Every day at shared workspace WeWork in Moorgate, London, around 20 dogs come through its doors to join their owners in the 3,000 capacity office. “One minute you’re stopping to pet a cute pup, and the next you could be talking about your business idea. The dogs not only brighten our members’ days, they’re great connectors,” says Rosie Hart, a Senior Community Manager.
The US-founded company, which has 17 London locations, is among the work places enabling around 8% of the UK population to bring their dogs to work. And more and more employers are adapting policies to accommodate dogs and their owners. Brewdog, the Scottish-founded brewery, recently started offering paid Puppy Parental Leave to allow staff from its Aberdeenshire HQ to settle new dogs. And Nestle, who made its Pets At Work policy company-wide in 2014, has a dog-friendly car park and two specially created dog gardens (Scentral Park and Hide Bark).
While dogs’ power to facilitate connections, as mentioned by Hart, are obvious (who can resist a quick pet of a cute pooch?), there‘s also a myriad of less obvious benefits for staff’s wellbeing. So isn’t it time more employers embraced office dog culture? Stylist investigates.
Dogs as stress relievers
Contrary to images of canines running amok and damaging productivity, their ability to re-centre us and lower stress levels is well documented.
New research by a team of scientists from Washington State University found that spending just 10 minutes interacting with a furry friend has the potential to reduce our levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, by a significant amount, no matter how stressed we are in the first place - meaning dogs have the potential to benefit everyone in the office.
And another recent American study has proven that people who have dogs in their office are less stressed as the day goes on than those who are dog-less. The researchers also suggested that our canine companions don’t just reduce stress levels, they boost office morale, too – a fact with huge gravitas, especially given that an estimated 45 million days and £2.4 billion worldwide is lost to stress, anxiety and depression. And, while many offices are implementing all manner of mindfulness initiatives to try and make up the short fall, a canine companion could have an instant impact.
Psychologist Dr. Deborah Wells, who specialises in animal behaviour at Queen’s University Belfast, explains: “The mere action of stroking, or even looking at, the animal can lower short-term levels of heart rate and blood pressure and even facilitate recovery from something as serious as a heart attack.”
Because of their dependent nature, dogs also prompt us to focus on the present moment. If your dog needs a toilet break for example, you have to take them outside, which means you take a screen break and will return to your desk feeling more centred. “Research points to dogs in the workplace helping to improve self-confidence, and increase the owner’s motivation to take regular breaks for exercise” says Wells.
Angie Brooker, Head of Client Relations at London-based media agency, DTV says she regularly experiences these physical and physiological benefits thanks to the company’s office dogs. “Because dogs need a break, a walk, a pat, a little chat, they do improve productivity,” she says. “Getting away from your desk can really help solve a problem or challenge. It helps you to look at the world from a different angle and to start thinking before responding immediately.”
DTV has allowed dogs in its office since it was founded 12 years ago and, having seen the benefits, it actively encourages its staff to rescue dogs in need, or provide office day care. “We currently have six Dogs of DTV – three of them are part-time, working a couple of days a week, and others are hired on a more freelance basis from neighbours, family or Borrow My Doggy,” says Claire Choe, a producer for the company.
As well as helping staff make it through the day more smoothly, the presence of dogs in an office has been found to prevent people from missing work due to sickness. Data from Blue Cross states that 70% of healthcare professionals say it can reduce absenteeism.
Canines as connectors
As well as enhancing their owner’s work experience, a number of studies have found that dogs also promote cooperation within teams, and lead to better cohesion.
A Michigan University study asked a dozen groups of four people to recreate a 15-second advert. Those with a dog present during the challenge were more cooperative and reported more “intimacy” with their team mates. This could be put down to the hormone Oxycontin, which is emitted when we stroke or look into the eyes of our dog, and is known as the “trust hormone.”
Angie Brooker says she experiences this benefit daily in her client meetings for DTV when a dog is present. “Dogs really help defuse stressful situations, especially in client meetings. Having a little dog on your lap while you’re discussing budgets or schedules really helps keep a conversation friendly and constructive.”
On top of this, dogs are natural social facilitators – bringing people together who might not otherwise meet. “People are generally regarded in a more positive light if they have a dog with them and tend to attract more in the way of social interactions - this, in turn, could can improve the morale of the owner, and, more generally may have a positive effect on other members of the workplace,” Wells explains.
This is definitely the case at WeWork, where companies of all sizes and sectors operate and the dogs serve as catalysts to inter-company relationships. “At our weekly members happy hour at the bar, everyone gathers around the dogs – they’re a huge part of our social scene,” says Rosie Hart.
