Ways of working

Passports ready: pets are coming to global offices

Pets have been shown to unleash productivity and neuter stress, while encouraging workers to get to know each other and to take more exercise. And – if they haven’t already – they could be coming to your office soon, whether you work in New York, London, Tokyo or Bangalore.

One-off annual events, such as Take Your Dog to Work Day in the US, have been running for years. But some companies, including multinationals, are now taking things a step further by granting animals unfettered access to their offices. 

An obvious benefit is the comfort brought to dog owners, who feel guilty about leaving their loved ones cooped up alone at home. But studies are showing that other staff benefit, too. An overwhelming majority of employees questioned last year by Banfield Pet Hospital in Washington said allowing pets in the office improved staff morale and loyalty, enhanced employee relationships and encouraged people to work longer hours.

Dogs also engender trust and cohesion between workers, according to research by Central Michigan University. However, the study also found no significant difference in the quality of work produced by people exposed to dogs, possibly due to the distractions dogs bring.

Other pitfalls include having to accommodate employees with pet allergies, keeping carpets clean and covering for insurance liabilities, such as injuries or equipment damage. Here’s how companies in four different countries are rising to the challenge. 

 

The United States

Take Your Dog to Work Day, held each June, attracted the participation of around 300 companies in 1999, its inaugural year. Organiser Pet Sitters can’t say how many more companies have joined the scheme, but anecdotal evidence suggests they now number in the thousands. Annual one-off events have provided a testing ground for companies to allow animals into the office more regularly.

Around seven per cent of American workplaces allowed employees to bring pets to work last year, up from five per cent in 2013, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. 

One of the biggest advocates of pets in the workplace is Google, where permission is etched into its current code of conduct, conditional on staff cleaning up after their pets and showing respect to colleagues with allergies. Cat lovers, however, must beware.

“Google’s affection for our canine friends is an integral facet of our corporate culture. We like cats, but we’re a dog company, so as a general rule we feel cats visiting our offices would be fairly stressed out,” the code reads. 

 

The United Kingdom 

Pet-related companies are, naturally, among the most likely to allow pets into their offices. Among them is Purina, a subsidiary of food giant Nestlé.  When Purina staff had to be moved to Nestlé’s head office in Gatwick, it was decided to extend the policy company-wide. So far, everything appears to have gone smoothly – possibly because Nestlé has what could be the gold standard of pets-at-work protocols.

Staff who want to bring their dogs in have to go through a three-stage application process that includes a questionnaire, two behavioural assessments and a health check. Once they’re in, dogs face a three-month probation period. They also need to be insured for liability claims, must be groomed sufficiently to minimise shedding and can’t access dog-free zones in the office.

The UK, too, has a popular annual dogs-at-work day, held every June. 

 

Japan

If workers in any country could do with some stress relief, it’s those in Japan. People in the world’s third-biggest economy are still known to suffer from ‘karoshi’ – the Japanese expression that describes death from overwork.

Japan doesn’t have any annual pets-at-work days, though a number of companies have brought animals into the equation for their calming qualities. Oracle Japan, for instance, has employed four Old English Sheepdog ‘greeting and healing ambassadors’ over the past few decades. 

The current one, Candy, was on-boarded in 2010. She succeeded Heidi, who was seen off with her very own retirement party in November 2009. 

Pet ownership, while becoming increasingly popular, is less common in Japan than many other places, partly because its cramped cities make it less practical. A recent GfK survey of 27,000 people across 22 countries found 37 per cent of Japanese respondents had at least one pet, compared to 70 per cent in the US and a global average of 56 per cent. Tokyo also has dozens of ‘cat cafés’, where the pet-less can mingle with animals. Actual pets are more likely to be cats or small dogs. 

 

Mars Japan, which has a pet food division, and software company Ferray are among Japanese companies that have started letting cats into their offices. Recruitment agency Pasona, meanwhile, has just set up a farm replete with goats, pigs and alpacas on the 13th floor of its new Tokyo headquarters. 

 

India

Developing countries once lagged behind their Western peers in the pet ownership stakes, partly due to widespread poverty. These days, you’d be just as likely to find animals in an Indian office as you would in many other countries, largely due to the country’s new global start-up status. 

With fewer staff, founders of start-ups have the freedom to do as they please. They’re also keen to attract young talent with quirky benefits, like welcoming their pets.

Laila, a golden Labrador, is currently OnePlus India’s Chief Happiness Officer. Fellow Bangalore firm InMobi has assigned one of its staff’s cats, Beckie, as the company’s Chief Cuddling Officer. 

Among dozens of other Indian pet-enthusiast companies is lifestyle products retailer Chumbak – though its recent decision to introduce Hugo the Labrador to Ginger the kitten in the office may have pushed the cuteness factor a little too far.

“While we keep a strict eye on the two, as they play every day, we can’t but help fall in love with the pair,” Chumbak says. “This has significantly brought down the productivity level in the office, but you excuse us, don’t you?!”