Over the last decade, our Chocolate Labrador (Finn) has spent countless hours snoozing under desks in the corner of the office. Dreaming of bones, tennis balls, furry pals and open fields. There she lies unnoticed, until the reverberations of her snores and the noise of her tail ‘sleep-thumping’ against the floor becomes mildly distracting. At which point visitors politely ask what ‘that noise’ is.
Seven or eight years ago when my better half suggested we brought Finn to the showroom, my first reaction was ‘it just won’t work’. I’ll be honest. I had concerns about other people’s perceptions. Is it professional? Would we be patted on the head (no pun intended) and somehow taken less seriously as a business if our dog was there?
Reality was the polar opposite. The most reserved of business acquaintances dropped formalities and began to speak in a previously unheard ‘doggy woggy’ voice as she greeted them, tail wagging (she insists on greeting every visitor). Some clients even rolled around on the floor with her. No I’m not kidding. Conversations, body language and relationships instantly became informal. More human and less barriers. ‘We’ve got a yellow lab’ or ‘my parents have one’ people would say, as Finn lay on her back in an unladylike manner demanding a tickle. And who could refuse?
Funny how it takes an animal to bring out our human side. People naturally raise their barriers to some degree in the workplace. This is natural. But who isn’t reduced to fits of giggles after seeing someone goosed without warning by a cheeky Chocolate Labrador?
In Manchester, Finn became an enthusiastic member of the team. Always pleased to see people – and always happy. I’d enjoy to hear the reactions as she trotted around the office each morning, meticulously saying hello to each team member one at a time. An instant shot of positivity to the workplace. Much better than the mumbled ‘Morning’ that most of us manage as we turn on our computer and shuffle into the kitchen in search of caffeine.
Some other cool things also happened. We met other dog owners on our rounds that turned out to be local business neighbours. Colleagues offered to walk her at lunchtime so they could get some exercise together. Clients and suppliers sent photos of their dogs – and some called in with treats as they passed. One client set up a twitter account for his dog so the two could have an online flirt! And instead of being a distraction, our regular strolls provided crucial time to reflect on a project, gain perspective on a problem, or just get the blood flowing and take in some fresh air in Manchester’s Castlefield. I’d come back to the office reinvigorated and focused.
Prior to our move to Switzerland last year, my wife had landed a great job in Zürich and we were pleased to learn that her new office was dog friendly. The business owner brings his dog in too. Now there are two dogs that snore in the corner. Two enthusiastic greetings to contend with in the morning (dogs aren’t fussed about goodbyes). Two pleading pairs of eyes to avoid at lunchtime. But for the time being, whilst I’ve been settling in, Finn has mostly been enjoying a sabbatical as a reward for all the hard work in her previous role as Director of Team Happiness.
Employee health and wellbeing is a hot topic in workplace circles. Having worked in an office with and without canine colleagues I can honestly say the workplace is a far healthier environment with them present. People laugh more, smile more, exercise more, interact more and generally feel less stressed after a five minute tickle (just to clarify, I’m talking about the dog).
I encourage you to consider bringing your dog into work. I appreciate it might not be possible in every environment, or with every dog, but you might just be surprised. And generally, most potential problems you imagine, actually aren’t problems at all.
And it’s not just my opinion – a number of recent studies conclude that offices with dogs create a less stressful and more positive environment for employees –
As a final thought – do many co-working spaces allow dogs? They should, as this would encourage further integration and chance meetings. What better ice breaker is there than the shock and surprise of a cold, wet canine nose appearing in your crotch as you type away on your macbook..?!
See you next week!
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