- As the way in which we work changes, novel solutions are being sought to reduce remote work stress.
- Owning a dog is recognized as one approach to alleviate Zoom fatigue, social isolation and a range of other drawbacks to working remotely.
- A survey has revealed that 51% of remote workers find Zoom meetings less stressful when a colleague’s dog appears on screen.
What’s the link between remote work stress and dogs?
Working remotely, either from a place you call home or anywhere else, is set to become a permanent fixture. It’s projected that by the end of 2022, 25% of all professionals will be in remote work, with others looking to join the growing army of remote workers through 2023 and beyond.
The fact that so many people now want to work remotely is generally a positive development, as it renders the daily commute redundant and affords benefits such as flexitime. Although it sounds ideal, remote working is not without its drawbacks.
Honest Paws conducted a survey of 400 remote workers across the US on a range of issues from mental health to coping with Zoom. According to the survey, Zoom fatigue is fast becoming a phenomenon.
Most of us discovered Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic and it revolutionized the way we held meetings. Over time, however, a range of issues have arisen that have caused disillusionment with this communication platform.
The main challenge appears to be that Zoom has actually resulted in employees attending more meetings (although virtually) and taking fewer breaks. The survey revealed that in fact 55% of Americans currently have more meetings than ever before.
The benefit of less travel time has in some instances been minimized by the additional time that is now being dedicated to Zoom meetings.
The survey also revealed that remote workers are tired of staring at themselves in the same position on-screen, sometimes for hours a day. There is, however, a ray of light amongst all this zoom fatigue.
According to the survey, 48% of workers said that the appearance of a coworker’s dog during a Zoom call helped to mitigate feelings of stress. 51% stated that a dog’s appearance on Zoom also made meetings more enjoyable.
Having your dog (or other pet) around when you are working is not an entirely new concept and in the U.S. there is even a recognized annual National Take Your Dog to Work Day. What is more recent is the growing number of reports highlighting the benefits of owning a dog, specifically for remote workers.
What’s the psychology behind it all?
Scientific research shows that dogs can help to relieve anxiety, reduce depression and lower stress levels. Merely looking at photos of our dogs can have a positive effect on the regions of our brain that control emotion, motivation and attachment. For many people, these chemical changes in the brain (increased levels of serotonin and dopamine) can induce a sense of calm and relaxation when they are in the presence of these animals.
Some educational settings have a dedicated school dog to alleviate stress and anxiety in children (especially those with additional needs) and health settings have been using dogs for treatments for illnesses such as cancer and Alzheimer’s because of their ability to reduce stress levels in patients.
Humans are hard-wired to respond positively to physical stimulation and dogs provide this when we touch or stroke them. Other pets are also beneficial for many of the same reasons but dogs have the added benefit of requiring us to take walks outside.
Despite all the benefits of working remotely, there are some important considerations that need to be made to protect your wellbeing. Isolation, constant Zoom calls and the inability to separate work and home life are all issues that if not dealt with from the outset could actually lead to stress and even burnout. This is where the concept of owning a dog could be one solution.
So, what are the stress-reducing benefits (to remote workers) of having a dog?
- Increased levels of companionship and less social isolation (especially for those who work remotely and live alone).
- More exercise and fresh air (dogs require scheduled walks) can lead to improved heart health for dog owners.
- Improved work-life balance. Having a dog can remind us to hit the pause button and take a break.
- Focusing on someone or something other than yourself helps you to find meaning and stay connected.
It is essential to recognize that dogs are dependent on you and the relationship can only be beneficial when the owner reciprocates. Not all remote workers will have the time or inclination to take a dog out for daily walks and care for it properly.
How do I know if being a dog owner is the solution to my remote work woes?
You should not get a dog if you cannot commit to taking care of it. Consider the time it takes to train a dog. Before you rush out and buy a puppy, ask yourself whether it would be better to adopt an older but fully trained dog.
Also consider whether you can afford the costs of feeding and maintaining a dog’s health (vet costs, vaccinations etc). Additionally, you will also need to ensure that you or members of your household do not have allergies and that your remote workspace is fully dog-proof.
There are also some cultural and societal implications to having a dog. In some cultures, dogs are not looked upon favourably as pets and if you are allowing your dog to enter your workspace, you should consider your clients before you feature your pet on an important Zoom call. This is especially true if you work for a global company.
Besides the cultural aspects of dog ownership, there are some people who just don’t like dogs (yes, really)! While some of us may feel more relaxed with a dog in our workspace, others may be panicked or anxious at the sight of a dog.
Again, make sure you know who you are talking to before you position your dog in front of the camera. If you do decide to become a dog owner, remember that a dog is for life (as the old adage goes) and not just a Zoom call accessory!