Household pets are the unsung heroes of working from home amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In fact, your furry friend does more than just brighten up a work video call or give you someone to talk to while social distancing — research suggests pets can make you happier, healthier, less stressed and more productive at work.
Researchers have long known that having pets in the workplace can be a positive thing. A 2012 study from Virginia Commonwealth University found that employees at a retail business who brought their dogs to work had higher job satisfaction than industry norms and had the lowest levels of stress ratings throughout the day. Of those dog owners who came to work with a dog, 50% said that having their pet present was important to their productivity.
Depending on your pet's temperament and your own individual feelings about your pets, these findings could apply to your current COVID-19 WFH situation too, Sandra B. Barker, professor of psychiatry in the VCU School of Medicine, tells CNBC Make It.
"If you have a cat that wants your attention and is constantly jumping on your keyboard, that might be more of an aggravation and frustration," Barker says. (Wait for it, in the video below.)
"On the other hand, if you're dealing with some stressful issue and you have purring cat on your lap, that could be very calming," she says.
Other studies have shown that having a pet in the home helps you respond better to stressful situations.
Dogs in particular help you keep a routine and stay active, which experts say is extra important for your mental and physical health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Dog owners are individuals who typically walk more and exercise more, and we know these are good things for our health," Barker says. "And if we're healthy, then where obviously going to perform better work-wise." For these reasons, studies have shown that dog owners tend to live longer and have better cardiovascular outcomes.
Barker's advice for pet owners is to take advantage of the time that you have at home to establish a bond with your pet in different ways. For example, instead of your usual office break to go to the water cooler or get a cup of coffee, consider taking your dog out for a walk, or pet your cat for a moment.
"These can be really healthy behaviors for people that they may take up while they're at home," she says.
For people who have been itching to get a pet, the Humane Society of America says that now is a great time to adopt or foster (if you're not 100% ready for a life-long commitment). Not only are more people working from home and available to care for animals, but there may be an uptick in requests for foster care if pet owners become seriously ill or hospitalized.
And even if you don't have a pet at home, simply watching videos of pets may be enough to boost your mood too. Studies suggest that watching cat videos gives you more energy and even makes you more productive on tasks that require focus.
So go ahead and send your work Slack channel another photo of your cat, they'll thank you later.