With restrictions removed and the summer holidays coming to an end, for many employees, September 2021 marked the return to the office post-pandemic. Whether part-time, flexibly or full-time, most businesses are now asking their employees to come in to work in the office at least one day a week.
And with a return to the office, comes a return to morning coffee catch-ups in the kitchen, in-person meetings in conference rooms, lunchtime strolls to Pret, mid-afternoon conversations by the printer and, of course, the all-important after-work socials in the pub. And although many of us will breathe a sigh of relief that we can now have a change of scene at least a few days a week, to catch up with colleagues, host meetings in-person and have real-life conversations, and generally just not have to stare at the same four walls all day long, for some people the thought of returning to a busy office is a daunting thought.
Although almost all formal restrictions have been removed in public life, and many of us have now received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, the data and statistics show that the virus is still rife and will spread quickly. For those who have experienced anxiety about catching and spreading coronavirus over the past year and a half, or who may be potentially put their health at risk if they catch it, the idea of returning to the office is not so much a relief, but a cause for more worry.
With this in mind, employers are doing their best to ensure that employees feel safe and confident returning to work. Whether that is through extensive cleaning regimes, often throughout the day as well as after-hours, or implementing rules and restrictions between employees, such as keeping a distance, wearing a mask or taking regular lateral flow tests.
However, there are still plenty of areas within an office environment that have the potential to harbour harmful bacteria. In fact, the most commonly used areas in the office can be a higher risk than employers may have realised. Some areas of an office can carry several hundred different contaminants and bacteria within just 10cm squared. Even if these areas are cleaned thoroughly at least once a day, with so many hands touching these areas throughout the day it is impossible to keep them bacteria-free. It is down to the employees too to work hard to keep the office clean and safe for all to return to.
The areas in the office that were found to harbour the most bacteria were door handles, mobile phones, landline phones, keyboards, mice and the surface of desks. Within the office kitchen, the places with the highest amount of bacteria were the office sink, the microwave door, the kettle and the kitchen fridge. Other areas to be aware of are places like lift buttons, touched by hundreds of people all throughout the day. This means regularly using hand-sanitiser (especially before and after touching door handles!), washing hands often with soap and water and giving your desk items, i.e. keyboard, phone, a clean with an anti-bacterial wipe at the end of the day. For many offices hot-desking is popular and this makes cleaning down desks and items on your desk all the more important to avoid spreading, or catching any harmful bacteria.
This knowledge does not need to be a cause for major concern for employees, but just a reason to exercise more caution within the office, both now while we’re still battling coronavirus and into the future even when it is less of a threat. This kind of information is vital for everyone to know to ensure that every single employee plays their part to keep the office a safe place to work for all. It simply means stopping to think and sanitise your hands before you open the office microwave to dip a finger into your soup to see if its done, or taking five minutes at the end of the day to clean down your desk to make it safe for the next person who sits there. Although this kind of behaviour may still seem alien for many people, it is vital to keep public places safe and open in the future, and before long will no doubt become second nature to all of us.