8 Tips for Staying Healthy in an Open Office

Working in close quarters without walls can result in more than ease of collaboration. Here's how to ward off the sharing of germs and infections.

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By Spencer Blackman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Do you work in an open office environment? If so, you might have to work a little harder to stay healthy.

From the frequent interruptions and the constant hum of conversation to the easy spread of germs and infections in close quarters, open office environments may do more than just promote collaboration. They may also cause an increase in illness. In fact, a 2011 study showed that people in open offices use more sick time than people who work in regular office settings.

Here are eight tips for staying healthy in an open office:

Related: How to Create a Healthy Startup Atmosphere

1. Keep your distance. Many viruses travel in droplets of saliva and mucus. When someone coughs or sneezes, the germs can travel quite far from the nose and mouth. Keep your distance from co-workers who exhibit signs of illness to avoid exposure to virus-laden droplets. If you're the one coughing and sneezing, do your colleagues a favor and use a tissue.

2. Wash your hands. Nothing beats frequent hand washing to avoid bugs. Be sure to use soap and work up a good lather for about 15 seconds before rinsing and drying your hands thoroughly. Bacteria and viruses thrive in damp environments, so drying is a key part of good hand-washing technique. You also can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, but it can be harsh on the skin over time.

3. Wipe stuff down. Disinfect commonly shared work surfaces or devices (like telephones) by wiping them down with disinfectant towlettes. Keep a canister of wipes at your desk and in shared spaces to make it convenient to swipe surfaces on a regular basis.

And don't waste money on high-tech furniture coated with silver ions. While research has shown silver ions do kill most bacteria, viruses can pose a threat!

Related: 21 Ways Your Office Job Is Destroying Your Body

4. Nurture the immune system. Stress, poor diet and a lack of exercise can weaken the immune system, so take steps to maintain the body's natural defense system. Eat nutritious foods, exercise three to four times a week and obtain plenty of rest so the immune system can recharge. Vitamin D has been shown to correlate with a reduced numbers of viral infections, so be sure to obtain enough of this essential germ fighter.

5. Find some alone time. Studies have found that some privacy at work can boost job performance and satisfaction. Lack of privacy and control over the environment, on the other hand, can lead to elevated job stress, which can compromise the immune system.

Counteract this cycle by carving out time alone. Duck into an empty conference room or hang out in the stairwell -- any place that's relatively quiet and uninhabited for some portion of each day. You may find your stress levels decrease when you seek out peace and quiet on a regular basis.

Related: How Much Is the Noise in Your Open Office Costing You?

6. Tune out the noise. Noise is among the biggest issues for people who work in open office environments, but it constitutes more than just a nuisance. Research has linked routine noise exposure to chronically elevated levels of the hormone epinephrine, which triggers the body's "fight or flight" response. This constantly elevated state can cause serious health problems.

Lower the decibel level in the office by using noise-canceling headphones. If you find it soothing to listen to music, play relaxing music designed for meditation or stress reduction.

Related: Inspire Wellness in Your Workplace, and Watch Productivity Soar

7. Treat colds immediately. Even with all the proper precautions, germs can get you eventually. If you treat your symptoms aggressively, you may recover faster and avoid passing the virus to a co-worker. Some remedies may even reduce the duration of a cold and lessen the severity of symptoms.

8. Change the work environment even temporarily. If it's impossible to have privacy in the open office, try to work remotely on occasion. Take a laptop to a cafe to work? What about working from home one day a week? If that's not possible, schedule meetings off-site. Even a dollop of privacy may result in your feeling less tense.

Related: 7 Essential Habits of a Healthy Entrepreneur

Spencer Blackman

Primary Care Physician at One Medical Group

Dr. Spencer Blackman is a San Francisco-based primary care physician at One Medical Group. He practices relationship-centered primary care, blending a traditional sensibility with up-to-date clinical knowledge and a strong focus on disease prevention. 

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