listed some recommended actions below that are worth considering:
- Fogging – This is a professional approach to office cleaning which uses an antiviral disinfectant solution to clean and sanitise wide areas of the premises in one go. The product is usually disseminated through a spray gun and left to evaporate for 6 hours. It is a highly skilled process which requires the contractor to determine precise antiviral concentration levels – ensuring there is sufficient product to provide effective viral protection, but mitigate against an unsafe environment once the product has dried. It also requires the use of specialist equipment to employ, including chemical suit, gloves, an air-fed ventilator and sealed mask.
As mentioned, the process does necessitate a vacant office for a good 6-8 hours, yet it is easy to see why fogging is effective – deploying an even film of disinfectant across a large area, with the fine antiviral mist reaching those areas of the office that are frequently neglected.
- Wiping – Whilst fogging is certainly one to leave to the professionals, there are also actions employees can take in-house that will reinforce the protection provided by contractors. And indeed, one perceived criticism of the process described above is the ‘concentration level’ factor, given that there are areas of an office far more subject to potential bacteria and virus build-up than others. Door handles, taps, and desks see much higher levels of human contact than the neglected pot plant in the company foyer.., so surely it makes sense that these touchpoints warrant extra attention?What becomes evident is that the office actually needs this added input from staff – and through the effective use of scientifically tested, antibacterial wipes at routine intervals over the course of a day, employees can take comfort in the knowledge they are playing their part. (See earlier post on ‘Hygiene in the workplace’ which touches on this some more)
- Hand sanitising – These little plastic bottles are virtual staples throughout shops, businesses and public areas, and installing these around the office will keep morale high. Studies have shown that we inadvertently touch our face more than 16 times every hour – so whilst we may have all upped our hand-washing with soap and water, there’s every chance that we’ve come into contact with contamination in between those trips to the sink, so quick and easy access to hand sanitisation is critical.
- Internal messaging – The approaches described above simply won’t happen without clear internal messaging. And this falls squarely on HR and Office Management – although it will need strong support and respect from senior colleagues in order to push through the sense of gravitas and mutual responsibility.
In a hotdesking environment – particularly as we live through COVID – the office manager will need to keep staff constantly reassured as to the measures in place for cleaning and hygiene in the office, as there will be higher levels of concern amongst the workforce.
This might involve emails with links to authoritative articles around office hygiene; updates on latest workplace recommendations; and a running commentary on the efficacy of the office cleaning practices in place – using stats where possible. Keeping staff educated around the risks is paramount, but it’s also important to provide a sense of value and appreciation in the efforts they are investing.
Focusing on high-priority office areas
We touched earlier on the obvious viral-risk difference between a door handle and a pot plant. And recognising those high-frequency touchpoints in the office is not actually that challenging if you stop to think about it. The problem is, we don’t.
So it’s probably worth the Office Manager adding the point to their to-do list: clearly outlining the areas of the office that deserve special attention with regards to hygiene, and pinning the list up in the kitchen.
- Yes, the kitchen – number one on the office hygiene hitlist. The most bacteria and virus-riddled environment in the entire office is the area where we all prepare our food and drinks.
Microwave handles, fridge doors, kettles, communal cutlery/crockery and kitchen surfaces all high-frequency touchpoints, with studies showing:
- over 90% of mugs to be contaminated, with traces of fecal matter found in 20%
- 75% of kitchen surfaces to contain more bacteria than an average sanitary bin
- Kettle and fridge handles harbouring up to 12 times more bacteria than toilet seats
Food for thought, if you’ll excuse the pun. Here’s a few tips on how to ensure your office kitchen doesn’t fall within those same statistics:
- Ensure the fridge is professionally cleaned regularly, inside and out. Instill fridge etiquette internally within the workforce through messaging and posters.
- Provide easy-access anti-viral wipes, encouraging staff to wipe surfaces down after use. Installing wall-mounted dispensers is a good way of limiting contact.
- Replace sponges daily – and get rid of any tea towels in place of disposable towels.
- Encourage employees to use their own mug/crockery/cutlery
- Install foot-pedal operated bins
- Above all, communicate to staff internally the importance of a highly-sanitised kitchen, and impress upon them the risks of failing to uphold proper hygiene levels. Incredibly, studies have shown that almost 2/3 of an office workforce don’t actually know whose responsibility it is to maintain a hygienic kitchen. It’s up to the Office Manager and HR to let them know that they themselves have a significant part to play here.
- Shared desks – The very essence of hotdesking. The office desk is generally considered a hotbed of bacteria, and when it is being shared by multiple parties over the course of a week – with ‘al desko’ lunches, coffee spillages, and high-frequency human contact – then the issue is exacerbated.
Employees should be encouraged to sanitise their desks and office equipment using anti-bacterial wipes regularly throughout the day – and particularly after any food or drink, and before leaving the premises.
- Bathrooms – If they don’t already, then companies really ought to have policies around bathroom hygiene – but visible internal communication within office bathrooms is not a bad idea. Additionally, consider:
- No touch/automated devices – for sink taps, soap dispensers, hand dryers and toilet flushes. You don’t need to go all out initially, but even installing one or two of these non-touch devices will significantly reduce contamination levels in the office bathroom.
- Easy to clean surfaces – this is standard: ensure your bathroom surfaces are non-porous and easy to clean, and it may be worth having anti-bacterial wipe dispensers mounted on the wall alongside the hand-dryer.
- Good ventilation – all too often, office bathrooms represent cramped cubicles with poor ventilation – not ideal when in the midst of an airborne virus pandemic. If this is the case within your own office, then you need to double down on the bathroom cleaning effort put in by both staff and contractors – and reset the ventilator to run longer than normal.
- And if space allows – remove the doors! You’ve probably noticed, but airport toilets don’t have doors – simply a zig-zagged corridor to the facilities. Whilst this might be a luxury, companies are increasingly looking into innovative ways of removing the need for toilet door handles too.
Making cleaning a priority
We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again. This is a team effort.
Professional contractors providing deep cleaning surfaces are critical, but they aren’t around during the working day – when members of the workforce are mingling, touching and contaminating. Staff need to step up and make regular interval cleaning a part of their working day – such that it becomes routine. In the hotdesking scenario, due consideration should be paid, at the end of the working day, to the fact that the workspace is being shared – and employees should leave the desk, chair, and any relevant equipment properly sanitised, tidy and ready for their colleague.
This will only happen with prompts. Visible reminders, with wipes placed on desks and in common areas.
It is in everyone’s interests to maintain a hygienic workplace, and now that we’re all happy to be back – albeit on a part-time basis – let’s work together to ensure the doors don’t close again.