Is hot desking creating an unsanitary workplace?

Office Managers know that a healthy, hygienic workplace can have a direct impact on employee wellbeing. Not just in terms of reducing the number of sick days, but also regarding productivity and employee satisfaction too.

What is Hot Desking?

Hot-desking has become increasingly prevalent in offices in recent years.

It is where employees have no fixed workstation.

Instead they sit where they please or where it best suits their work schedule and challenges for the day.

There are many pertained benefits to hot desking. For example, increased levels of communication between teams and improved professional relationships.

However, recent findings have uncovered that doing so means the number of germs and bacteria increase.

This makes it harder to isolate and minimise the spread of diseases.

The study compared those working in a fixed desk environment to those who used hot desking.

The hot-desks came back with 18% higher levels of bacteria than the fixed desks.

In particular, the use of shared computer mice appears to be a significant contributing factor.

When comparing microbiological levels, shared mice had a massive 41%t higher reading. 

The results may be surprising to some who feel that hot desking encourages cleanliness.

This might be because if employees don’t have a particular space that’s ‘theirs’ they are perhaps less likely to leave clutter and mess.

However, the desk environment may simply look cleaner on the surface.

The fact of the matter is that an area where people share office equipment, will allow germs and bacteria to spread from person to person more easily.

The practicalities and positives of hot desking mean many would be reluctant to give up on the practice.

So what is the compromise?

Hand hygiene is key

Encouraging employees to pay attention to their hand hygiene and employ good hand washing practices can make a significant impact when it comes to the spread of common illnesses such as colds, the flu, and Norovirus in the workplace. Thorough, frequent hand washing and the provision of good quality soap, hygienic hand drying facilities and hand sanitiser stations will all help to promote good hand hygiene and make it easy for staff to follow best practices.

Anti-bacterial wipes can make a difference 

Employers should be responsible for encouraging their teams to follow best practice hygiene and cleanliness procedures. This means taking responsibility for cleaning the desk after use each day. Provision of antibacterial wipes so employees can easily wipe down shared workspaces after use could help to reduce the number of germs and bacteria left there and keep these areas safer.  

Accountability is vital

Office Managers need to make sure that they encourage their teams to take pride in creating a pleasant working environment and are praised for doing so. In a hot-desking office, there is an increased risk of employees shirking their responsibilities, as a study by the University of Wolverhampton in 2011 revealed that employees may feel less valued if they have to compete for space and deal with unwanted noise and this could lead to increased untidiness and neglect.

Dr Peter Barratt, Initial Washroom Hygiene concludes, ‘While employers need to provide the right tools for good office hygiene, and offer advice and reminders on how and when to use them, employees also have a responsibility for their own personal hygiene. Using anti-bacterial wipes on shared desk surfaces and IT equipment is a simple step, but can pay huge dividends in terms of maintaining a healthy workforce in both hot desking and fixed-desk offices – it can go so far as to reduce potential productivity loss from absenteeism.’

Hot desking can be a useful way to make the best use of resources and space in an office and can provide benefits to the way your team works too. However, it is important to be particularly vigilant to keep these areas clean and organised and in doing so office managers can ensure productivity and that the health and wellbeing of their employees don’t suffer. 

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