Survival Tips for an Open Office With Sick Coworkers

It all starts with a sniffle, or maybe a sneeze, shattering the silence of an otherwise quiet office setting—minus of course, the low roar of clacking keyboards and muffled conversations you’ve grown so accustomed to over the years.

After the standard assortment of bless yous and gesundheits have been issued, it’s always the same refrain. “It’s just allergies,” they’ll say—or, maybe you’ll hear, “I’m getting over a cold, but I’m not contagious anymore,” stated confidently by a clearly sick coworker.

Whatever the case may be, you definitely don’t want someone else’s cough putting you out of commission (especially, if you work on commission). In order to stay healthy in an open office setting with sick coworkers, try out some of the survival tips we’ve compiled below.

sick coworkers

Stay away

Avoid unwell coworkers like the plague—after all, they could actually have it. Minimizing your interactions with ailing associates—or, anything and anyone they’ve interacted with—should be your first line of defense against catching whatever they may have. Of course, you might not always have the option to stay away—but, you certainly don’t need to make close contact. For reference, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends maintaining a distance of six feet between yourself and fellow employees during an influenza outbreak.

Wash your hands

This should go without saying, but you should always wash your hands after using the restroom and before and after you eat. However, when a sick coworker has turned your office into their own personal petri dish, you’ll want to get in the habit of washing them more frequently—especially, after touching doorknobs, desks, or anything else with which they may have had direct or indirect contact. If multiple trips to the washroom would be unreasonable at your work, consider using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer as a substitute. While both are effective, scrubbing with soap and warm water for a minimum of 20 seconds is your best bet.

Wear a mask

Don’t be afraid of standing out when you’re forced to sit surrounded by sick coworkers. Since many diseases are spread through the air, including the flu and the common cold, shielding your mouth and nose with a surgical mask is a great way to put a barrier between you and becoming infected. While a surgical mask is ineffective for blocking the inhalation of small pathogens that spread illnesses, it can block larger airborne particles and bodily fluids that you could be exposed to. Wearing a mask can also help prevent you from absentmindedly touching your face with potentially contaminated hands. If you seriously can’t afford to get sick, consider using a certified respirator that forms a tight seal against your face. You might get some strange looks, but you’ll be more likely to stay healthy.

Disinfect your space

Keeping your space in the office clean is a great way to reduce your chances of getting sick. Daily disinfecting of the surfaces you come in contact with on a regular basis—like your desk, phone, computer, chair, etc.—helps prevent the spread of illness-causing viruses and bacteria that might be present even though you’re not sick. Because, while you might not have a cold, you never know who was lurking around your desk while you were out to lunch.

Upgrade your immune system

A healthy lifestyle combined with good nutrition is critical for keeping your immune system functioning properly. You can increase your body’s ability to prevent and fight off infections by incorporating moderate exercise, healthier foods, and adequate sleep into your daily routine, while eliminating bad habits such as smoking and drinking alcohol in excess. Even small positive changes can have a tremendous impact on your body’s defenses.

In a perfect world, sick employees would stay at home in order to recuperate without exposing others to their communicable illnesses. Unfortunately, the sick continue to show up at work. At least now, you’ll be better prepared to deal with sickness when it finds its way into your workplace.

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