All of us who telework in home offices and have canine officemates have been there. That dreaded moment when it’s your turn to speak on the ever-so-important videoconference and you simultaneously hear the UPS guy turn onto your street. Your heart starts to race! Your palms begin to sweat! You silently recite prayers that the cool new shoes you’ve been eagerly awaiting arrive TOMORROW, not TODAY! But, alas, it’s not meant to be. As the UPS guy whistles his way up your sidewalk, your home office dog awakes from his dreamy slumber and immediately launches a DEFCON 1 warning, injecting every single ounce of his being into alerting you (and the participants of your videoconference) that your shoes have finally arrived. What follows is a very unprofessional moment that leaves you wishing you hadn’t ordered those dumb shoes after all. They’re not even really your style!
As cringe-worthy as this experience is, I would still argue that the positive aspects of having Fido (or in my case, LuLu) while working in a home office far outweigh the negative ones. But in order for the home office dog to get with the professional program, it’s up to us employees to put a few controls in place. Of course, there are many types of pets, but in this blog I am focusing on dogs because, well, I have one. But there are also some benefits and challenges with dogs that may not be as applicable to other types of pets. Unless of course you take your bearded dragon for a walk, or your cat barks.
But first let’s take a look at some of the benefits of canine companions in the home office.
Benefits of the Home Office Dog
Dog walks = increased productivity. Maybe you’re among those who believe that in order to achieve your highest level of productivity, you should be chained to your desk, taking breaks as sparingly as possible. You may eat lunch at your desk. You move around minimally throughout the day. You obviously are a hard worker and your intentions about being productive are clearly good. This was my approach to work during the many years I worked from a home office and didn’t have a dog. Apart from meeting friends occasionally for lunch or stepping outside for a few minutes on a beautiful day, I would work straight through most days trying to meet deadlines, making sure I was available for communication at the very second someone contacted me, and generally just grinding it out all week.
What I began to realize is that my production level was high for the first part of the day, and then I hit an afternoon slump, as so many of us do. My energy level crashed in the afternoon hours, with my work becoming more and more unfocused and scattered as the day progressed. The afternoon caffeine fix just wasn’t cutting it.
Over Thanksgiving, my family adopted LuLu from a local rescue organization that saved her from a high-kill shelter the morning she was scheduled to be euthanized. Since I work from a home office and would be around all day, I figured we could offer her a much better life than what she had known in the past. My fur baby is happy to spend the majority of her day snuggled up by my feet napping, playing with her toys, or gnawing on a bone (or an occasional slipper!). But when she is ready to go for a walk, she’s ready to go NOW. Having her eagerly pawing at me when she is ready to shake the cobwebs off has proven to be just the motivation I needed to unchain myself from my desk each day. Rain, snow, sleet, and blistering cold do not stand in the way of this walking duo!
LuLu – Could You Say No to Her?
Taking my dog for brisk walks during the day, particularly during those sluggish afternoon hours, has proven to be an excellent energizer. I come back to my desk ready to think and produce. A growing body of research shows that taking periodic breaks throughout your work day boosts productivity and increases the ability to stay on task and solve problems. One recent study showed that exercising for two and a half hours per week during work hours increased productivity, even though workers were logging 6.25% fewer hours. Who would have thought?
Dog walks = improved health. The research has shown that taking a brisk walk each day can have many health benefits, including maintaining a healthy weight; preventing or controlling various health ailments, including diabetes and high blood pressure; strengthening bones and building muscles; and improving overall mood. The longer and faster the walk, the greater the benefits! According to the American Heart Association, dog ownership is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, largely due to the propensity of many dog owners to walk their dogs. For many of us, having a dog who is eagerly awaiting their next stroll around the neighborhood is just the motivation we need to grab the leash and get moving!
Dogs walks = increased socialization. Although the benefits of working from a home office are vast, one of the challenges faced by many home office workers is overcoming social isolation. Let’s face it – working at home all day and forgoing the social interaction that goes hand and hand with working in a traditional office can be a bit lonely at times. Having a home office dog can help alleviate some of those feelings of isolation. Your dog becomes your officemate, without engaging in thermostat wars that typical officemates do. Dogs listen patiently if you need to chat. (Don’t judge.) They howl along if you sing (ok, maybe that’s just my dog and it just may have something to do with my singing). Simply put, dogs provide a sense of social support that can be lacking when working from a home office.
Even better, taking our dogs for walks gives us an opportunity to get out among our neighbors and chat it up a bit during the work day. I tend to cross paths with the same dogs walking their people at lunchtime each day. The people chat. The dogs sniff. Life is good!
Managing the Home Office Dog – 3 Tips
While having a canine officemate is a perk that often comes with working from a home office, it’s important to put certain controls in place to maintain an acceptable level of professionalism. While it’s cute to have your dog curled up under your desk, it’s not so cute for Fido to be barking when you’re on a conference call with your client. There are 13 employees in my company, all of whom work from home, and 14 home office dogs. Collectively, we have a wealth of experience in balancing work and dogs (not to mention an uncanny ability to hear the UPS truck).
Our Fentress Friends
Here are a few tips for balancing your canine companion’s needs with your need to get work done and remain professional.
- Identify quiet spaces. It’s important to have your office in a quiet area of your house. Ideally, you will be able to close the door to block out noise. Although you may choose to have your dog share your office space with you, there will definitely be times where your dog will have to go to his or her own quiet space while you’re working, particularly if you’re conducting phone calls or videoconferences. Be sure to have your dog’s quiet space well equipped with lots of goodies to keep him entertained while you’re busy. Hint: If your dog has been well exercised, it will be much easier for him to settle down quietly when your work requires it. (You’ll thank me later!) Fill a Kong with some treats. Invest in some bully sticks. Turn on the Today Show for him (this tip comes from my coworker LeeAnn whose service dog Carson enjoys watching Today Show segments about service dogs in training). Make your dog comfy and happy so you can focus on your work.
- Stick to a schedule. Dogs are creatures of habit. Just like children, they thrive when they have a predictable routine. To the extent that your work permits, try to walk Fido and take breaks with your dog around the same time each day. Your dog will be more likely to let you work in peace if he knows that some play time is on the horizon. Set limits with your dog. You have to fit your dog into your work day but your primary focus during business hours is to be a productive, hard-working employee.
- Be ready to hit mute. Dogs bark. Mrs. Fluffypants, my co-worker Mary’s home office dog, snores like a lumberjack. (No joke on the name, by the way.) Know where that mute button is and be ready to hit it like your life – or at least your livelihood – depends on it! And it might!
Friend or Foe?
There are definitely challenges that go along with having Fido in a home office. But when those challenges are managed in a way that allows the home office worker to maintain a high level of professionalism, the home office dog can be a huge plus. Dogs get us moving. And moving during our work day makes us more productive, healthier, and all around happier. Don’t be afraid to set some limits for your canine officemate. But when it’s time for a break, hook a leash to your wet-nosed, floppy-eared, tail-wagging friend and get walking. You’ll both feel better for it.
So back to the question “friend or foe?” I say friend. Hands – or paws – down!