Hot-desking has become increasingly popular with employers but just how hygienic are these work conditions?

Messy desk

A study carried out by Initial Washroom Hygiene has found that workplaces with hot-desking implemented are less hygienic than those with a fixed-desk policy. The study found that having germs from different people on the desk surface, computer mice and other equipment resulted in an increased risk of cross-contamination and the rapid spread of colds and viruses such as Norovirus.

Dr Peter Barratt from Initial Washroom Hygiene comments: “People might see a lot a clutter and mess on desks in an office where everyone has their own assigned desk, and be surprised to hear that hot-desking is less hygienic. But, a clutter free hot-desk environment should not lull workers into a false sense of security, as just because something looks clean does not actually mean that it is. Levels of residual bacteria naturally vary between people, and when you factor in ‘al-desko’ dining at lunch time, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that sharing a desk space, keyboards and mice with colleagues or complete strangers comes with a potentially increased hygiene risk.'

The investigation involved swabbing desks of a company which initially had a fixed desk policy and compared the results four months later when the same company switch to hot-desking. Experts used an ATP bioluminescence reader to measure the microbiological concentration of various items on different workstations, to determine what levels of bacteria these surfaces were harbouring. On average, the readings in the hot-desking office were 18% higher than those in the fixed-desk office.

The worst offender was the use of communal computer mice. Shared mice in the hot-desking office had 41% higher microbial reading compared to the fixed-desk environment. Similarly, desk surfaces in a fixed-desk environment were found to have on average 32% less microbial activity than in the hot-desk office.

“Hand hygiene is really the key to mitigating the risks when it comes to the spread of germs in all offices, and those in hot-desking offices may want to pay particular attention. Poor hand hygiene is the major cause for the spread of common office illnesses such as colds, flu and Norovirus.” Dr Barratt add. “Businesses need to ensure they have the right facilities in place to promote good hand hygiene across the company. This includes good quality soap from dispensers, hand drying equipment, and hand sanitiser stations.”

Even when employees were provided with antibacterial wipes to wipe down their desks and IT equipment, less than half of the employees reported using these on a daily basis to minimise the hygiene risks.

Dr Barratt 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.”