Dogs Improve Office Productivity
Anyone who has ever owned a dog knows they're good company to have around the house and can make you more relaxed. They're good company at work, too, according to new research cited in The Economist.
Researchers at Central Michigan University did an experiment with 12 groups of four people each to see how they worked in a collaborative office environment, and found that the groups with a dog underfoot worked more collaboratively than those without. Those with a dog in the room they were working in during the experiment ranked their teammates more highly on measures of trust, team cohesion and intimacy than those who didn't have a dog with them.
It took actual college research to find out that dogs can help people work together? That canines are called "man's best friend" for a reason? If you have a dog, you've probably seen how they can get people to interact more with each other, simply because there's a soft, furry animal in the room that wants to be petted.
Man's best friend, indeed
Having dogs at work help employees communicate better, said Scott Kolbe, owner of KolbeCo Marketing Resources in St. Louis, Mo. "People tend to approach dogs before they are willing to approach another person," Kolbe said in an e-mail. "It breaks the ice for new people walking in the door, and helps to alleviate tension if conflict arises between co-workers."
Sherri Alper, a psychotherapist, has seen how her dog can help people heal. After greeting each patient at Alper's group practice, the dog, Barney, remains under her desk. One day a man became particularly upset during a session, and Barney "walked over to him and placed his paws on the man's knees, gazing at him with his soulful look. It was poignant. And healing," said Alper's husband, Bob Alper, in an e-mail to AOL Jobs.
Dogs help create a playful work environment, said Isaac Oates, a product manager at Etsy who brings his dog to work often. "The only thing where he really injects himself into the work schedule is that if I go into a conference room, he shows up after a few minutes and paws at the door until I let him in," Oates said. "Everyone I work with knows this, so the person nearest the door will open it to let him in... then he lays under the conference table. This is even true at interviews, so prospective candidates have an opportunity to interact with him."
A creative spark
Many businesses that rely on daily creativity allow dogs at work, as AOL Jobs found many public relations and marketing firms that allow dogs. Taking the office dog for a walk is a good excuse to get outside and clear the mind. Sheldon Perkins, a partner in the Yes! Marketing Group in Yarmouth, Maine, said animals are extremely conducive to productivity at work.
"Having animals in the office is very grounding. It's hard to stay trapped in a negative mindset over some small issue like a software bug, a lost file, a last-minute client request, etc. when there's a snoring dog a few feet away, toes twitching, and lips puffing," Perkin said. "It really does very often pull me out of a short-term funk, leaving me chuckling with everything back in perspective. Animals infuse that all-important stream-of-consciousness element that keeps people grounded in reality.
"And in a creative business like ours it's important to keep a fresh mind and get up and move around once and a while," Perkins continued. "The need for walks during the day actually enhances productivity. I often solve problems I've been wrestling with while I'm out walking the dog or giving the cat (currently George) a workout. And two four-hour intensely focused sessions in front of the computer with a nice walk in the middle is far more productive than one long eight-hour grind."
Divorce lawyer Linda A. Kerns said having her 11-year-old Shetland sheepdog in her office in Center City, Philadelphia, has a calming effect on her clients, which must be a good thing to have when discussing divorces.
Having a dog at work can also save money, as Katie Stinchon discovered by bringing her year-old, mini Australian shepherd into work at Teak Media Communications in South Boston. Bringing her dog to work allows her to work longer hours late into the evening, saving her $280 a month in dog-walking services. Her dog, Murphy, also helps other workers by being a stress reducer and hanging out at the desk of the person who is the most stressed on any given day, Stinchon said.
Some businesses allow dogs at work because they're a big part of what they do every day. PetRelocation.com, which makes travel arrangements for pets moving worldwide, lets employees bring their pets to work. It has an air-conditioned "doggy office" with two sizes of doggy doors that is fenced in so dogs have their own mini-office, and the area has a pool for the dogs, said Rachel Farris, PR and new media director at the company near Austin, Texas.
"It's great for us, particularly working in a pet-centric company, to be able to go and blow off steam during lunch by throwing the tennis ball or just hanging out with them," Farris said. "Having dogs around helps to remind us why we do what we do, even though we don't always get to see the pets we're moving."
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.