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Hot-desking offices have dirtier desks, study finds

29 June 2017

A study released by Initial Washroom Hygiene has found that hot-desking workplaces may be less hygienic than those with fixed-desks, increasing the risk of cross-contamination and the spread of colds and viruses, such as Norovirus.

Hot-desking, where employees don’t have one fixed workstation, but instead switch desks every day, has become increasingly popular in recent years. However, these findings suggest that having germs from different people on the desk surface, computer mice and other equipment, means these workstations are typically home to more bacteria.

The swabbing study was conducted using one company of over 100 employees with a fixed-desk environment. The same company then moved to a hot-desking environment, and the study was repeated in the same manner four months later.

Experts from Initial Washroom Hygiene used an ATP bioluminescence reader to measure the microbiological concentration of various items on 40 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 use of communal computer mice in the hot-desk scenario was a key contributor to the difference in hygiene levels. Shared mice in the hot-desking environment had a 41% higher microbiological reading compared to readings taken from the computer mice on the fixed-desks. Desk surfaces were also found to be less contaminated with microbial activity in offices with fixed-desks, recording average readings 32% lower than in the hot-desk office.

However, in a different scenario, the shared keyboards in hot-desk office returned better results, with an average microbiological reading 6% lower than in the fixed-desk office.

Dr Peter Barratt from Initial Washroom Hygiene said: “People might see a lot of 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."