It’s true: Man’s best friend is also man’s best co-worker. More offices across the U.S. are encouraging employees to bring their pets to work. But before you open the office doors to four-legged employees, there are a few things to keep in mind in order to ensure your pet-friendly workspace is functional for both human and non-human employees.
Jennifer Fearing, California State Director of the Humane Society of the United States and co-author of Dogs at Work: A Practical Guide to Creating Dog-Friendly Workplaces says the biggest mistake companies make when allowing pets in the office is doing so informally. This often happens when a manager or owner decides to begin bringing their dog to work and casually other staff members start showing up at the office with their own furry companions. Fearing says any successful pet-friendly office begins with a policy that is developed deliberately and with input from all employees–pet owners and non-pet owners alike.
At IT company, Softchoice, each dog-friendly office is equipped with a committee called the Dog Owners Group (DOG) who set out the rules and regulations around dog ownership in the office. Robbie Eddison, assessment services supervisor and cochair of Softchoice’s Toronto office DOG committee says the committee is the foundation of the success of the company’s dog-friendly policy. Softchoice is one of the longest-running dog-friendly companies, having first opened its doors to dogs 25 years ago. Today, nearly 60 canines show up for work daily at the company’s Toronto office.
Before coming to the office, Softchoice employees fill out a form stating they want to bring their dog to work, including information about the dog’s breed, gender, age, whether they’ve been fixed or had obedience training and the date of their last shots. Once the application is accepted, the employee and their dog are invited to an introductory meeting with members of the DOG.
Guidelines on dog behavior are reiterated and the new recruit is introduced to other office dogs to see how they interact. Once the dog and its owner have completed the introductory session the employee is issued a certificate to post at their desk. “It’s like a Softchoice dog license,” says Eddison.
Fearing says one of the biggest concerns employees often have about working in a dog-friendly environment is the enforcement of rules. For Softchoice, having a committee to deal with any issues that may arise because of the dogs is a great way to mitigate conflict. Policies are made public on the company’s internal site and employees are encouraged to use the anonymous feedback channel to post any concerns or complaints they have about any particular dogs.
Your dog may be well-behaved at home, but is he ready for a day at the office? Fearing and Eddison provided a few tips on how to prepare Fido for his new office role:
Establish A Routine
While special take-your-dog-to-work days can be a lot of fun, Fearing says the most successful dog-friendly workplaces are those that open their doors year-round to pets. She recommends pet owners who are considering taking their dog to work do so at least three days a week. “Dogs are creates of habit and routine. The less ‘special’ and exciting going to work is, the more dogs get used to being there and disruptions are minimized,” says Fearing.
Be Honest About Your Dog’s Personality
Be honest about your dog’s temperament. If your dog doesn’t enjoy interacting with other people or other dogs, an open work environment where they will be constantly exposed to others may not be ideal for them.
Introduce Your Pet To The Office Slowly
“If your dog is used to hanging out by themselves at home, spending a day at the office surrounded by other people and dogs may be overwhelming for them at first,” says Eddison. She recommends starting slowly, bringing in your pooch on days when you don’t have many meetings, or days when you can take them home at lunch, allowing them to put in a half day at the office if a full day will be too much for them.
Desensitize Your Pet To Office Noises
Work with your dog in advance of bringing them to the office, preparing them for noises they will encounter in the workplace such as doorbells, knocks or printers. Exposing them to these noises will help desensitize them, reducing the chance of distractions and barking.
Ensuring the workplace is functional for both humans and dogs will help to alleviate any potential drawbacks to being pet-friendly.
Fearing advises committees to put policies in place to ensure employees are responsible for keeping their dog’s bedding laundered on a regular basis, ensuring dogs receive flea prevention treatment and are kept clean. At the pet-friendly Humane Society office, the HVAC system was outfitted with HEPA filters to pull dog allergens out of the air and janitors use vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters.
Create Dog-Free Zones
Designate dog-free zones to ensure the work environment is comfortable for allergy sufferers or individuals who are fearful of dogs. At Softchoice, all kitchens and bathrooms are dog-free. They also have a number of dog-free meeting rooms and an entirely dog-free working zone with its own HVAC system and a separate entrance/exit.
Encourage dog-owner employees to schedule time into their day to take their dogs outside every few hours. “That cuts down on the accidents and the noise that gets generated by antsy dogs,” says Fearing. Having a designated outdoor area for dogs to do their business and doggie bags and receptacles to make it easy for employees to dispose of waste also helps keep the work environment clean.