Remember those pre-COVID-19 office days when you would greet your coworker with a handshake, mindlessly hit a button on the printer, or even grab a handful of jelly beans from the communal candy jar?
Sadly, those days are over—at least for now. According to the CDC, a person can get COVID-19 by “touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.” Influenza, norovirus, and many other illnesses also spread this way. Bottom line: It’s time for offices to improve their hygiene.
How to stem the spread of disease by going touchless
Offices are incredibly effective environments for spreading disease. When a worker is sick, they can easily spread their germs onto numerous surfaces, including communal spots such as door handles, photocopiers, office supplies, or the coffee pot switch. Coworkers then touch these hotspots. This everyday practice creates a problem because germs don’t immediately die. For example, coronaviruses can survive on surfaces for anywhere from a few hours to a few days.
Luckily, touchless systems and products, coupled with individually packaged items, can help slow the spread of germs by reducing employees’ need to touch germ-infested communal surfaces.
Numerous types of touchless office items exist, and they’re relatively easy to find and affordable. Below are some important ones to keep germ spread down, including a few you may not have thought about.
Touchless products for the general office
A traditional office environment has multiple hotspots of frequently-touched surfaces. For instance, workers may turn on lights with light switches, adjust the heat with a common thermostat, open the door by touching the knob, or use a shared office stapler.
In a 2013 University of Arizona study, researchers sprayed 80 workers with water droplets in the morning and inoculated just one of the workers with artificial viruses. Within two to four hours, the researchers detected one of the viruses on up to 70 percent of surfaces tested. They concluded that employees had up to a 90 percent chance of becoming infected with one of the viruses. In another study conducted by the company Hloom, researchers discovered that the copy machine start button contains four times more bacteria than a pet bowl.
Fortunately, technology erases the need for numerous employees to touch many commonly used surfaces. Employers can install motion-detection lights to avoid the need for human touch. (Bonus: The lights turn off after a period of time with no movement, potentially saving energy.) Touchless thermostats and window blinds allow workers to adjust the heat and light from a blue-tooth enabled phone. You can also implement foot-operated door openers along with other touchless building entry systems (such as ID card systems). And yes, you can automate the stapler.
If automated staplers or door openers aren’t an option for you, there are more lo-fi alternatives. Touchless door openers allow individuals to open door handles (but not doorknobs) and push elevator buttons without coming into contact with them. Also consider removing shared supplies like scissors, dry erase markers and pens from communal areas and providing each employee their own personal supply to use when needed.
Touchless hygiene and safety products
According to a study conducted by Robert Half in 2019, 90 percent of American workers go to work sick at least sometimes. These workers don’t always wash their hands, even after exposure to high-germ areas, such as bathrooms. A 2019 UK study found that only 61 percent of workers thoroughly washed their hands after using the restroom.
In addition to encouraging employees to wash their hands, automated bathrooms may help reduce the spread of germs. They’ve been around since the mid-1980s, and they include motion detection faucets, soap and sanitizer dispensers, paper towel dispensers, and automatic trashcans. If you don’t already have these items, you can easily incorporate them into most office environments.
The technology already exists to help detect illness and kill germs as soon as employees enter the office. You can invest in a touchless thermometer to use when employees enter the building to ensure they don’t unknowingly spread germs. Touchless hand sanitizer spray dispensers and air purifiers can further reduce the risk of germs spreading.
Touchless food services
For offices with a cafeteria or communal eating area, you can take measures to reduce germ spread. For instance, to prevent employees reaching into a communal bin of utensils, offices can install touchless utensil dispensers. And if you get a touchless vending machine, workers can purchase items on their phones instead of pressing buttons.
You may want to temporarily swap communal kitchen supplies for individually packaged supplies to prevent the spread of germs. The coffee pot handle is a germ hotspot; it has 34 times more bacteria than a school toilet seat, according to the Hloom study. The CDC recommends getting rid of communal coffee pots and bulk foods for now and replacing them with alternatives such as pre-packaged, single-serve items. You may also want to change the water cooler for bottled water and replace shared condiment bottles with individual packages.
Offices may also want to temporarily reconsider communal utensils and dishware. Switching to individually-wrapped cutlery, disposable cup dispensers, single-use food containers, and individually-wrapped straws and toothpicks may help reduce the spread of germs among employees. Providing appropriate clean-up materials will help too. Instead of re-using the same rag, consider switching to disposable wipes and paper towels from a touchless dispenser.
While some of these temporary swaps may lead to more waste, you can find eco-friendly alternatives to single-use plastic. You can also encourage your employees to bring in their own reusable lunch supplies, including cloth napkins, water bottles, utensils, and food containers, which they can take home to sanitize. Many of the other touchless options discussed above—such as automatic soap dispensers, automatic faucets, and motion sensors for lights—can help reduce waste. Meanwhile, you’ll help slow the spread of germs in the office and keep your employees healthy.