Germs are expensive. Up to 40% of lost work time each year is due to the common cold per one estimate.
Offices are prime places for germs to spread — and it’s not just in the restrooms. Items we touch every day can have alarmingly high levels of bacteria and viruses. Then we carry those germs home to our families.
Even if you are a sole proprietor who works from home, you are not “immune” from concerns. Most likely you visit onsite with clients, attend meetings and go to conferences. Ever attend a conference and come back sick? I rest my case.
Let’s take a look at common places where germs live and how to stop their spread:
Phones are teeming with bacteria. And remember, it’s not just your desk phones you have to think about. These days your mobile phone is likely an extension of your office when you’re out and about. Your phone is handled by hands that carry germs, and your mobile phone often goes with you into places like bathrooms.
According to a Wall Street Journal investigation  in 2012, a random sample of 8 phones “showed abnormally high numbers of coliforms, a bacteria indicating fecal contamination.” Ahem.
What should you do? Avoid lending out your phone or borrowing others’ phones. Cleaning your phones regularly helps. There are ultraviolet light cleaners for mobile phones, but you don’t have to invest in expensive equipment. Most experts recommend using alcohol-based wipes, especially for mobile phones.
2. Desks and Furniture
We touch desks, chairs and other pieces of furniture all the time. Then we touch our phones, and before you know it, those germs spread.
Wiping down surfaces regularly helps. Your employees and visitors will appreciate it. Ivana Taylor, CEO of DIYMarketers , is a work-at-home consultant who regularly visits clients. “Every Tuesday I spend the entire day on site with a lawyer client who has a process in place where each morning they wipe each table, each phone, every piece of furniture. I really appreciate that,” she says.
3. Computer Mice and Keyboards
There’s no point in wiping down furniture if you leave the computer equipment on it festering with germs. Wipe down your mouse and keyboard regularly. One manufacturer  recommends using disinfecting wipes as long as they do not contain bleach. And no wet sprays!
Another tip: don’t eat over your keyboard. But if crumbs accumulate, brush them out, use compressed air canisters, or use the sticky side of tape to pick up crumbs.
Any place with food is a place for bacteria to grow. Spills that never get wiped up, coffee mugs that are not thoroughly washed (ugh!), and refrigerators with leftovers that now look like science experiments … all can harbor germs.
And throw out those old sponges. Did you know sponges are one of the top places for harboring germs? Use paper towels and disposable dishwashing cloths instead.
5. Garbage Cans
Have you ever had to push in the top of a grimy, sticky garbage can in order to throw something out, and then cringed? Yep, me too.
Regularly wash garbage cans with a disinfectant cleaner. Use disposable liners — garbage bags are not only convenient but they keep trash cans cleaner. Also, consider replacing swing-lid garbage cans with ones with open tops, or ones that open with a foot pedal.
6. Door Handles
While you can’t avoid avoid opening doors, frequent hand washing can cut down the effects of touching germ-laden handles.
In fact, doctors say that thorough handwashing is one of the best ways to avoid colds, flu and infections. Good old-fashioned soap and water is fine — but most people don’t wash long enough. According to the World Health Organization, you should wash hands for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.
7. Sandwiches and Finger Foods
Maybe you don’t think of food like sandwiches as places where gems can proliferate, and I am not suggesting your local restaurant is violating any health department rules.
But consider this: you go out to lunch, and you’re touching escalators, door handles and car keys. You pull out cash to pay. Then you pick up your sandwich to take a bite.
Next time, think about washing your hands or rubbing a dollop from a small bottle of hand sanitizer first. Just sayin’ ….
8. Pens and Pencils
Use your own writing instruments and don’t borrow from others. Need I explain why?
The handshake is ubiquitous in business, but per the CDC, 80% of infections are transmitted by hands.
You may not be able to avoid shaking hands or even want to avoid shaking hands. But perhaps at your next networking event or cocktail reception, you might want to eat with your left hand and save your right hand for the hand shaking.
In some circles the fist bump is gaining ground over handshakes. There’s even a website called StopHandshaking.com dedicated to this movement.
Ah, bathrooms… one of the biggies when it comes to germs.
Remember those signs reminding employees to wash hands? While some people express cynicism over whether such signs actually work, others consider them valuable. Besides, in most restaurants those signs are required by law. But what’s the point if the restroom itself is filthy?
According to consultant Ivana Taylor, clean restrooms are a sign of a well run company. “I have a turnaround consultant friend who says that you can tell how effective a management team is by what the bathrooms look like. If the workers’ bathroom is clean — then chances are good the company is fairly successful. Since then, I always check out the bathrooms on the manufacturing floor. And so far, I’ve found it to be true.”
Cleaning  Photo via Shutterstock