Frau sitzt erkältet vor ihrem Laptop

Working with a cold

Achoo! It's that time of year again. A colleague somewhere in the office is sniffing and spluttering, and you just know that, come morning, you're going to be flat on your back as a result. Which begs the age old question: is an employee who comes to work with a cold really dedicated? Or is it actually irresponsible to risk infecting your colleagues?

Office infection risks during cold season

Of course, we can't all stay at home whenever we have a little cough or cold. Indeed, those with weaker immune systems may even suffer from multiple minor infections in a year, so, going to work with a cold is not a particularly big issue. If, however, a cold is accompanied by a sore throat, aching limbs or fever, then there is cause for concern. If left untreated, a cold like this can develop into serious illness. If it is still contagious, then any colleagues who go on to develop similar cold symptoms will know exactly who to thank.

Room temperature and ventilation conditions

In order to prevent a simple cold from becoming a sick-leave epidemic, it is vital that the office is well ventilated. Viruses spread particularly well in indoor spaces, hunting down their next victim. You should air out the room every two hours at the latest, ideally using cross-ventilation and opening windows to ensure a good airflow wherever possible. If you get cold too quickly, then use the time for a coffee break or to take a stroll around the corner and stretch your legs. As with fresh air, you should ensure, that you do not use heating excessively during the winter. Sure, when you have a cold it is cosier to work in a nice warm office, but be sure not to overdo it: air from heating units extracts moisture from a room's atmosphere. When you are ill, high humidity levels are vital in order to prevent mucous membranes from drying out.

Frau liegt krank im Bett und greift nach ihrem Handy

Infections you should cure at home:


  • A bacterial infection or flu symptoms 
  • Cold symptoms that worsen significantly 
  • Fever

Tips and tricks for a healthy workplace (even in an open-plan office)


  • Clean your keyboard/phone regularly: Your keyboard and phone are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and viruses. You are in constant physical contact with them and, while you sniff or blow your nose, the little nasties take their chance to spread. The best thing to do is regularly clean your keyboard with a slightly damp cloth. If you have a cold, apply some disinfectant spray to the cloth first. 

  • Stay hydrated: If you make sure you are drinking enough in the office, you can reduce the likelihood of becoming seriously ill, as sufficient hydration flushes out the body's systems. As a result, bacteria and viruses that cause an infection have less of a chance of multiplying in your body. 

  • Light meals: Stick to healthier foods in the canteen over things like greasy fast food. Eating healthily strengthens your immune system, allowing you to stay fit for longer. No canteen at your office? Then prepare yourself a healthy lunch before work rather than bringing ready meals to the office.
Am Arbeitsplatz gesunde Ernährung integrieren
  • Move more: It's no secret that sport is good for your body, but only a few of us are able to get to the gym in the course of a short lunch break. But we can all do a little something. Perhaps try saving some time for a short walk after your lunch? Or even just incorporate exercise into your daily routine: maybe you could ride your bike to work? Or take the stairs instead of the lift. Plus, going and talking to a colleague in another part of the office can be much more effective than picking up the phone.

What does this tell us?

Going to the office with a severe cold is not only bad for you and your health: it is also bad for your colleagues. If your cold is getting worse, then the best thing to do is focus on getting better. And after all, there are plenty of things you can do to avoid getting ill in the first place!

Recommended further reading: our expert interview - The right diet in the office or Cough until the doctor comes