Dogs in offices – wellness or wacky?

The last decade has seen a number of shifts in the way we work, particularly with office environments.

June 01, 2018

The last decade has seen a number of shifts in the way we work, particularly with office environments. Hot-desking, agile working and co-working have become common working patterns in modern offices. Wellness is now the big subject; yoga studios, biophilia (or plants to most of us!) along with healthy snacks and drinks, a plentiful supply of showers, gym facilities, physical and mental health support have all been used in order to promote "wellness" amongst the workforce. Winning the war for talent is a primary objective for most organisations and we have seen this clearly translate into improved amenities for staff to attract and retain the best talent.

When working with occupiers to identify new accommodation options a question which is increasingly asked, especially from US occupiers looking to expand in London, is 'can we have dogs in the building?' It's widely perceived that offering staff the opportunity to bring their dogs to work is a tangible benefit - stroking dogs is proven to lower blood pressure and de-stress. Google has long been known as a dog friendly employer (in fact they even have some on their staff list) and canines are welcome at their Kings Cross campus. However, we have yet to see it become common-place in more traditional corporates (and certainly not in industries such as legal or insurance).

I am sure that across London there are numerous conversations taking place at board level with HR teams as to whether dog friendly policies should be implemented, and there are multiple arguments both for and against. Proponents will suggest that dogs in the office will promote wellbeing, de-stressing and relaxation, they'll also argue that offering employees the option of bringing their dogs to work will negate the cost of dog-walkers, and perhaps be a key differentiator for the employer. Meanwhile opponents will be adamant that dogs in the workplace will be distracting, a hindrance and arguably present a health and safety risk – some of them may also suggest that this is a bridge too far in our quest to modernise the workplace and a mere fad led by 'ever needy millennials' but these for many are the target employees.

Even if an organisation agrees on a dog friendly policy the hurdles in implementing and controlling it are numerous. Some landlords will be happy for dogs to be in the buildings, in fact two of the capital's newest landmark developments, 22 Bishopsgate and The Post Building, will be dog friendly, but many won't, whether this be a result of historic leases not permitting livestock on the premises or because of the potential problems they see it causing for building management.

The practicalities of creating an agreement for dogs to come into the workplace of any sizeable scale will create conundrums for HR and facilities managers that they probably thought they'd never have to deal with. Can everybody bring a dog every day? What about employees that are allergic to/ scared of dogs? Is there a size limit, nothing bigger than a Labrador? What about fouling, aggressive behaviour and regular flea treatment? Do buildings need to start thinking about creating a doggy crèche and can a landlord charge for its use? The list is extensive, and potentially exhausting, but there are many organisations that make this work. There are places that have a 'three strike and you're out' rule with regards to anti-social behaviour or specific areas for dog owners to work and even official corporate dogs available for anyone to walk.

Some employers need the dog to be "pawthorised" before allowing your canine into the working environment to perhaps check its manners, behaviour and hygiene?! As with the concept of agile working, or dress down days when these were initially introduced there will be trial and error and employees will have to take a large part of the responsibility for its success, some employees are likely to just take things too far. Another issue for the ever mobile millennial group who want to move jobs regularly – what if your new employer doesn't allow dogs? Suddenly this could affect career decisions; doggy day care will soon put a big dent in disposable income.

Being a commuter from Surrey with two stay at home dogs I decided to trial a day working alongside one of my trusty companions so I took my border terrier Midge to work with me. My own employer currently does not permit dogs so my team at the office decided to do some agile working and base ourselves at a WeWork centre (very dog friendly!) and it was a genuinely great day. It meant that I walked the two miles to the station rather than use my motorbike and engaged with the numerous admirers she acquired throughout the train, tube and bus – a pleasant change from the usual miserable looks and gloom of the commuter journey. Throughout the day it was nice to take her for a stroll outside every couple of hours and actually take the time to get some fresh air. She was a real ice breaker and I got talking to all sorts of people just going about my working day that usually wouldn't even bat an eye. I never got the feeling that my 20 or so colleagues were annoyed, distracted or irritated by her and she was in fact welcomed at all of the meetings I had booked in throughout the day. One client offered to have sausages bought in for her breakfast! She came for lunch in a bar / restaurant and they said nothing when I walked in and put her under the table. However it did feel like she was one extra thing to have to think about and plan around. We didn't meet any other dogs in the suite we were based in to see how she might have reacted – she has a particular mistrust of other terriers so that may have been a godsend!

I will admit that diary management day did require extra planning and it wouldn't be suitable for me to take her to work every day, but me, Midge and my colleagues really enjoyed the day – perhaps once a month should be dogs at work day

So in conclusion I am pro dogs at work, but it really does need to be carefully administered and controlled as once they are allowed in it will be very hard to reverse - some sensible ground rules are definitely needed!

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