Cleaning Supplies

Share spaces, not germs, in collaborative offices

Five cleaning strategies to avoid squandering productivity gains on the spread of illness
Monday, February 1, 2016
By Gavin Bajin

While open office spaces might be new to this generation of workers, they were actually conceived back in the early 20th century by modernist architects. These architects believed that to break down social walls that divided people, they needed to break down real walls.

Since cubicles were introduced in the 1950s, they have been found to have a negative impact on workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction. What was once considered a revolution in office layout and the ultimate space for collaboration had had the opposite effect.

More than a half-century later, two elements of collaboration have fundamentally changed: employees’ increasing desire for social connection and engagement and organizations’ need for innovation, productivity and operational excellence. This shift has forced a rethink of the open office concept, and led to the most recent trend in office design: the new collaborative office.

So, what are the key features of the new collaborative office?

  • More common areas such as cafeterias, espresso bars and places to read with comfortable furniture.
  • High-traffic staircases that encourage interactions.
  • An open-office plan that emphasizes areas that hold two or more people, rather than single-occupancy offices.
  • Sit/stand workstations for better ergonomics.
  • New visualization and multimedia technologies in meeting rooms with wireless connectivity.

The new collaborative office seems to be the answer to improved productivity and innovation; however, it introduces new issues of office cleanliness. Where employees used to have a dedicated desk with a phone and other equipment at their service, the new concept requires that workspaces and other equipment be shared.

In the new collaborative office, the office cleaner’s role has never been more important. Companies must be more diligent about office cleaning and sanitizing. Desks, phones, keyboards, work surfaces, eating areas and stairway handrails are key germ transfer points.

The regular removal of contaminants from these key germ transfer points is critical to reducing bacteria and the spread of illness in the workplace. Additionally, the removal of soil and pollutants from premises helps to improve overall indoor air quality.

The following five steps can help to ensure that new collaborative offices are also healthy offices:

1. Maintain and vacuum carpets.

Vacuuming helps to keep allergens to a minimum and can eliminate up to 80 per cent of the soil in carpet. Vacuuming should be done daily in high-traffic areas. It’s best to use vacuuming equipment with a HEPA filter, which will trap the soil and allergens for safe removal from the premises. A monthly carpet cleaning maintenance program contributes significantly to overall building health. This type of maintenance program will address cleaning requirements for areas within the office that experience heavier traffic.

2. Clean high-touch hard surfaces.

It’s important to use equipment that will trap dust, allergens and other soil from hard surfaces. Traditional dusting disturbs dust and soils and moves them around rather than removing them. Microfibre cloths and other specialized dusting equipment will trap these particles and dramatically decrease airborne particles, allergens and bacteria. The collaborative office will have many more common work areas, so it is important to keep items such as work tables, light switches, handrails, and elevator buttons cleaned and sanitized. Additionally, if employees are allowed to bring food into commonly used areas, sanitizing on a daily basis becomes even more important.

3. Sanitize work areas.

Proper work-area cleaning includes sanitizing the tables, desks and other work surfaces, telephones and other touch points, removing waste, dust and dirt particles from the premises, cleaning chairs and fabric panels. All these areas must be cleaned and sanitized regularly to avoid transfer of harmful bacteria and viruses from employee to employee. A company’s cleaning professional will be able to recommend cleaning frequencies for each of these areas based on traffic.

4. Deep-clean upholstery.

According to the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI), upholstered furniture can retain and release higher concentrations of allergens, dust mites and other contaminants than carpets. Deep-clean upholstered furniture at least once a year, and sometimes more often in highly used areas of the office.

5. Centralize waste diversion.

In shared work areas, having centralized disposal and recycling stations is essential to keeping the office clean. Instead of overflowing bins with unsorted organic waste and recycling in each work area, where bacteria can fester, use a centralized station so custodial staff can collect refuse at key points within the office. Deal with waste and recyclables efficiently in the building’s compactor room.

While it seems that there are many more cleaning tasks involved in the collaborative office environment, it doesn’t have to affect the cleaning budget significantly. A cleaning professional can develop a plan that redistributes tasks to address the needs specific to these higher traffic workspaces. Following the steps outlined above will keep the new collaborative office clean and go a long way toward helping maintain a healthy, happy and productive workforce.

Without regular hard, soft surface and equipment sanitizing, companies are exposing their employees to germs and bacteria that can lead to illness. And without regular professional cleaning, the gains made in productivity through the collaborative office space can be lost through employee absenteeism.

Gavin Bajin is director of business services at ServiceMaster of Canada. He and his team support 70 franchises, delivering janitorial and specialty cleaning services from coast to coast. He can be reached at

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