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

by Katie Fustich
May 23, 2019
Image via Rev
Image via Rev

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

At Austin-based Rev.com, a tech-driven transcription service provider, office dogs are an integral part of the job.

“Having [my dog] Charlie here helps a lot,” said Rev’s Office Manager Michelle Marz. “I like to knock out my tasks in chunks, and I’m most productive when I take a break between and can recharge before the next task. Or, if I’m having a stressful day, having her around is calming and comforting.”

If I’m having a stressful day, having her around is calming and comforting.”

While pet-focused tech companies have allowed office dogs for years, an increasing number of other tech firms, like Rev, are allowing pets and sparking a larger trend 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.

 

Image via Rev
Image via Rev

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).

The pups bring employees together both inside and outside the office.”

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.

“We love our office dogs!” said Rev’s Marz. “The pups bring employees together both inside and outside the office. They’re conversation starters, fostering positive interactions with individuals on different teams who may not otherwise interact as much. I know a lot of employees with dogs who get along in the office, who also meet at dog parks on the weekends for play dates.”

Dogs may help forge bonds in a group setting, but there are also unique individual benefits to caring for a pup at the office. 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).

Ducking out for a walk is a nice way to decompress and recharge before starting a new task.”

“[Dogs] help not just their owners but their human friends as well to take both mental and physical breaks during the day, which I think people would be less likely to do,” said Marz. “Ducking out for a walk or to our backyard — our office is a big house! — is a nice way to decompress and recharge before starting a new task.”

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.

“I think [having a dog-friendly office] brings dog owners into the office more since they don’t feel the need to work from home or guilty about leaving their pets at home for long periods of time,” said Marz. “Having Charlie at work with me definitely brings me some ease because I’m able to get all of my work done, but also spend time with her and give her the company that she needs.”

 

Image via Rev
Image via Rev

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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