Let’s face it, germs are pretty much inescapable. They’re in the air, on your skin—they’re pretty much wherever you go. That’s not to say they’re all bad for you, but they’re definitely not great, either.
Bugs and bacteria tend to be more common in areas of high traffic, where lots of people engage with the same items and surfaces. This means your coworking space is a hotbed for germs to live and thrive in.
So, what are some of these germ “hotspots,” you ask? And how can you maintain cleanliness as you share your office space?
Let’s explore the top areas where germs abound and the ways to calm your inner germophobe as you make the most of coworking.
Office workers spend more time at their desk than anywhere else, so it’ll probably come as no surprise that desks often have the most germs. Researchers have even found that desks can contain 400 times more germs than toilet seats!
Of the items on your shared desk, your phone is often the biggest culprit for contamination, featuring over 25,000 organisms per square inch on its surface. Make sure to wipe it regularly with antibacterial wipes, focusing especially on the ear, mouth-piece, and keypad areas.
Pens are another bacteria hotspot to consider as well, since people often like to chew on them when thinking. However, when you think about where that pen could have been before (i.e. a fellow pen-chewing coworker), it’s easy to see why shared pens fall victim to germs.
The bag or rucksack you take with you to work is often riddled with germs. This is because it goes with you to work and from work as well, meaning it accumulates all the bugs and bacteria from your journeys in and out, as well as at your home.
Bags also tend to be set down pretty much anywhere when you’re at work—including the toilet floor. This, in turn, can allow bacteria to stick to your bag, which will readily treat your rucksack as their new home.
Giving your bag a good wipe-down at the start (or end) of every week with an antibacterial cloth with ensure some of the germs are polished off. However, it’s not a bad idea to be more aware of where you’re placing your bag. Try to set in in areas you know are clean or hang it on the back of your chair so it doesn’t touch the floor.
Office fridges can quickly become a hub for bacteria. Harmful, food-poisoning micro-organisms—such as Campylobacter, Listeria and Escherichia—have all been identified in office fridges in the past, which can quickly transmit between coworkers.
Be particularly aware of germs while eating sandwiches and salads. Make sure to keep an eye on your fridge’s temperature, as it should always be kept below 5oC.
Germs in the fridge can build up more quickly when raw meats and vegetables are kept in contact with other food items. Keep these foods separate from your coworker’s ready-to-eat sandwiches or packed lunches, as they could cross-contaminate other people’s food with bacteria without you even knowing.
Mouse and Keyboards
We all do it, and even when we’re told not to, we still do it. Eating at your desk can be highly enticing but any crumbs you drop tend to get trapped inside your keyboard. This can lead to a build-up of bugs and bacteria, which you will then unknowingly interact with as you work.
Some studies have even shown that more than 3,000 micro-organisms are prevalent per square inch on a keyboard, and over 1,600 are prevalent per square inch on a computer mouse. If you have your own desk, at least you can feel slightly reassured that these will likely be your own germs. But if you work in an office which has hot-desks, it will most likely be other worker’s germs that are transferring onto your hands. Yuck!
Again, one way to combat the germs on your mouse and keyboard is to wipe each item with an antibacterial cloth once per week. You can also bring along a cloth if you’re using a hot-desk and give everything a quick clean before you begin coworking for the day.
Whether it’s your favorite cartoon, TV series, or place you’ve recently visited, you probably have an office mug that you use on a regular basis. However, some people aren’t very skilled at washing their office mugs after use, choosing to give them a quick rinse rather than a proper clean. This rinse probably won’t remove much of the bacteria contaminating the mug’s handle or interior though, meaning the germs will stay on the mug until it’s been washed more thoroughly.
If you work in an office where mugs are shared communally, the mugs that aren’t washed well enough could pass bacteria from colleague to colleague. If your office has a dishwasher, make sure you use it! This is the safest way to ensure your germs aren’t living among the shared mugs.
If you don’t have your own office mug already, check out this great list of mugs to choose from. It may be worthwhile to bring along a mug that’s only for your personal use to avoid other peoples’ germs entirely.
This might come as a bit of a surprise, but a water cooler is one of the germiest places in the office. Think about it: most workers convene in the staff room or kitchen during their lunch, meaning that germs spread quickly onto nearby surfaces. This includes the water cooler, where germs can easily spread to you when you’re grabbing a quick glass of water later on in the working day.
If the water cooler doesn’t seem clean, you may want to bring your own glass water bottle with you to work. This is the safest way to sidestep the germs pervading the water cooler.
In a similar way to your phone, the office printer is often frequently used and touched by many different office workers. It’s therefore easy for germs to quickly transmit from colleague to colleague, especially when pressing the buttons that are used most often. In fact, research has even shown that some printer buttons harbor more bacteria than a dog’s bowl.
Therefore, after you use the printer, make sure to wash your hands or sanitize them using antibacterial gel. You can also clean the printer with an antibacterial wipe. This will help ensure that your coworkers avoid coming into contact with your germs once you’ve finished with the printer.
The more you work with a person, the more your body’s immune system will get used to them and remember their germs. However, when you’re in a coworking environment, the same cannot be said. You simply don’t know where these other people will have been, so it’s perfectly possible that they could be bringing all sorts of different, potentially harmful bacteria into the office.
Keep these tips in mind next time you’re working from a shared office space. As you work, make sure you regularly wash your hands to avoid being affected by other peoples’ germs. Chances are you’ll be fine, but it never hurts to be health-conscious so you can continue to make the most of your coworking space.