Friday, December 15, 2017

Dog-friendly offices are a perk for workers and pets

There's Lily, the chief executive's dog, who clocks in 60 hours a week in a corner office; Miles, a 9-pound charmer who recently received a company award; and Harriet, a springer spaniel mix who almost always falls asleep in meetings.

For years, all three have accompanied their owners to work at the Humane Society of the United States. They are among 150 dogs — and occasionally rats, ferrets, guinea pigs and rabbits — that are regular fixtures at the organization's Gaithersburg, Md., and District of Columbia offices.

This summer, the canines, along with their keepers, will move into a new headquarters in downtown Washington, complete with built-in pet gates in every cubicle and doggy-bathroom facilities in the parking garage.

But their journey into a multi-tenant office building hasn't been an easy one. Even as dog-friendly workplaces grow more commonplace around the country — 8 percent of companies allow pets at work, according to one recent survey — finding commercial landlords willing to accommodate them has remained difficult.

"This is still very much uncharted territory," said Paul Graham, senior vice president of Colliers International, the commercial real estate firm that negotiated the lease on behalf of the Humane Society. "So many landlords were hesitant.

About 20 of them flat-out said, 'No.' "

After months of negotiation, the Humane Society last month signed a 15-year lease for 23,000 square feet in in a building that also houses the Chronicle of Higher Education and the insurance firm Seabury and Smith.

Much of the back-and-forth centered on routine matters, although there were pet-related sticking points as well, such as the Humane Society's insistence that all dogs be welcome, regardless of breed or size.

"That was a strict negotiating term for us," said Wayne Pacelle, the Humane Society's chief executive, adding that those types of restrictions are "arbitrary and unfair."

Pacelle, whose beagle mix accompanies him to work most mornings, began allowing pets at work about 10 years ago. Since then, he says both employee morale and productivity have improved.

"It saves employees the stress of leaving a dog alone for eight, nine, 10 hours a day," Pacelle said. "People are much more willing to stay late if they're not worried that their dog is at home hungry and waiting."

Roughly two-thirds of the organization's employees now bring their dogs to work, a perk that is consistently voted by employees as the their favorite benefit, above health insurance and 401(k)s, said Tom Waite, the Humane Society's chief financial officer.

There are ground rules: Pets must be properly licensed, have current vaccinations and stay inside baby gates in their owners' office or cubicle. Dogs, which range from lap dogs to hound mixes and pit bulls, are allowed in most meeting rooms, but must be on a leash when walking through the hallways.

"The goal is to make sure the workplace stays conducive to working," said Inga Fricke, director of pet retention programs at the Humane Society.

"It's not that pets-in-the-workplace policies need to be restrictive and very tightly controlled," she added. "Quite the opposite: It really is just common sense. Clean up after your pet, be respectful of your neighbors."

Until now, the Humane Society has owned its own buildings, making it easy to tweak its policies at the drop of a dime. But in January, the organization sold its longtime headquarters and began its search for a larger rental property.

The new headquarters will have an extensive air filtration system to accommodate workers with allergies, and a separate entrance and freight elevator dedicated to the transport of dogs.

A turf-covered parking spot in the underground garage will be set aside for canine potty breaks.

"It's honestly very rare that we hear a dog bark any time of day," Fricke said. "They're just happy to be with their people, sleeping and playing with their toys."

The number of dog-friendly workplaces has grown in recent years as companies look to attract 20- and 30-sometings with a lineup of quirky perks and flexible work arrangements. Amazon allows pets in its Seattle headquarters, as do Google, Clif Bar and Bissell.

Nationally, roughly 8 percent of companies allow pets at work, up from 5 percent in 2013, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management.

"It is a hyper-competitive market where every landlord is adding a new fitness center, a rooftop plaza or a tenant-only conference facility just to complete with other landlords," Graham said. "Now, 'allowing pets' is a real separator for landlords to attract tenants, and for tenants to attract workers."

Petco, the national retailer, spent two years looking for a new animal-friendly building before moving into a new headquarters in San Diego. The new building — which houses 650 employees, as well as their dogs, cats, fish and rabbits — has three dog parks, a walking trail and rubber-backed carpeting for easier cleaning.

"Sometimes people see it as a hassle to acommodate pets, but it's much easier than they think," said Charlie Piscitello, the company's president and chief people officer. "It's simply a matter of education and awareness."

Fricke, of the Humane Society, agrees.

She has three dogs, but only brings two of them, Elsie and Izzy, to work on a regular basis. The third, a dachshund named Tug, turned out to be too loud for the office.

"We tried it once, but I think both of us decided it wasn't the best arrangement," she said. "He gets very stressed out and anxious when I have to step out of my cube."

It took Kate Schrader's brussels griffon mix, Miles, about a month to get used to spending his days at work. At the beginning, he would cry every time she left him alone. But now he has a social circle of his own, including best friends Jules, a chihuahua mix, and Andre, a chihuahua.

Earlier this year, Miles received the organization's 'top dog award,' an honor that came with a certificate and a $25 gift card to a pet supply store.

"It's sometimes hard dragging him out of bed in the morning, but he gets so excited once we get to work," said Schrader, who manages the organization's administrative services. "He has so many friends here, and he cries with excitement whenever he sees them."

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