Your New Office Mates: All Those Pandemic Puppies

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One of

Gemma Gillingham’s

favorite parts of working for

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Nestlé

Purina PetCare is her informal second job in the London office: chief of the pet patrol.

Nestlé U.K. is one of those pet-friendly employers that allow workers to bring their furry friends with them, and it is the job of Ms. Gillingham and other members of the Pets at Work initiative, or PAW, to walk the floors, dish out advice and generally prevent canine chaos.

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Office buddy

Now, pandemic concerns about social distancing and virus transmission have required her to add some new bark to her routine: No petting other people’s dogs.

“We’re making sure it’s public knowledge to everybody in the building that only owners can do the stroking,” she said. “We try not to be the police, but we’ve also said no long extender leads so the dogs don’t run up and touch other people.”

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Planning for safe returns to the office has been a bureaucratic and ethical minefield for many companies. Those that allow pets into the workplace have an extra set of puzzles to work through: Will the lure of a cute puppy discourage social distancing? Could one pet give another Covid-19?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last weighed in on the issue in March. It advised that while the risk of animals spreading Covid-19 to people is low, owners shouldn’t let their pets interact with people outside the household because the virus can spread from people to animals in some situations. And no, it said, don’t put a mask on your dog.

Another question, though, looms for some employers: If and when all the employees come back, what are we going to do with all these new dogs?

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“I reckon our dog population will have doubled since the last time we were in,” said

Chris Gallery,

a partner at advertising agency Mother London Ltd. and witness to the puppy boom of 2020—the rush to adopt a canine companion during long and lonely lockdowns.

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Dogs are welcome at ad agency Mother London.



Photo:

Mother London

About three years ago, Mother’s office became “a bit of a dog playground” when the 180-person agency found its dog population had hit double digits, he said. “It was brilliant for the videos, but there was a lot of barking.”

A dog code of conduct was drawn up: No paws on sofas. No eating out of trash cans.

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Mother, which has reopened its office at 50% capacity for humans, is now figuring out how it will handle a larger dog pack when England’s coronavirus restrictions are lifted on June 21 and more employees have the option to stop working from home. One solution being tested is a drop-in dog walker to take out Mother dogs once a day.

“I don’t want people to feel like they can’t come in because they think they’re not going to get their moments to walk their dog,” Mr. Gallery said. This month, Mother introduced a digital booking platform that lets employees reserve desks and meeting-room space—and space for their dogs.

Huge LLC, a digital-marketing firm based in Brooklyn, N.Y., also is building a platform on which employees can book a time and space for themselves and their nonhuman visitors, specifying the dog’s size—small, medium or large—and any special canine needs.

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Digital-marketing firm Huge developed an app that lets employees book desks—and space for their dogs.



Photo:

Huge

“It’s to make sure we have the data to support any workplace analysis that we do,” said

Raj Singhal,

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the company’s chief operating officer and acting chief executive. “And it’s also a way for us to make sure that if we were to have an issue with a specific dog—or cat on a leash—we know exactly what’s coming into the office.”

Mr. Singhal estimated around 50 dogs used to be regulars in the 500-person workplace. Now he expects more like 75. He knows that as office-dog populations grow, so will the frustrations of the anti-office-dog lobby: The allergy sufferers, the phobics and the animal-ambivalent.

The new booking system will help Huge figure out where it might place a dog-free zone in the office, he said.

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Share Your Thoughts

Are you a fan of pets in the workplace? Join the conversation below.

WeWork, the commercial-real-estate company that provides shared workspaces, calls itself dog-friendly. But early in the pandemic, the company told members not to bring in their pets at all.

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It rescinded that policy last October after its medical advisers said animals are not considered to play a role in the spread of Covid-19, the spokeswoman said. As tenants begin to return, many of its buildings have begun to implement dog-free areas or floors.

Despite the apparent low risk associated with pets, some office spaces aren’t taking any chances. Puppet, a software company based in Portland, Ore., that once held a “wedding” for two office dogs, has implemented a “no petting each other’s dogs” policy.

A staff pet on Halloween at software company Puppet.



Photo:

Ethan Brown

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“There’s not much evidence about the Covid virus spreading from dogs,” said

Laura Nichols,

Puppet’s director of global workplace and commercial real estate. “But we are aware that there is so much unknown, and we do know if we have a dog in the office, and every person in the office is gathering around it petting it, that could be a risk.”

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Purina has always taken measures to keep its dogs under control. It hires a dog behaviorist to check on their manners, requiring them to take a doggy exam, testing their ability to sit, stay relatively quiet and interact nicely with other dogs, before being allowed into the building.

Nevertheless, for now, it has put a stop to group dog-play in the office gardens. The aim, however, was to keep the humans apart, not the dogs.

“The dogs haven’t got any friends at the moment,” said Ms. Gillingham. “But we’re hoping it’s a short term thing, until we’re out the other side, and then it will be back to normal.”

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How to Succeed in the Workplace

Write to Katie Deighton at [email protected]

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