Office-dog curious? Here’s how leading tech companies make it work

by Katie Fustich
May 23, 2019
Chewy
image via chewy

These days, office dogs are practically staff members at companies ranging from scrappy startups to post-IPO giants.

At Chewy, an e-commerce company serving pet parents out of its dual headquarters in Boston and Florida, office dogs are an integral part of the job.

“Who wouldn’t enjoy spending their day with their dog by their side?” said Samantha Schwab, the company’s Resident Pet Expert. “Dogs are excellent at promoting a collaborative environment at work, and they help bring coworkers together.”

Who wouldn’t enjoy spending their day with their dog by their side?”

It may not be surprising that live animals are an integral part of life at a pettech firm, but this aspect of tech workplace culture is influencing larger trends in business. Amazon, Salesforce and Ticketmaster are all famously dog-friendly, and Google, which proclaims itself to be “a dog company” in its code of conduct, issues badges for doggos to wear while on the clock.

Sixty percent of Americans own a pet, and that number is continuing to climb. It makes sense that the pet-owning majority would be inclined to have their furry friends be with them throughout the day — especially with the average dog walker costing $30 a day.

But as much as I (and my Instagram followers) treasure each fluffy pup I encounter in my day-to-day work, I’ve seen enough barking matches to know that office dogs, while wonderful, come with their own unique challenges.

 

Chewy
image via chewy

Dogs in the office: Just the facts

Research has repeatedly indicated the positive effects of human interaction with dogs. America’s 500,000 service dogs assist people both physically and emotionally. Ninety-five percent of pet owners consider their cats or dogs to be full-fledged family members — with some even going as far as to consider their pets “children.”

“Combined with individuals viewing relationships differently, leaving home later and marrying even later, dogs have become a constant companion for many,” explained Richard Pummell, vice president of HR, talent and culture at the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation.

Dogs have been linked to longer lifespans, reduced feelings of depression and isolation, improved cardiovascular health, improved emotional development and more. New research seems to emerge on an almost-daily basis, reminding us again and again, “Dogs are good!”

The question remains, though: Are they good for productivity? After all, not everything that puts us at ease outside of work is translatable to our in-office success (see: wine, YouTube wormholes, bunny slippers).

[Dogs] serve as a great icebreaker and can lead to an impromptu conversation with someone you never had the chance to talk to before.”

Fortunately for puppy parents, studies on office dogs have generally turned up positive — or at the very least, neutral. A 2017 study out of Central Michigan University even found that the presence of a companion dog increased collaboration in a group setting.

Other studies have highlighted stress relief and inter-office friendliness as benefits of a dog-friendly work environment.

“People love to gather to talk and play with office dogs, which leads to more opportunities for networking among employees,” explained Schwab. “They serve as a great icebreaker and can lead to an impromptu conversation with someone you never had the chance to talk to before.”

It’s true: I may be an introvert, but there are just some faces I cannot resist.

Dogs may help forge bonds in a group setting, but there are also unique individual benefits to caring for a pup at work. In my interviews with dog-owning techies, they all pointed to the regular walks as a major boon to their productivity. A bit of light and air is an excellent refresher before returning to the day’s tasks (and, you know, serotonin).

“There’s no question that having dogs at work creates a happier and more productive workplace. They help people remember there's more to life than the work issues at hand in a way that humans just can't,” explained Pummell. “They also help relieve stress for employees and promote exercise.”

While more difficult to quantify, experts have also pointed to the value of having a pet-friendly office as a recruiting and employee-retention tool. Those who feel that a company is more in line with their personal values are more likely to accept a job offer at that company, and remain with that company for a longer time.

“Most pet parents don’t like the idea of leaving their four-legged sidekick home alone all day, so being able to bring their pets to work is a huge bonus for them,” said Chewy’s Schwab. “Pet-friendly policies also influence pet parents’ decisions on whether or not to accept a job. Employers are recognizing how their team members benefit from these allowances, so it’s not surprising that it’s being implemented more widely.”

 

Chewy
image via chewy

Thinking of going pet-friendly?

So, there’s the good news. But: If your office or business is considering becoming pet-friendly, there are a number of considerations to take into account.

Fifteen percent of those afflicted by allergies report allergic reactions in the presence of dogs and cats. In a pet-friendly office, accommodating those with allergies is essential — you can’t expect an employee in the midst of a sneezing fit to be productive or happy.

Solutions to this particular issue include designating pet-free zones within an office, and installing tools, such as fans and HEPA filters, to control airborne pet dander.

Other risks of a dog-friendly office include transmission of diseases, environmental hazards such as slips and falls, and employee discomfort (fact: not everyone loves your spastic Jack Russel).

Considerations must also be taken for pooches. Is the office comfortable and safe for pets? Will they have access to water and walks? Are there potential triggers that could cause excessive barking or aggressive behavior?

If the office dogs are not well trained, they can hurt productivity.”

“If the office dogs are not well trained, they can hurt productivity,” said dog trainer Steffi Trott. “A dog that constantly gets up and moves around, perhaps empties the trash can, or even has potty accidents inside the office, is a nuisance for everyone. Proper training and socialization is a must.”

Research published in the International Journal of Environmental and Public Health says that employers considering going dog-friendly should “develop a procedure to assess employees’ attitudes, beliefs, and opinions concerning the presence of dogs in the workplace,” to keep an open dialogue.

This information can be captured via surveys, focus groups or standardized questionnaires like the Pet Attitude Scale. Researchers encourage that this data be collected repeatedly and regularly to “capture any changes in employee perceptions.”

If done right, though, a pet-friendly office can be a treat.

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