As well as potentially improving the wellbeing of existing staff, workplaces which allow dogs could also find themselves attracting a plethora of new employees. It’s long been said that ours is a nation of dog lovers, so – with a population of 8.5 million in the UK – it’s a no-brainer that a canine-friendly company is a lure for potential dog-owning employees.
“We’ve seen first-hand the many benefits as employers, including it being a great attraction tool for new recruits,” says Odette Forbes who is Head of Corporate Media Relations at Nestle and owns two dogs, Finn, a nine-year-old Chocolate Labrador, and Reggie, a three-year-old Beagle.
It’s relatively low-cost for companies to implement a new ‘dog-friendly’ regime, but it can be considered a big perk to owners as it allows them to save on the cost of day care. A study by Tailster found that a staggering £1.5 billion is spent on dog walkers and boarding a year.
It can also maximise the time dog-owning employees spend in office as they don’t have to rush home to care for their animals, or worry about their wellbeing while they’re left alone. “For many people, pets are a huge part of their lives and being able to share their working hours with their pet helps keep a good balance between work and home,” adds Forbes.
Other than Nestle, who have invested in its dog designated play areas and a car park, the dog-friendly employers surveyed by Stylist had not had to invest more than a small amount of money to puppy-proof their offices. Blue Cross has a few baby gates to stop dogs from wandering, while DTV spends a little of its facilities budget a month on toys and treats to keep their in-house dogs happy.
So what are the downsides?
There was one common complaint cited by most of the dog-friendly offices Stylist spoke to: barking. Though just like their human companions, dogs need to take a breather from stressful situations sometimes, and as Rose Hart of WeWork notes, it can be easily resolved. “If a dog kicks up a fit, the owner typically takes him or her outside. It hasn't been much of a problem, to be honest, and the benefits far outweigh the potential issues.”
If employers are concerned about potential disruption, putting a comprehensive programme likes Nestle’s three-stage behaviour and health assessment in place will make sure the dog is office-compatible and reduce disruptions. Nestle’s office dogs all have to obtain what’s known as a ‘Passpawt’ to become official residents of its City Place office in Gatwick.
They also have a process to ensure dog-fearing employees or those with allergies can be kept away from the dogs. “We follow advice from the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology to help us address employee concerns about allergies. These include maintaining a distance of five metres between dogs and have specific dog-free public areas, lifts, eating areas and meeting rooms around the building. In addition we let all visitors know that dogs are welcome in our building,” says Forbes.
For employers who worry about dogs being disruptive, it’s also worth bearing in mind that dogs, by their gregarious nature, can make them great ambassadors for a brand. Nestle employees have discovered their office dogs make for great PR. “Our Wall of Fame is where our pet portraits are on show and where colleagues clock their dogs in and out. This is hugely popular with guests and is probably the most photographed part of the entire building,” says Forbes.
As long as they’re treated as a part of the team they inhabit with a specific set of needs, canine colleagues can unleash the potential for a happier, more harmonious and healthier office. Which is definitely enough to give any employer paws (sorry) for thought.
How to make Bring Your Dog To Work Day an everyday reality
1) Get your pet used to the commute
Many dogs travel perfectly happily on public transport but it’s a good idea to introduce your pet to this slowly. Don’t jump in at rush hour at first - just as a crowded tube is no fun for you, it can be even more stressful for your dog: travel at quieter times until they’re used to it.
2) Exercise your dog before you head into the office
A nice long walk or even a run will tire your pet out and will help him or her relax in the new environment. Of course, your dog will need plenty of toilet breaks and, where possible, a walk over the course of the working day too.
3) Make sure your office is dog-friendly
It’s a good idea to use barrier pens or a crate to make sure your pet has his or her own safe area if they feel a little unsettled at first, with some comfortable pillows, blankets, food, and water. This is especially important if there are multiple dogs in one office – make sure they all have their own space and give them some chill-out time too so they don’t get overwhelmed by all the new people. Also remember to put any food they shouldn’t be able to get hold of out of reach.
4) Give them time out
Fortunately there’s nothing most people love more than playing with puppies, so your dog shouldn’t go short on attention. Make sure there are plenty of calm stimulation toys around too to occupy your dog when you’re working hard - chews and food toys are a good idea.
5) Introduce them slowly
Even the most relaxed animal can find an office a bit overwhelming at first, so it might be a good idea to take a half day or even come in on your day off, so they can get used to the environment. However, many dogs will really benefit from spending more time with their owner - and it’ll certainly make the day go faster for you and your colleagues.