Having spent the last 18 months working from home, with their canine companions by their side, it’s not surprising that as they start returning to the office, people are keen to take their dogs with them. A survey carried out in April by videoconferencing company PowWowNow found that 45% of remote workers were in favor of allowing dogs to come into the office.
Creating a dog-friendly workplace can have its benefits. A 2019 study by the University of Lincoln revealed that employees who often bring their dogs to work reported 22% higher satisfaction with their working conditions, increased absorption in their work (33.4%), and an overall increase in work engagement by 14.4%.
But there are potential downsides; 38% of respondents to the PowWowNow survey didn’t think having dogs roaming around their office was a good thing, while 13% felt that having a dog interrupting them during work would make them less productive.
Nevertheless, some startups have found ways of making the benefits outweigh any challenges, including tutoring management software firm TutorCruncher, which reports that allowing dogs into its London office has lowered stress levels, boosted productivity, enhanced creativity and improved morale.
The company had also thought through the potential downsides of implementing a dog-friendly, including the impact on non-dog owners, as SEO Executive Jamie Irwin explains.
He says: “Beforehand we had an open discussion at our weekly meeting to determine whether there were any objections to these changes, for example, was anyone fearful of dogs? It turned out that one of our team members, Elliott, was afraid of big dogs and would like to have a dog-free zone within the office. As a result, two of our large meeting rooms and part of the office were designated ‘dog-free zones’ providing a safe space for Elliott and anyone else who’d had enough of canines for the day.”
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Tech startup Steamhaus was launched five years ago and office dog Poppy has been there from the start.
Founder and managing director Daniel Faraday-Foster says: “She has proven to be a great stress reliever; people sometimes have her on their knees while they’re working. She is well behaved, doesn’t bark a lot or jump up at people, which is essential if you’re in a working environment with people who aren’t necessarily big dog fans.”
Perhaps Poppy’s greatest contribution to office life is her role as an ice breaker during interviews or when customers come in. “There’s immediately a talking point and people tend to relax more quickly which is great when you’re trying to build relationships,” says Faraday-Foster.
Steamhaus has a policy in place that asks staff to check ahead of time what meetings are happening that day and if there is separate space available for dogs to come in. This ensures that everyone feels comfortable, there are no diary clashes, and that canines don’t dominate the space if it’s a busy day in the office.
“Equally, our policy ensures that the responsibility is on the owner,” adds Faraday-Foster. “This includes ensuring dogs don’t wander into areas they’re not allowed in, aren’t noisy, and don’t chew on the desk legs. While we have a very relaxed office environment, if there were any behavioral issues with dogs, they wouldn’t be invited back.”
U.K. employment law has yet to legislate for pets at work so the rules around this are governed by the employment contract between the employee and their employer. However, as Karen Jackson, solicitor and managing director of London-based law firm didlaw, points out, business owners who do not currently have a formal policy around this ought to. This should set out some ground rules to help avoid any issues arising.
She says: “Not everyone is a dog lover and there may be people in the workforce who are phobic or allergic to pet dander. It is up to an employer to shape the policy. If they wish to allow dogs at work, that is their prerogative, but they will need to be sensitive to those who are not so keen.”
Jackson also advocates setting some basic rules, for example, stipulating that only allowing dogs that are toilet trained in the office. They should also be well-socialized to avoid any dog aggression in the office. In larger offices, it might be worth setting a limit on the number of dogs allowed in a given space, and allocating days to some staff when they can bring their pooch and not others.
She says: “Obviously, it is a given that anyone who already brings an assistance dog to work should fall outside any rules and their needs must be prioritized: rights for disabled people in the workplace allow employers to give a positive advantage to disabled staff.”