When Your Firm Goes to the Dogs | AccountingWEB

When Your Firm Goes to the Dogs

At the offices of Rogers & Company, an independent CPA firm in Hayward, California, clients are enthusiastically greeted within an inch of the front door, employees never forget to break for a good round of ball in the backyard, and everyone, regardless of what they may or may not have done with their finances, is loved unconditionally every day.

Firm owner Vernon R. Bartle, CPA, says he'd like to think he's the one providing the engaging atmosphere for his staff and his clients, but he knows better. Rogers & Company's casual, comfortable, and compassionate vibe is a direct result, he says, of his two, four-legged employees: Hooch, his "baby" German shepherd, and Sam, a scruffy 11-year-old Labradoodle, who has inherited the corner office.

Even under the most serious and stressful of circumstances, Bartle says, Hooch and Sam, with a gentle nudge under the desk, an impromptu belly rub, or playtime with the clients' grandchildren, remind everyone at the dog-friendly offices of Rogers & Company that you can put a decidedly "positive spin on any workday."

Although he was something of a pioneer when he started bringing his dogs to the office in 1983, today Bartle is just one of an increasing number of US companies, including several decidedly unstuffy CPA firms and accounting businesses, that have become dog-friendly workplaces.

According to a survey from the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPA), 17 percent of US employers currently allow animals in the workplace. The group also reported that 2 percent of dog owners took their dogs to work with them in 2012; that's 1 million dogs that accompanied their owners to work that year.

The proven benefits of having pets in the workplace are also well documented. A recent study from Virginia Commonwealth University found that bringing dogs to work reduces stress for their owners during the workday and makes make the job more satisfying for those with whom they come into contact.

That certainly seems to be the case at Irvine & Company LLC, a 25-person independent CPA firm in Portland, Oregon, where dogs like Staff Accountant Josh Bickley's cattle dog/shepherd mix Maya helps create a friendly and well-balanced work culture, despite the demands of the profession.

"At Irvine we believe a happy staff is a productive staff. We want to make work interesting and attractive and our pet-friendly workplace sets that tone," said Irvine Director Kevin O'Brien. "If employees want the flexibility to have their dogs around and that makes life easier for them, that's important to us."

The firm uses a "dog calendar" to manage the number of pets in the office and minimize distraction. Bickely said employees also need to exercise good communication and common sense to keep the office truly pet-friendly.

"You have to have a well-behaved dog whose personality is a good fit for the environment so it doesn't create a distraction in the workplace," Bickley said. Maya, for example, greets co-workers and co-canines in the morning but spends most of her day "napping in the hallway waiting for the occasional pet."

Irvine employees say the dogs lend the office a mellow, "laid back" feel, appreciated by both owners and Irvine clients, many of whom work in Oregon's wine industry.

In addition to reducing stress and increasing positive energy, recent studies also indicate bringing dogs to work can also spark social interaction and increase collaboration and trust among co-workers.

Dog-Friendly Tips

To keep their workplace truly "dog-friendly," FreshBooks:

  • Created a designated Dog Committee, composed of dog owners and nonowners, to create and implement its clear set of pet policies and guidelines.
  • Introduces new dogs to the office slowly to make sure they're a good fit.
  • Sends out internal wiki posts with guidelines about each dog's temperament (i.e., "likes chin scratches," "don't feed treats") to ensure positive interaction.
  • Emphasizes appropriate human behaviors (i.e., closing outside doors, covering garbage cans, keeping dogs on leash, or using baby gates when appropriate) to keep dogs safe.
  • Formally surveys employees ever quarter to garner program feedback.
  • Makes accommodations for employees and visitors with allergies and those who are tentative around dogs.

The Humane Society of the United States also offers expert guidelines for those considering a dog friendly office. Those who would like to try a test run can check out Pet Sitters International's Take Your Dog To Work Day. The 16th annual event will be held on June 20, 2014. PSI offers tips for ensuring a successful Take Your Dog to Work Day.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, a recent study conducted by Central Michigan University found that when dogs were present in a group, employees were more likely to trust each other and collaborate more effectively in the office. In one group experiment, groups with a dog in their midst them scored higher on cohesion, trust, and bonding.

That's certainly the case at FreshBooks, a cloud accounting solution firm based in Toronto, Ontario, where canine co-workers like Jasper, a husky-mix, and CEO Mike McDerment's "noble mutt" Munroe, have upped the collaboration and socialization factor in a company already centered around fun, innovation, and group effort.

Chris Richard, customer support rep and "person" of two incredibly social, "bite-sized" pooches Carl and Kitty, said the doggy mix is as diverse as the human crew. FreshBooks' canine regulars range in size from giant Labs to tiny Chihuahua mixes.

"Just like people, our dogs have a unique personality and unique group of friends," Richard says. As people and pets interact, however, everyone gets to know each other much better.

FreshBooks puts a lot of planning into its pet policies and constantly works to ensure all employees, and pets, are happy, healthy, and safe—something Himali Tadwalkar, head of the company's Dog Committee, advises any firm considering going "dog-friendly" to do as well. (See sidebar.)

"It's important that everyone agree to some basic general standards to make a dog-friendly workplace work," said Tadwalkar. "The standards don't have to be overly formal, but they need to be communicated and everyone has to have a voice."