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

by Katie Fustich
May 23, 2019
Ollie
image via ollie

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

At Ollie, a New York City-based company that crafts and delivers human-grade pet food, office dogs are an integral part of the job.

“My rescue dog Pancho has been with me since day one of founding Ollie, and his presence has always helped me feel less stressed,” said co-founder and CEO Gabby Slome. “I’ve also noticed that having dogs in the office is an instant ice breaker for employees and is definitely something we all bond over.”

Having dogs in the office is an instant ice breaker for employees and is definitely something we all bond over.”

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 of my own to know that office dogs, while wonderful, come with their own unique challenges.

 

Helix Sleep
image via helix sleep

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).

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 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.

[Dogs] lead to a stronger and closely knit team that truly enjoys working together.”

“[My dog] Brody has provided a positive and friendly attitude to the office that spreads across our co-workers and into each other’s interactions,” said Steven Krinberg, director of growth marketing at NYC’s Helix Sleep. “[Office dogs] allow people to step away from business and toward lighter, general interactions. This then leads to a stronger and closely knit team that truly enjoys working together.”

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).

“Before Brody was here, I would hardly ever go outside,” said Krinberg. “This is proven to be unhealthy and could cause decreases in focus and productivity. Now I receive short, intermittent bursts of fresh air and sunshine during the day that I can share with my tail-wagging companion on our short walks.”

One in four say they’d even give up three vacation days to be allowed to bring their dog to work.”

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.

“According to an Ollie 2018 Dogs in the Workplace Survey, 92 percent of pet parents say they want pet-related benefits at work,” said Ollie’s Slome. “One in four say they’d even give up three vacation days to be allowed to bring their dog to work.”

Slome added: “Pet employee benefits not only put pets first, but it also helps with employee recruitment and retention. So if a company wants to stay competitive, it’s more important than ever to offer these pet parenting perks.”

 

Helix
image via helix sleep

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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