April 13, 2020

Your New Coworker: Working from Home with Pets

Blog post created by Sam Cryer, Greenhill Humane Society volunteer with contributions from Lauren Rubin, KPA CTP, CPDT-KACanine Behavior Program Coordinator

With the outbreak of COVID-19, many people are working from home with their pets. While a 20-foot commute and being able to stay in your pajamas all day has its up-side, working from home also presents some challenges—not least of which may be having your pet as a coworker. You may be finding it hard to focus (not to mention type) when your cat drapes herself across your keyboard, or worried about how your pup will cope later on, when life gets back to normal. We put together some tips to help your pet stay sane during these changes, and ensure a smooth transition back to normal.

How are these changes impacting our pets?

While some pets may crave peace and quiet, thousands of media posts attest that most pets are loving the extra time with their people. Most don’t understand the need for a distraction-free work environment, and the number of pets that practice social distancing is close to zero.

Some pets may be overstimulated. Even if your pet is thrilled that you’re home, make sure you give them their space. Pets can easily become overstimulated (aka “wired-tired”) because of the change in routine. You can set up a quiet area in a bedroom or other low-traffic area where they can escape for some alone time when they need it.

It’s also possible that you’re the one who needs some me time! If that’s the case, read on for tips on how to be productive even with a pet in your workspace, and how to help your animal adjust as conditions change.

How can I work from home effectively with a pet?

Schedule play time. Ignoring your pet from 9-5 isn’t very fun or practical, so schedule times to play and help them get their energy out. (Bonus: staying active helps you focus better too.) Take your dog for a quick walk before you sit down at the computer and take a minute every couple of hours for a game or a snuggle. You need those mandatory 15 minute breaks anyway, right?

Incorporate them into your workspace. Create a special space for your pet that’s near your working area. Dogs will often be content in a comfy bed by your feet. With cats, the trick is to make their designated spot more tempting than your lap. Try a heated bed on your desk, or clear off a shelf and lay a blanket on it so your kitty can look down and supervise your work.

How can I help my pet adjust?

Maintain your regular routine as much as possible. If your pre-pandemic schedule included having set times for walking, feeding and potty breaks, keep as close to those same times as you can. That will give your pet a sense of routine and familiarity. This will also help when it’s time for everyone to return to work and school.

Entertain your pet. Animals need mental stimulation just like humans do. Invest in some new toys (puzzle toys are especially good) and allow your pet to play with them during working hours. Be sure to put them away when you’re not working, so those toys maintain their novelty. You can use these same toys when it’s time for you to go back to the office as well. Having something special to keep them busy when you’re away can be a good distraction, and also signal to your pet that this is time to entertain themselves.

How can I prevent separation anxiety?

If you’ve brought home a new pet, or if your current pet is thrilled you’re around, it’s important to help your pet practice being alone. This can help prevent separation anxiety from developing. Be sure to spend some time away from your pet, such as leaving them at home when you go to the store for essentials. Even just driving the car a block away and sitting in there working or reading for an hour will help your pet get used to the idea that you’ll be gone and will come back.

When you do return home, be sure to stay calm during greetings. It’s hard not to match your pet’s enthusiasm for your return, but making greetings so exciting can instill stress on your departure. Remain calm when you get home and only greet your pet with zest after you’ve been back for a bit.

Although working from home with pets can be tricky, the good news is that it also comes with benefits. Greenhill employees are no strangers to having animal assistants in the office, and we know firsthand that they can make great coworkers! Animals can keep you calm and relaxed, force you to take breaks and provide companionship during a long workday. So enjoy this extra time with your furry (or feathered, scaly, finned, etc.) colleagues. Believe it or not, they may be exactly what you need to get through the emotional challenges of COVID-19.