By: Emma Hickey
At this point in the startup era, the mere mention of the word “startup” calls to mind certain images. You probably picture an open office space—maybe in a warehouse somewhere—with standing desks, a ping pong table, a keg or two, and a dog. There’s always a dog. Dog-friendly offices have become the norm in the startup and tech worlds, so much so that it’s now a recruitment tool and an integral aspect of companies’ cultures. Amazon even employes a Wolfpack Manager who coordinates events for the 6,000 dogs registered to “work” at Amazon.
The craze of dogs in the workplace is in part because people born between 1980 and 1994 make up a significant part of the startup and tech workforces, and according to the American Pet Products Association, this same group of people is responsible for the humanization of pets. Americans spent $69.5 billion on their pets in 2017, more than ever before. Dog owners have always loved their pets, but for the first time, they’re putting their money where their hearts are in a significant way—the pet industry is one of the fastest growing in America. It only makes sense that in a world where pet owners have never spent more money on their pets, they want want to spend more time with their pets. Enter, dog-friendly offices.
Allowing dogs in the workplace certainly has a positive effect on dog-owners, but it can also have a positive on the team morale...until it doesn't. It’s true, not everyone loves dogs. A former Amazon employee told the Chicago Tribune, “We live in such a dog-adoring culture that it’s hard to admit when you aren’t totally enamored of them. What you are supposed to feel — what you must always feel — is love,” and if you don’t feel that love, you’re an outsider. So, what’s a startup to do? Do you challenge office conventions like the startups that came before you and allow dogs in the workplace? Or do you respect the status quo and keep dogs out? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons.
Pro: Recruitment Tool
In many ways, “dog-friendly workplace” is shorthand for “fun office.” This makes it a recruiting tool—by telling candidates that employees bring their dogs to the office, you’re also telling them your company values a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere. On the flipside, if you’re a startup tech company competing with other startup tech companies for the same candidates, not having a dog-friendly workplace might make you seem stuffy in comparison to the other companies out there.
Con: Recruitment Deterrent
Since not everyone likes dogs, you may lose out on some great candidates due to dog-friendly policies. While it may seem like a perk to most people, it’s not a perk to everyone.
Pro: Improves Morale
There’s a reason why there are so many therapy dogs out there—by nature, dogs are affectionate, which is comforting to humans. Dogs are also often filled with energy, which can in turn increase the energy of your office, or they’re calming, which can help de-stress the atmosphere of your office. Whichever type of boost your company needs, a dog can provide it.
Con: Increases Chaos
Take the energy of a jack russell terrier, or the size of bullmastiff, or the curiosity of a Brittany, and mix it in with expensive technological equipment and a slew of new faces. Even the best behaved dogs are bound to create at least a bit of chaos. Amazon requires employees to register their dogs with the company and pass a test to ensure they’re well-trained, but the very nature of bringing living creatures into your office invites chaos. Besides, who has the resources of Amazon? More likely, you’ll end up taking the dog-owners at their word when they assure you their dogs are well-trained, and everyone sees their pets with rose-colored glasses.
Pro: Encourages Employees to Spend More Time in the Office
Dogs are a lot of work. You have to walk them regularly and get home to them at the end of the day. If you allow dogs in your office, though, you remove the need for your dog-owners to run home during the day to walk their dog. You also make it easier for them to work late in the office, because their dog is already with them. If you want to increase the amount of time your employees, specifically your pet owners, spend in the office, allowing them to bring in their dogs is a good way to do this.
Con: Distracting to Dog-Owners During the Day
Forget about the people who don’t like dogs, dogs in the office can be distracting for their owners, too. For many, it’s like bringing your child to work for the day. You’re constantly monitoring your dog and prioritizing their needs over your business needs. Having dogs in the office might convince your employees to spend more time there during the day, but that doesn’t mean it’s focused work time.
Pro: Emphasizes Collaboration
Lara Hirschfield, Amazon’s Wolf Pack Manager, says, “We definitely emphasize collaboration at Amazon and dogs can help to facilitate that. For example, you might have a software developer talking to a program manager first about their dogs, then about what they do, and sometimes even coming up with an idea together." Dogs in the office can prompt your employees to approach people they would never normally talk to in order to ask about their dog. It’s the perfect ice breaker. Dogs facilitate connection.
Con: Isolates People Who Don’t Own (Or Like!) Dogs
If you don’t own a dog, you’ll never be a part of the club of people who bring their dogs to the office. If you don’t like dogs, you’ll never want to be a part of that club. A dog-friendly workplace policy can isolate both these groups of people, especially of dogs are central to your company culture.
Pro: Get People Moving
If you’re worried about the health and wellness of your team, allowing dogs in the office will do wonders to increase your team’s physical activity. Dog owners will need to go outside regularly to take their dogs on walks, and often times these walks turn into team outings. Dogs will get everyone up and moving.
Con: By my estimation, there’s not really a con for this one. Moving about during the day is important for the health and focus of your team, and there’s no downside to dogs helping facilitate this.
That’s 5 Pros to 4 cons. The cons are very real issues worth considering, but in the end, it looks like dog-friendly workplaces win out.