Dogs at work prove to be low cost way to boost morale, productivity
American tech firms like Amazon and Google are pro-dog workplaces, but Hong Kong still has a long way to go
Here’s a fact about Amazon that you probably don’t know. Some 4,000 dogs are registered to come with their owners to its Seattle headquarters. Moreover the Amazon complex has a space on the roof to encourage dogs to do their business with a hi-tech cleaning facility.
Amazon is not alone in this practice of allowing employees to bring their dogs to work, Alphabet, probably better known as Google, has an official pro-dog policy. Indeed its code of conduct states that “Google’s affection for our canine friends is an integral facet of our corporate culture.” Cats are not so welcome on the grounds that they would not adjust so well to office life.
Zynga, the game maker, also takes canines seriously. It has an in-house facility to provide dogs with peanut butter doggie biscuits and has a dog run on the roof plus a “barking lot” inside the building.
Why do these companies do it? Because it increases productivity and reduces stress. I am not sure what scientific evidence exists to substantiate this claim but I have strong personal collaborative evidence.
Indeed as I am writing, two recumbent dogs lie on both sides of the space where this column is being produced. As soon as I approach the desk they assemble and slump besides me. They do not seek attention while I am seated and clicking away but as soon as I get up they follow suit.
I find this to be incredibly reassuring and, yes, it does help the workflow. How and why is a bit of a mystery but everyone has something that helps them concentrate and produces a conducive environment for productive work.
I am fortunate in being able to do much of my work in an office at home and so the presence of the hounds is no one’s business but my own. However, dogs are not tolerated in the average Hong Kong office and, as I run food companies, food safety considerations preclude canine attendance at my other place of work.
Generally speaking Hong Kong is a pretty hostile environment for dogs and they are actively banned from many places, including parks for goodness sake. When walking with the dogs I find people are scared of them even though they are extremely friendly, but I suppose thoroughbred village mutts may seem alarming to people who are so detached from the natural environment that most things beyond the confines of air-conditioned spaces seem somehow threatening.
Yet dogs – the great majority of them – like people and are anxious to please. They have developed amazing instincts in interacting with their human friends that allow them to detect moods and they often busy themselves finding ways of pleasing their owners.
I find you can have a really decent conversation with a dog that helps put things in perspective. In writing this I quite appreciate some readers thinking, “oh no, we’ve got a right one here”, but no more weird than the conversations that Britain’s wartime leader Winston Churchill had with his cat. The fact is that interacting with pets helps the troubles of life recede.
So it is hardly surprising that some major companies have latched onto the idea that dogs are conducive to productivity. However the relationship between dogs and people at work is hardly new. Dogs have helped guard humans for centuries and they have worked on farms and other places with humans. It’s a symbiotic relationship that works.
Nevertheless an important caveat must be added to this peon of dog praise. The recent arrival in my house of a two week old abandoned puppy from a cardboard box in Yuen Long has made it abundantly clear that as well as aiding productivity, a tiny bundle of fur like this can become an enormous distraction.
Said puppy is growing up fast and can probably manage quite well without the attention he gets from me but can I manage without taking time off from my duties for some quality puppy time? Honestly, he’s just far too adorable to be ignored. And, yes, productivity has fallen accordingly.
However dogs move quickly from puppydom and I confidently predict that in no time at all young Marco (that’s his name) will be sitting quietly by the desk helping me get on with work.
I quite realise that all this dog stuff is not for everybody, some people are even allergic to dogs, but one thing I do know is that once you have shared your life with a dog there is no going back.
At the corporate level, stand by for far more dogs in the workplace because it’s an amazingly low cost way of boosting employee morale. What’s not to like?
Stephen Vines runs companies in the food sector and moonlights as a journalist and a broadcaster