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How to create a pet-friendly office that everyone can tolerate

Here are some best practices for companies who want to welcome pets at the workplace.

Spock working hard at the Ben and Jerry's offices. (Ben and Jerry's)
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Among the many perks companies are offering their employees as they return to the office for the first time in more than two years is bringing their pets to the office.

We received many readers’ comments about the dos and don’ts of having such a perk. But deciding whether to welcome pets to the office can be tough. For many workers, bringing furry friends to work can help with stress, promote socialization and bring joy. But for others, the experience can be anything but pleasant, readers highlighted.

So what is the right protocol for companies that want to offer the perk to employees returning to the office? Pet experts say there are some steps company leaders should take to mitigate friction that may come with making the office pet-friendly. Companies who have allowed pets into the office suggest constant communication, for starters.

“It's an ongoing conversation,” said Sarah Lowery, head of culture and facilities at San Francisco-based software company Sendoso, which has been dog friendly for nearly four years. “We try to make sure we communicate to everyone that if there’s anything you’re uncomfortable with, let us know.”

Pandemic pet boom breeds desire for dog-friendly offices

Pet care company Purina and online dog services company Rover say they’ve learned a lot over the years, both in creating their own pet friendly offices and reviewing best practices from others. Here are their suggestions for companies considering making the switch.

Gauge employee interest and concerns: Before making the jump, pet experts say that leaders should first understand whether their employees have interest in, or strong feelings against, having a pet-friendly office. Doing an anonymous survey may allow employees to freely share thoughts on the matter. “Everyone has different feelings,” said Kate Jaffe, senior director of brand marketing at Rover. “Start by talking to the employee base … that will lead you to an effective space.”

Ensure your building is pet friendly: Not all buildings allow pets, which may ultimately determine your office policy. However, sometimes tenants can negotiate with landlords to make their offices pet-friendly, said Kurt Venator, chief veterinary officer at Purina. “Outline the benefits … then share how you will mitigate risk,” he said. “Sharing the guidelines and best practices [can help].”

Create and share clear guidelines: Setting expectations up front is key when it comes to creating new pet policies, experts said. This could include everything from explaining what behaviors will not be tolerated, like excessive barking or aggression, to rules around leashing and where pets can or can’t go — for example, should pets be allowed in the kitchen? Are there areas where people with allergies can work? Rover, for instance, worked with its landlord to mark one of its elevators as pet-friendly, allowing employees and guests to take different elevators if they’d rather not share it with a pet.

Consider pet-gated areas: Offices may want to consider gating pet areas, whether that be a pet owner’s cube, a set of cubes or just roaming or play areas for pets, experts said. This allows other employees to traverse the office knowing where they may or may not expect to encounter a pet.

Identify outdoor spaces for pets: Pets will need an area to relieve themselves if not also walk around or play. Venator of Purina says leaders may want to map out safe walking routes for pet owners to take their pets for walks or bathroom breaks, as well as identify any nearby greenspaces. Jaffe said if there’s not an outdoor space where pets can run freely and burn off excess energy, consider creating an indoor dog playroom.

Require pet applications or pledges: Pet owners who want to bring their dog to work should first fill out a pet application or pledge that should include basic requirements like agreeing to the office guidelines, verifying that all vaccinations are up to date and that their pets meet a minimum age requirement, for example. “A pet pledge [might say], ‘I’m responsible for cleanup and will report accidents,’” Venator said. “The reality is if you sign a pet pledge, most [problems] are pretty much mitigated.” Signed documents can also help with liability.

Be prepared for messes: Despite your best efforts, it could be messy in a pet-friendly office at some point. Jaffe says offices should keep cleaning supplies, like carpet cleaners, disinfecting sprays and poop bags, readily available for any such occasion.

Be mindful of pet comfort and safety: A well-developed pet-friendly office should be both safe and welcoming to pets. That means companies should consider blocking off areas that could be dangerous to pets as well as making sure pets have access to clean water, food and places to rest. Rover gives dogs color-coded tags so employees get a sense of the canine’s temperament. Purina’s Venator suggests that dog owners bring their pets to the office when it may be less crowded and co-workers are aware to make the transition less stressful for the pet.

Welcome suggestions and complaints: It’s important that all employees feel empowered to make suggestions or issue a complaint in pet-friendly workspaces, Jaffe said. So companies should make sure workers know how to do that and that someone will be on the other side to manage those issues.

Be ready to adjust: Above all, pet-friendly offices should be ready to listen and adjust their policies as they go. What works for one office may not work for another, but experts say proper planning can lessen much of the burden. “It may seem a bit daunting, but as long as you have thoughtful planning, it can go extremely well and smoothly,” Venator said.

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