Most of us spend a lot of time—an average of six hours a week, in fact—cleaning and disinfecting our homes. But what about the workplace? If you work in an office environment, chances are it doesn’t get scrubbed or sanitized nearly as often as your home—and the impact could be bigger than you might think.
"Sharing the same surfaces and air means that viruses and bacteria can easily spread from one person to the next," warns Nate Masterson, business consultant and a certified health expert for Maple Holistics. "When this happens, employees as well as their families are likely to get ill. This translates to people staying home from work, slowing down office productivity."
In addition to staving off sickness, keeping a clean office could also boost employees’ productivity and positivity. Studies have shown that employees who work in an unclean office often feel less appreciated and less productive. According to a survey conducted by Stratus Building Solutions, more than nine out of 10 people believe their productivity is compromised by a dirty or disorganized office, and one in four have thought about quitting (or have actually quit) a job because of unclean working conditions.
While it may not be realistic to keep your office spotless and sparkling at all times, there are some common places where germs and grime tend to accumulate. By hitting these hotspots (or ensuring they’re on the cleaning crew’s radar), you can help to ensure a healthy and hygienic environment.
General Kitchen Area
Stephanie Cooper, a cleaning professional and owner of Top Cleaners, says areas where food is stored tend to be the most germ-infested—particularly because mold and mildew love expired foods. She recommends cleaning out the fridge each week and wiping and disinfecting the countertops daily. Always wash dirty dishes immediately after use, and refrain from carrying food out of the kitchen. Any shared kitchen items—microwaves, coffee machines, toasters—should be cleaned regularly. If a sponge is used in the sink, it should be tossed and replaced at least weekly.
Here, Cooper warns that germs can be encountered practically everywhere, including the door of the stall, the sink and the actual toilet. She says it’s best to avoid hand dryers, as the hot air flow helps to spread germs and actually does more harm than good. Instead, use paper towels. Additionally, wait until the toilet lid is down before flushing to keep germs and bacteria from becoming airborne.
Doorknobs and Door Handles
They may not take up a lot of real estate in the office, but these high-touch items are home to plenty of germs, warns Masterson. "That’s because everyone tracks in germs from outside the office as well as from their own bodies and then uses the doorknobs, leaving traces of germs everywhere," he explains. Doorknobs and door handles are often overlooked during the cleaning process, which leads to a constant exchange of germs.
To combat this problem, Masterson suggests doing a quick cleaning on a regular basis, and perhaps considering the use of foot pedals instead of doorknobs.
Similar to doorknobs, light switches are touched frequently throughout the day and are often overlooked during cleaning sessions. These should also be wiped down regularly. Better yet, some offices are switching to automatic lighting systems that turn on when someone enters the room—not only does this help conserve energy, it also prevents the need to manually touch the switches.
For most office workers, the keyboard is the single item they touch most frequently throughout the day—not to mention eating, coughing and sneezing around it. To prevent germ buildup and the risks associated with it, Masterson recommends cleaning your keyboard regularly. You can shake it over a garbage can or use compressed air to blow it out, and dip a cotton swab or Q-tip in isopropyl alcohol to clean around the keys (after disconnecting any cables). It’s also a good idea to push the keyboard out of the way while eating lunch or snacking at your desk to prevent food particles from dropping into it.
Although many of us use our smartphones more often, some offices still have landline desk phones—and they could be breeding grounds for germs. A study by the University of Arizona found that there was an average of over 25,000 organisms per square inch on the average desk phone, notes Sean Parry, founder of the home and office cleaning company Neat Services. Incredibly, this works out to be around seven times more contaminated than the average toilet seat.
Keep antibacterial wipes at your desk and wipe down your phone at the beginning and end of the workday to prevent cross-contamination, especially if more than one person uses it. (While you’re at it, do the same for your smartphone.)
If a large number of people use the elevators each day, the buttons can quickly accumulate germs. Try hitting them with your elbow, or disinfect your hands after each trip. Better yet, use the stairs instead for an extra burst of activity.
Chris Middleton, owner of Office Pride, a commercial cleaning company, notes that employees who keep a messy desk are at a higher risk of germ exposure. "If you leave papers everywhere, your cleaning company can’t wipe down and disinfect your desk as scheduled, which causes a buildup of bacteria," he notes. To prevent this, make it a point to organize your desk and stack everything into a neat pile or put it in drawers before you leave each night so the desk can be properly cleaned, Middleton recommends.
If employees use shared printers, copy machines, fax machines and other devices, they can be an overlooked source of germs. Wipe down the controls periodically and keep sanitizing wipes nearby to stop germs in their tracks.
More Office Cleaning Tips
Middleton recommends that office cleaners use different colored rags for different areas of the office. "If all your rags are white, for example, it’s hard to know which one was just used in the bathroom, and you don’t want someone cleaning the break room with that same rag," he warns.
He also stresses the importance of employees washing their hands often and properly, especially during flu season. Antibacterial lotions are okay in a pinch, but nothing is more effective than soap and water. "Post a sign on the mirror reminding people to wash their hands and give directions on how to wash properly," he suggests.
Although soap and water are always most effective, Adam Povlitz, CEO of Anago Cleaning Systems, recommends that companies make hand sanitizer available at all entryways and exits of break rooms, helping to ensure that hands are clean when making contact with high-touch areas like cabinet knobs, faucets, coffee pots, mugs and light switches.
By being aware of common germ-breeding grounds, regularly cleaning those areas and observing frequent hand-washing and/or sanitizing protocols, office employees can help ensure their health and well-being at work.