Usually an office is designed with human employees in mind. But they’re not the only important workers at the new Columbus, Ohio, office of Bark, a startup that sells subscription boxes of dog toys.
“About 80 dogs actively come to the office,” Emily Muhl, Bark’s vice president of workplace experience and people operations, tells Fast Company via email. “We can have 40 to 50 in the office on a day sometimes, which is why it was critical to design with dogs first.”
Muhl is joking—it is an office, after all—but Bark has gone above and beyond to ensure that its workplace is as dog-friendly as possible. There’s an indoor dog play area with rubber flooring, as well as an outdoor dog run and two decks. All the chairs and sofas in the office are outfitted with fabric that is custom-lined with an impermeable membrane that ensures that any accidents are easy to clean up, making it similar to hospital-friendly fabrics (though because the membrane coats the inside of the material, it doesn’t look any different from regular upholstery). And the conference rooms’ floor carpets are made out of woven PVC flooring that won’t tear as easily as normal rugs if a pooch ends up trying to turn the carpet into a chew toy.
There are also custom, bunk bed-like cubbies that are built into large wall dividers, which four-legged companions can share with their humans. These act as an acoustic and visual buffer in the office, which helps workers stay focused and keeps dogs from seeing too many other dogs and getting too excited.
Even the desks are dog-friendly. “Our workstations have built-in couches so that our pups can sit next to us if we choose to work at a desk for the day,” Muhl says.
Bark, which started in New York City in 2012 with dog toy subscriptions and now also sells custom-designed toys on its website and in national retailers like Target, opened its Columbus office in 2015. Since then, the office has grown to 300 employees, most of whom work in customer service and about half of whom own dogs. The size of the staff precipitated the move to this new office. NBBJ—an architecture firm best known for high-tech offices like the Amazon spheres in Seattle, Samsung’s California HQ, and Tencent’s wild Shenzhen offices—designed the space.
NBBJ’s dog-first design isn’t just good for Bark’s canine population. Studies suggest that having dogs in the office can reduce workers’ stress, and looking at cute things can even improve their focus and performance. A puppy panting in the background of your conference call might not cut the most professional profile, but if it boosts your productivity, who cares? Just as long as you’re not the one on pooper scooper duty.