Many people around the world find themselves thrust into working from home, whether they ever wanted to or not. Here’s how to not just survive but thrive working from home with pets.
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First, a little background: I started working full-time from home in 2008. I worked for a DC-based design firm when John began his PhD in Indiana, so I experienced working for an employer remotely. Then, I ultimately went full-time freelance, still from home, a couple years later.
That gives me 12 years of working from home under my belt–the whole time with pets. I’ve learned a thing or two (OK, five…) that I wanted to share as many of us suddenly and unexpectedly find ourselves in this spot.
BTW, this is not meant to exclude the thousands and thousands of front-line workers at hospitals, clinics, grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations around the globe. I am deeply, immeasurably grateful to you and all you do to keep this world spinning in this time of crisis. Thank you.
1. Prepare distractions.
Fill a bunch of Kongs (or these for a super long distraction–they’re much harder than a Kong is for Coop) with peanut butter and carrots, stash them in your freezer, and pull one out when you get an unplanned phone call or Zoom. If you have more time or have planned meetings, I love puzzle toys like those from Nina Ottosson (I think they’re all licensed by Outward Hound now so there are tons to choose from here) or a snuffle mat, which seems to be the quietest of all the puzzles, at least for Coop!
2. Ditch the doorbell.
The Instacart you’re waiting for? The Amazon order out for delivery? Those items will arrive when and only when you’re on a Zoom. Your phone will ring, and the driver will arrive at the same time. It’s the only immutable law of working from home. For a while, I placed black electrical tape over my doorbell, but people still rang it or they knocked. So, I put up a sign. When Violet was born, I purchased this one from Etsy, but anything will do!
3. Arrange your pets.
I heard a podcast producer say something like this once, and it stuck: When you can’t risk any background noise (an interview, a global conference call, your performance review, etc.), dogs need to be elsewhere. Put them in another room with activities like this or this and close the door. Cats, she said, are more likely to make a bunch of noise if they’re closed out, so leave the door open and hope for the best!
4. Be candid.
When I first started working from home, I worried that pet noise in the background seemed unprofessional. Finally, I just started conversations with a simple, “If you hear some background noise, I work from home with my rambunctious dogs!” More often than not, we’d end up having a couple minutes of pleasant convo about dogs. Now that just about everyone’s in the same boat, be upfront. You’ll likely find your colleague replies with, “And I’ve got a toddler and a cat!” Chuckle and move on with business.
5. Let your pets distract you.
It sounds counter-intuitive, but hear me out: One challenge inherent with working from home is the barrier between your work and home life dissolves. It’s tempting to fire up your laptop after dinner to process a few emails. It’s so easy to put the finishing touches on your presentation on a Saturday morning. And it’s perfectly OK to do those things as long as you balance them out in other ways. (I will never, ever be the person who swears you need to “set firm work hours,” which is probably the most common work-from-home advice out there… it doesn’t make sense to me to be that rigid since working from home enables flexibility!) That’s where our pets come in! Sprinkle in dog walks or time with your cat’s teaser toy throughout the day. You may knock out those slides on Saturday, but that time gets recouped with an extra-long lunchtime walk on Wednesday. In my decade-plus experience, mixing in reliable breaks, even if it means typing a few lines on the weekend, brings me much closer to balance than separating distinct work vs. home hours.
Working from home can be a blessing or a curse. It’s up to YOU and how you manage it. Obviously staying in sweats all day can be great, but if it makes you feel sluggish, throw on some jeans. Turning on Netflix probably isn’t in your best interest, nor is folding the laundry when you should be making that spreadsheet, but hey! you can watch Netflix while you fold your laundry over your lunch hour!
You can do this! We all can! We’ll all get through this, and I suspect this global experiment of working from home might change how the workplace looks forever after.
Hug your dog. Scritch your cat. Then get back to work!