According to Global Workplace Analytics, 3.6% of the U.S. workforce works remotely half time or more. That number has been growing steadily year by year in the 21st century and now, with the current worries about coronavirus, is booming as never before.
There is no way of knowing how many people will eventually retreat from crowded offices and schools to the relative safety of their kitchen or dining room table to work. We do know, as reported by NPR, that virus-embattled Seattle reports a 40% spike in Internet use. Not during the traditional 7 pm to 9 pm Internet Rush Hours but at 11 am, peak business and school time.
What is easy to predict is that novice at-home workers with pets will likely face new challenges being productive – beyond Netflix, naps, and Internet surfing. To help, here are some of the best tips we could find, gathered from experienced home-office-working pros.
1. Mark Your Territory
Your pets are going to be thrilled to be near you (perhaps ON you) all day. It’s important that you create a mostly pet-free workspace. Dwain Hebda, journalist and editor at Ya!Mule Wordsmiths has been working at home since 2017 with dogs Cash, Oakley and Hootie, and cats Reggie and Cosmo.
His tip: “You must work in a part of the house separate from your pets whenever possible. Just like TV or leftover cake, you have to put distance between your work and the temptation to slack.”
2. Treat Yourself To Some Quiet
Pets can be distractive even when they’re in another part of the house. Barking, growling, whimpering, mewling and scratching at barriers are not the background soundtrack you want for conference calls, or focusing on important papers, writing code, calculations and other tasks requiring close concentration.
Dwain goes on to advise: “Be sure to have some long-lasting treats. Biscuits are fine for a quick reward, but for sustained quiet, give them something that occupies them longer than a couple of bites. I employ rawhides, bully sticks and larger bones like shins and knuckles in the same way I used Disney movies on my kids when they were small.”
3. Let Them Watch Frozen (Bones)
I’ve personally been home-officed for 20+ years. When I’m working on a client’s project or posting on my blog of pet advice and support, my tool of choice is the frozen beef marrow bone.
I used to get knee bones but I’ve upgraded to marrow bones in the last few years. Before they can eat them, dogs have to wait and let them thaw out. My dogs certainly aren’t about to leave the vicinity of that thawing shin-treasure until they’ve consumed it all.
I buy them in eight-packs; I have learned to time the different sizes. A smaller one will last about 15 minutes. The biggest, chunkiest ones can keep even my hyper Rottweiler, Zelda, busy for about 40 minutes.
Kong toys stuffed with peanut butter and then frozen can work too. My dogs seem to be able to get through frozen peanut butter much faster than frozen marrow bones though.
For those with cats, I have one word of advice: catnip.
4. Work It Out
Cesar Milan loves to remind us that “a tired dog is a good dog.” It seems many who work from home share that experience. A common response from work-at-home pros is to walk or exercise your companion in the morning before you start trying to get anything important done. It works out nervous energy and, if vigorous enough, can buy you an hour or two of calm and quiet.
Dwain Hebda suggests this for a different reason: “Build their play or exercise time into the day’s schedule at around the same time as when you were reporting to the office. You may want to lavish extra attention or give them more quality time, but all you’re doing is lousing up their schedules and making them think this is how it will be from now on. That will bite you in the fanny on days when you’re on deadline and can’t break away to play, walk or snooze.”
5. Go Ahead and Play
On the other hand, Tish McClure, graphic designer at Tishlane Design, advises breaking up your pet’s day, and yours, with a little play or exercise. Working from home should free you from some of the classic timewasters of office work, as she points out, making more time for breaks.
“I find that working from home, for me, means fewer natural interruptions – office meetings, coworkers stopping by, donuts in the 4th-floor break room, lol. Therefore, I can find myself working for long stretches of time without stopping, which leads to a stiff neck, waning concentration, and so on.
If I listen to her, my dog Mayzie is my built-in break. After a couple of hours, she’ll get restless and start staring at me, which means it’s time to get some fresh air. Taking a few minutes to follow her lead, I’m less likely to let stress build-up, which means higher productivity.”
Better health, too. We’ve all read the alarming findings of the dangers of sitting too long at a desk: heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, even Alzheimer’s-like brain atrophy. Watch your pets. Even if they sleep most of the day, they take frequent opportunities to stretch and move about. So should you.
6. Don’t Let Them Toy with You
Kelli Reep worked from home for years as a public relations consultant with cats Emma, Trixie, and Dottie. Now employed as the public information officer of non-profit Methodist Family Health, she’s back home working around her fur-babies for the duration of social distancing. Her no-nonsense advice sums it up succinctly: “Keep them well-fed and have plenty of toys to occupy them. Otherwise, YOU are their toy.”
7. Have Patience
If working from home is new to you, you’ll surely face some novel struggles and distractions. It may be awkward, even frustrating, at first. And who knows how long we will need to remain safely socially distant?
My best tip is to be extra patient with yourself, your family, friends, colleagues and your pets in this unsettled and unsettling time. We’re all in this together, figuring it out as we go. Today, part of everybody’s job description needs to include “show some extra love and forbearance.”