Equipping people’s desktops isn’t just about monitor, mouse and keyboard when winter is on the way.

As flu season approaches, helping people avoid catching coughs and colds at work is essential for minimising the number of sick days. Companies that also recognise employees can be unwell at work, and help them deal with this, are also likely to do more for morale.

Coughs and colds and other minor illnesses accounted for the most working days lost due to sickness in 2016. Workers in the UK took around 34 million days off last year when they felt under par, which was nearly a quarter (24.8%) of all the days lost to sickness.

However, there are also significant numbers of people going to work with a cold. Research by Aviva reports that 69% of UK private sector employees, around 18 million people, have gone to work unwell when they should have taken the day off.

The average number of sick days taken each year by UK employees fell to a record low of 4.3 days in 2016 compared with 7.2 days in 1993 when data analysis began. This issue of presenteeism is said to bring a range of problems, from reducing productivity to demotivating staff to making current illnesses far worse.

Given that people are likely to go to work ill, or catch cold or flu bugs while they’re there, how should businesses tackle this?

1. Get the surface cleaning habit

Asking people to wipe their work surfaces with anti-bacterial wipes may seem a little extreme, but it’s a small price to pay for preventing illness.

Flu viruses, that can transfer to hands and cause an infection, can survive on hard surfaces for 24 hours, according to NHS Choices. Cold viruses can sometimes survive on indoor surfaces for more than seven days, however they don’t often survive longer than 24 hours.

A cold-like virus known as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), that can cause serious illness in children, can survive on worktops and door handles for up to six hours.

Keeping desks, food areas and shared working surfaces, such as tables, phone receivers and printers, free from germs is crucial. Ensure there are anti-bacterial wipes to hand in every space where employees may share equipment, and actively encourage people to use them.

2. Promote hand hygiene

Hands are big carriers of viruses. Although most cold-causing viruses survive on hands from just a few minutes to over an hour, all it takes is for someone to touch a door handle or use a shared printer for those nasty bugs to be passed on.

If workstations are equipped with hand sanitisers and employees advised to use them before and after eating, or before using shared equipment, it will help to reduce the chances of colds and flu spreading,

3. Catch it and bin it

Giving people tissues to use, and then dispose of, is a much better alternative to sneezing into the air or coughing into hands.

Flu viruses can survive as droplets in the air for several hours, with low temperatures increasing their survival in the air. On the other hand, these infectious flu viruses can survive on tissues for only 15 minutes. So, as well as containing a virus, a tissue also shortens its lifespan.

Boxes of tissues that are made freely available on every workstation, as well as in meeting spaces, can go a long way in preventing germs from spreading around a workforce.