Making the Most of Your Four-Legged “Coworkers”: Pets in the Workplace
Updated: May 5
Any pet owner would tell you that a pet brings joy to its owner’s life. However, when it comes to the question of whether pets should be allowed in the workplace, there tends to be a bit more contention. Topics including allergies, liabilities, productivity, and differing personal preferences are hotly debated and there’s valid evidence on both sides of the issue.
Proponents of pets in the workplace focus on mental health benefits, stress relief, and even increased socialization and exercise as a result of walking dogs, for example.
Those who favor pet-free workplaces cite concerns about distractions, health issues, and sharing workspace with a pet.
Regardless of how one may feel about pets in the workplace, the current job environment still sees many working from home. As a result, this debate has temporarily stalled since by default, workers are now sharing space with their animal companions.
It’s been said that no one enjoyed the past year as much as our pets.
Having their humans at home the majority of the time has meant extra treats, toys, and attention. We’ve also benefitted from their companionship, their ability to stave off our sense of isolation, and their constant positivity unfettered by scrolling social media and the daily news. Our online meetings have an added degree of charm with a pet but we all know how fast the appeal of a pet can turn to disruption with a barking dog or a cat stepping on your computer keys.
Here’s a few tips (field-tested by our team) to help you successfully manage the oftentimes unpredictable nature of pets in your workspace.
Give them extra attention outside of work hours.
Even with us humans at home more of the time, our pets still tend to get bored during the workday. In fact, our presence might even aggravate the situation - after all, if we’re there then they see no reason why we shouldn’t be paying attention to them whenever they want us to. One way to prevent this is to give them extra stimulation outside of your work hours. Take your dog for a longer walk on your lunch break or play with your cat in the morning before your stand-up meeting and they’ll be less likely to interrupt you in the middle of your most important worktime.
Find out what motivates your pet. For many pets, a good motivator is treats - we’ll use this common example here. Keep a small container of your pet’s favorite treats in your workspace and practice training them with commands like, “quiet” (if they’re loudly distracting e.g. barking) while you’re working throughout the day. Make sure that you don’t give them treats just to get them to stop a disruptive behavior - pets are smart! One of our team members likes to share a story of a dog that she had who used to bark while she was on the phone. She realized that giving him a rawhide chew would keep him quiet for a while so she could finish her calls. Soon enough, the dog would bark as soon as he realized she was on the phone so that she’d give him a chew.
Make sure that you’re training your pets – and they are in fact not training you!
When possible, have other members of your household help manage the pets.
Sometimes, an engagement is too important to allow for distractions of any kind. In these cases, communicate in advance with the people you live with to see if someone else can keep an eye on the pets so that they don’t cause a disruption in your work. If you live alone, try to find a way to distance yourself from your pet safely, such as putting the pet in their crate or in another room while you have a critical meeting.
Keep a regular schedule.
Whether it’s taking the dog out every four hours or feeding cats at 6:00 AM, noon, and 6:00 PM, pets need structure just as much as we do. One benefit to the work-from-home environment is that it lends itself to greater flexibility in being able to set up a schedule that works for you and for your pets. Once you’ve decided on a routine, stick to it - your pets will learn when their needs will be met and will be less likely to disturb you while you’re working.
Pet owners everywhere adapted to a new dynamic during COVID and the trend has continued with the increase in remote workers.
While spending more time at home allows us to pay more attention to our pets and in return their presence provides us innumerable benefits, it also can also result in distractions and disruptions. We hope that these tips and tricks help manage some of the challenges so that you can derive the maximum benefit from your furry friends in the work-from-home environment.