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Good Company

Friday, October 30, 2009
By Kim O’Connor

Anyone who works out of a home office knows that it can be a lonely place. At home, the trivial interactions that break up most people’s workdays—chats around the copy machine, birthday cake in the break room—are in short supply.

Many home office workers rely on their animal companions to alleviate that sense of solitude, and it’s easy to see why.

“Pets play a tremendous role in providing companionship in an often isolating environment,” says Jeff Zbar, home office expert and founder of chiefhomeofficer.com.

Studies have shown that pets can increase productivity, lift spirits, reduce stress and stimulate creativity.
Convinced that it’s time to liven up your home office? Here are five tips to help you get started.

1. Make sure you’ll enjoy each other
Pets, like people, have strong personalities. It’s your job to make sure that your new friend will complement your disposition.

If you need long stretches of silence to focus, then you’ll probably prefer the company of a low-key lizard to a high-strung bird. While some people would welcome a friendly nudge from a Golden Retriever, others might prefer the cold shoulder of an aloof cat. Clean freaks might appreciate the controlled environment of an aquarium more than the destructive tendencies of a rabbit. You get the idea.

2. Confirm that your lifestyles will be compatible
You and your pet should be able to thrive in your home office. Some animals require more care and attention than others, and it’s important to understand where your potential pet falls on that spectrum.

Be realistic about your schedule and your habits. Sedentary people won’t work well with a dog that requires frequent long walks, and road warriors shouldn’t choose a pet that loves to cuddle.

Keep in mind that it’s not just a matter of your ability to care for your pet, but also your desire to care for it.

3. Don’t get distracted
Or if you do, make sure it’s a productive distraction.

An afternoon walk with your dog can provide a much-needed break for both of you, as long as it doesn’t interrupt your workflow. Other people might feel energized simply by watching a tireless hamster run on its wheel. Those who are distracted easily might prefer the tranquility of a serene turtle.

4. Never compromise your professionalism
“You’ve got to realize that if you work for a client, your home office is an extension of their corporate office in many respects,” says Zbar, who was recently knee-deep in the process of training his puppy, Stella.

A loud barker might not be a good choice for people who spend time on the phone with clients. A shedding Siamese cat might not work if you often invite clients into your home office.

5. Get a plant
Maybe, after thinking it through, you’ve realized that you’re not really an animal person, or that you’re not ready to make a long-term commitment to a pet just yet. In that case, you might want to pick up a nice hanging plant—they require little care and they’ll always respect your deadlines.

Freelance writer Kim O’Connor favors clever collies and eccentric cats.

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