Other than your computer, what’s the most important item on your desk, or in your workspace? For me, it’s a cat bed–a three-sided wooden box with a cushion in it that can either be attached to your desk or placed on top of it, to allow your cat or cats to sit near you while you work.
Why do I love the cat bed so much? It’s partly comfort. When I’m working in my home office–which is where I spend a large portion of my time–one or both of our cats is usually there too. Often, one of them is sitting on my lap, but to make that work, I have to partly sit cross-legged in my office chair. That’s fine for a while, but eventually my leg starts to fall asleep. In the past, I would pick up the cat, reposition my legs and set the cat down again, which was awkward and didn’t help that much. Now I pick up the cat and set them in the cat bed, where they can watch me work and get petted when I’m not typing. They usually curl up happily and stay for hours. It gives me the benefit of having a pet nearby without my leg cramping up.
That explains why the cat bed is so handy, but why is it so important to me to have cats in my office at all?
1. They’re (mostly) quiet company.
Many of us struggle to provide ourselves the ideal work from home setup, and I’ve certainly worked hard on mine over the decades that I’ve been working at home. As a writer, one thing I need is big chunks of time with no interruptions and my husband knows not to knock on my door unless there’s an important reason. It’s good for my productivity, but spending all those hours alone in my office can also get lonely.
Pets are the perfect office companions for me because they counteract that loneliness, but they don’t talk to me or expect me to talk to them. My particular cats don’t even meow very often, and usually they’re just asking me to lift them into the cat bed. They provide company but no distractions. It’s a magical combination.
2. Pets can lower your stress levels.
Some studies have shown that interacting with a pet lowers blood pressure and levels of cortisol, sometimes called the “stress hormone.” Other studies have been less conclusive. But there’s no doubt that many, many people find it calming to have pets around, which is why they sometimes travel or go out with emotional support animals.
Whether or not pets have an actual medical effect, they certainly create a benefit by simply being there as a reminder to break from work once in a while and pet or play with the cat (or walk the dog, if that’s your pet of choice). That simple act of stepping away from work every half hour or so to move around and interact with your pet will keep you healthier because long periods of sitting are particularly bad for your body. Mentally taking that very brief break will help you be more productive as well.
3. They may make you easier to relate to.
According to the American Pet Products Association, 70 percent of U.S. households have at least one pet. That means that whenever you talk to a new employee, customer, or co-worker, the odds that he or she lives with a pet are better than two to one.
That may be especially helpful in this era of frequent meetings over Zoom or some other video chat app. These days, many of us are looking into each other’s homes and trying to make some personal connection to compensate for the physical distance between us. I think this is why people so often react with a smile or a laugh when one of my cats pops their head into the video frame. I think it also explains why some people have been really intrigued when I’ve told them there’s a cat bed just out of sight of the camera.
4. Interacting with your pet just might make you happier.
Most pet owners assume that people with pets are happier than those without. I made that assumption myself, but it turns out I was wrong. Overall, there isn’t conclusive evidence that pets make you happier in general. But there is evidence that interacting with your pet will make you happier while you’re doing it.
Which means that having cats hanging around in my office provides me with a little hit of joy whenever I need it. I can stop, pet or play with one of them for a few minutes or even a few seconds, and get right back to whatever I’m working on.
I think this is the most important benefit of all, because I believe that anything that makes you happier to be in your office is a good thing, assuming it doesn’t interfere with your ability to do your job. I have a beanbag chair and a flying parrot mobile from Bali in my office for the same reason.
There’s a growing audience of Inc.com readers who receive a daily text from me with a self-care or motivational micro-challenge or tip. Often they text me back and we wind up in a conversation. (Interested in joining? Here’s more information and an invitation to an extended free trial.) Many are entrepreneurs or business leaders with busy careers and families. Still, they often tell me what a big role their pet or pets play in their lives. If you have a pet and you work from home, does your pet get to keep you company while you’re working? If not, maybe you should give it a try.