Around the world millions of people have abandoned their offices – their carefully organised desks, the fluorescent lights, the humming photocopier, the gossipy watercooler – as governments mandate that employees work from home. These measures are an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus; workers are deemed safer isolated in their homes, and getting out of crowded offices can slow the spread of Covid-19.
Banning work in centralised offices isn’t just a precaution – offices have been, and are, prime sites for the spread of viruses and bacteria. You’re likely familiar with cycle: every season, a bug will go around. One person will arrive at the office – sneezing, coughing – and will pass on whatever virus they have to their colleagues. And the cycle will continue. Every season, a bug will go around. You know what comes next.
Researchers have shown that bugs, germs, viruses and bacteria spread easily in an office. Krissi Hewitt, director of institutional research and strategic initiatives at North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, has researched the diversity and abundance of microbial life in offices.
“People spend a large amount of their daily life in the confines of the office where shared spaces and high interaction with shared surfaces increases the amount of microbes on surfaces and in the air,” she says.
In other words, many of the high-touch areas in your office could be vectors for the spread of virus. And the more colleagues that touch them, the higher the risk of contamination. Jonathan Sexton, a researcher at the College of Public Health at the University of Arizona, found that places such as refrigerators, drawer handles, faucet handles, push-out exit doors and coffee pots tend to have the highest concentrations of germs.