The 9-to-5 germ grind
Whether you’ve been working remotely for over a year, or if you recently returned to the office, have you managed to keep your desk at home more clean? We are, after all, a workforce that’s 42% full-time remote positions, with many others working at home.
In an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many prestigious offices closed down, but did individual workers also prevent the spread of germs at their remote workspaces? We used laboratory-tested germ samples of people’s homes to find out.
Swabbing surfaces from keyboards to trackpads and other home office features, we were able to calculate the amount of bacteria found in different areas of the average person’s home office today. To see how clean (or dirty) the average remote worker’s surroundings are, keep reading.
Germiest spots in the home office
Our study jumped in with a look at the dirtiest spots in a person’s home office. We sampled germ swabs from headsets, mice, monitors, keyboards and the desk itself. The results from the laboratory are recorded below.
A person’s mouse was the dirtiest item we sampled. The swabs for this area averaged 4,000,000 CFUs – or colony-forming units – per 10 sq. in. CFU stands for Colony Forming Units and represents the number of microorganisms in a test sample. This was certainly the “hot spot” for office germs.
While not all of these bacteria are harmful, much of it certainly is. Gram-negative rods were present in many samples, 90%-95% of which can be harmful to humans. This type of bacteria can be found anywhere and can create resistance against antibiotics. Examples of this type of bacteria include E. coli and cholera. This isn’t a reason to panic but perhaps to wipe down your equipment more regularly.
Headsets and monitors were pretty bad as well. Our samples found an average of 2,481,250 CFUs per 10 sq. in. on the headsets we swiped. That means your headsets might contain 16X more bacteria than a toothbrush holder! Monitors, which aren’t always as associated with touch, had nearly as many CFUs/10 sq. in. on them as well. Perhaps these areas aren’t cleaned as frequently because we don’t associate them with touch.
Compare and Contrast
To gain a better understanding of just how dirty these home office items were, we compared them to previous research on the average CFU count of things like kitchen sinks and pet bowls. To see how your home office compares to a toothbrush holder or even your bathroom faucet handle, keep reading.
Your keyboard likely has 48 times the amount of bacteria that a coffee machine reservoir does. Yes, you read that correctly. That’s how many germs the repeated use of your hands on the keys can add up to over time, especially if you’re not cleaning it properly. And that wasn’t even the worst of it. Your mouse (the dirtiest area in the home office) may have five times more bacteria than a kitchen sink. Yikes.
Healthy home habits
Once we understood the amount of germs hidden in the home office, we wanted to talk directly to people working from home and see what their maintenance routines were. The rest of our study records the responses from 894 remote workers in the U.S.
Considering how much bacteria was found on average items like keyboards and mouse pads, we were surprised to find that most employees cleaned their spaces relatively frequently. Most participants said they cleaned their home offices every week (57%) or even daily (27%). The pandemic had certainly played some role this behavior, as most also said these cleaning routines were more regular since COVID-19 began.
But how exactly were these respondents cleaning? After all, our swabs did find a lot of bacteria. Seventy-nine percent said they were using disinfectants to clean, but women were actually more likely to do so. Especially considering the laboratory results, disinfectants are encouraged.
What’s the harm?
To see if the home office bacteria had a high probability of working its way into a person’s system, we decided to ask people how often they ate at their desk. Presumably, eating at a place with bacteria would increase the likelihood of consuming the bacteria.
Most people – exactly 69% – were fully aware that there were likely dangerous bacteria present in their workspace. But it also seemed even regular cleaning routines that included disinfectant weren’t wholly sufficient in preventing bacteria. Half of the remote employees we spoke to felt that their employers should offer a cleaning stipend for their workspaces.
When we asked people if they knew what staphylococcus was, 38% had no idea. This is actually one of the more common bacteria we found which can have a fairly harmful effect on humans. It can cause everything from staph infections to toxic shock syndrome.
In spite of the bacteria present, 9 in 10 remote workers ate at least one meal every day at their desk. For most, this meant lunch (66%) or snacking (62%). For a quarter of respondents, however, this also meant dinner. Stepping away from the desk and eating dinner with family has been shown to do everything from lower anxiety rates to improve self-esteem. Evidently, it can also limit your exposure to workplace bacteria. Win-win.
The cleaning effect
Lastly, our study looked at the impact cleaning had on a person’s ability to work at home. We measured each respondent’s self-reported cleaning activity against their self-reported levels of productivity and satisfaction on the job.
Cleaning more frequently led to both more productive and more satisfied workers. Of those who said they were highly satisfied with their job, a third were taking the time to clean their office every single day. In fact, those who were highly productive were also about as likely to report daily cleaning as well. Clean and clear workspaces have been proven to lessen distractions and foster more productive working sessions.
Home sweet home
We’re all learning how to adapt to this newfound time at home. Cleaning, too, involves its own learning curve. Evidence does show, however, that some daily effort could just lead to a more satisfied and more productive workday. Evidence also shows that there’s almost certainly bacteria on items like your mouse and keyboard that you’ll probably want to clean as often as you can.
Happy, healthy homes are our top priority at Cinch Home Services. We offer a fresh approach to home protection plans where you can choose the best way to protect your home items. Whether you’d like to protect your appliances, your built-in systems or your entire home, Cinch is here to help you today. Head to our website to get assistance from a home protection professional today.
Methodology and limitations
We swabbed two items within each category to find the average colony-forming units (CFU) per 10 square inches on each surface. Additionally, we surveyed 854 remote workers about their home office cleaning habits. Of the 854 employees surveyed, 48.9% were women, 50.4% were men and less than 1% were nonbinary. The average age of respondents was 38 years old. The main limitation of these data is the reliance on self-report which is faced with issues such as attribution, exaggeration and telescoping.
Fair use statement
Let’s all keep each other safe and informed. If you think the data about workspace cleanliness could help others, you’re welcome to share the information. Just be sure that your purposes are noncommercial and that you link back to this page.