Scrubbing up not so nicely

by Adrian Cugnetto
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Working in a contemporary large office space or even a smaller shared one comes with a whole raft of challenges, not the least of which can be hygiene issues in the kitchen, writes ADRIAN CUGNETTO.

Let’s start with a true cautionary tale. And it’s one that will send a familiar chill into the heart of anyone who has ever shared an office space or building with strangers. Once upon a time, a colleague came rushing into the office and said, “Whatever you do, don’t use that dishwashing sponge in the kitchenette. I just saw someone using it to wipe the floor…”

Yes, other people can be revolting. But we’re stuck with them. When they’re our family and friends, we can push back and spotlight their most unprepossessing habits. We can even indicate to our closer work colleagues when they behave in less than savoury ways – although it may require our highest levels of compassion and tact to do so without initiating any bad blood.

But when you work in an office building of 20-plus storeys, or one with multiple short-term tenancies, or even a co-working space with transient tenants, there are many different challenges – varying standards of hygiene being just one of them.

What are the other challenges and stresses faced by the modern day worker in a typical office environment? Over the last couple of decades we have seen a return to the open plan office space, as well as concepts such as activity-based working. Though the former may seem contemporary, it actually isn’t that much different to those cavernous spaces of the 1950s and beyond, when the typing pool or teams of other clerical workers were placed in long rows chained to their desks, on which sat their typewriters and inboxes or their telephones and Rolodexes. The only difference today is that there may be more plants around, less grid-like designs for the desk placement and colourful or ‘inspirational’ murals plastered across the walls to motivate the staff. Oh yes, and a dust covered foosball table long since relegated to the corner.

And these open plan office spaces and co-working spaces both throw up issues of privacy. While physical security may not be the greatest concern, confidential telephone conversations or performing sensitive work tasks can become difficult. Do workers find themselves having to always close their laptops when they leave the room or take extra measures to prevent eavesdropping when conducting private phone conversations? You may even have heard of workers heading for the safety of the emergency stairwell just to take a call…

Another challenge for workers in an open space is, of course, noise. While there are always people who thrive in a bustling environment, there are others who find it distracting. When you’re trying to, say, compose an important email or write an article for FM magazine and all you can hear is a particularly vocal member of your sales team negotiating with a reluctant customer over the phone, suddenly that literary gem that had been formulating in the back of your mind can disappear in a puff of smoke or drown in the cacophony of a “I can do that for you with a 15 percent discount, because you are one of our most valued clients, after all”.

Activity-based working and hot desking bring their own challenges. Although in theory workers appreciate being able to use spaces that are the best fit for the task at hand, humans can be creatures of habit and territorial ones at that. We like to have our own spaces, desks that we know we can come straight to every morning and that we can personalise with pictures of our children or pets. When this is taken away and we’re instructed to ‘have laptop, will travel’ and sit at a different spot on any given day, we can feel rootless and disengaged. Then it’s only a hop, skip and a jump to Karl Marx’s ‘gattungswesen’ and the worker’s alienation from what they produce and therefore from their species essence – yes, it all gets a little esoteric from here, but go with me.

The takeout is unhappy workers. Stressed workers. Workers who don’t feel valued, don’t trust their colleagues, or their fellow tenants, and don’t care about the way they behave when they’re at work. Now this isn’t to suggest that this directly leads to people using the dishwashing sponge to wipe the mess they’ve made on the floor, but it does point to practices and systems that facility managers and office managers should be aware of and try to alleviate to the best of their ability.

If there must be open plan offices, activity- based working or shared kitchen spaces, then try to put in place elements that will mitigate the challenges. Try and provide more breakout or chill-out spaces, opportunities for privacy and/or relaxation. Perhaps reconsider the hot desking approach, so that workers have a sense of belonging and engagement with the place where they spend such a major part of their lives.

And, above all, make sure hygiene and sanitation are given proper attention. Clean and welcoming kitchen and bathroom spaces are a must. Regularly replace towels and dishcloths, and make sure the dishwashing liquid is always topped up. If you haven’t already, look at installing a good filtered cold and boiling water system. This will remove the need for employees to be relying on kettles and fridges that they have to share with people they neither know nor trust to treat such equipment with the high standards they expect.

And then, if nothing else, at least any less than gruntled workers can simply head to the kitchenette and pour themself a boiling hot cup of tea or coffee on demand, when the cheerful chatter from Sally in Sales all gets too much. Surely they’re owed that at the very least? ●

Adrian Cugnetto is the marketing manager for Billi Pty Ltd.

This article also appears in the October/November issue of Facility Management magazine.

Image: 123RF’s puhhha © 123RF 

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