The American workplace has changed dramatically in the 21st century. These days, it seems that more companies encourage napping on the job, provide catered lunches daily and offer generous time-off benefits. As a result, many workers are happier. Contributing to that workplace happiness is the continued to trend of pet-friendly atmospheres. In fact, last year, the American Pet Products Association (APPA) estimated that approximately 1.7 million dogs join their owners at work.
With more pets in the workplace, particularly within the pet industry, employers are adopting pet-specific polices. Petplan, a Newtown Square, Pa.-based pet health insurance company, recently relocated its office. Natasha Ashton, co-founder and co-CEO of Petplan, says the company went above and beyond to make the new office fit for furry friends. Ashton discussed the planning and polices in place at Petplan with Pet Business.
Pet Business: Tell us a little bit about your company. Why is it important that your office environment be pet-friendly?
Natasha Ashton: Petplan is a pet health insurance company, offering dog and cat insurance coverage for accidents and illnesses, but it’s also much more than that. Our core value that “pets come first” means we’re dedicated to providing pet parents with the support, resources and tools they need to keep their pets not just surviving, but thriving long into old age. That includes our quarterly pet health magazine, fetch!, our Vets for Pets blog and monthly e-newsletter, where we share exclusive, interactive, vet-authored content geared toward pet parents just like us. We have found that sharing our office with pets serves to reaffirm our strong commitment to the good health of pets—both our policyholders’ and our own.
PB: Many other companies and manufacturers in the pet industry have pet-friendly offices. What makes your environment unique for your employees and their pets?
Ashton: We’re more than a pet-friendly office. Our new space was thoughtfully designed to reflect our love of pets in every detail, from the wall coverings to the treat stations for pets and pet parents. Since our launch in 2003, we’ve carefully cultivated a brand-specific design aesthetic, which is now one of our biggest competitive advantages. We’ve found that it really separates us from some other pet-friendly companies.
That design aesthetic is brought to life in our bright, modern office space. Visitors are greeted by a barking doorbell and custom wall coverings that portray photographic portraits of Petplan-protected pets: a larger-than-life Boston Terrier keeps watch over the reception area, while a playful Pomeranian bounds after a bouncing ball along the hallway. Sunlight streams through an atrium running the length of the office, as silhouettes of pets leap along the window panes and a whimsical “wall of fame” spells out the names of beloved four-legged family members. For visiting pets, there are colorful bins stuffed with pet toys and easily accessible walking trails around the office park. It’s a place where productivity and play are combined, and pets come first—the design reflects that.
PB: You recently re-located your office. What went into planning the office layout to make it friendly for both your employees and their pets? Can you walk me through the floor plan and special pet-accommodating features?
Ashton: While looking to relocate, the biggest challenge was meeting our one non-negotiable: the new space needed to be pet-friendly. As a pet health company, the safety, security and comfort of our four-legged colleagues served as the inspiration for several design decisions and décor choices.
While we wanted a mostly open floor plan, there were some places we knew needed to remain off-limits to four-pawed helpers, like the mailroom. Since paper can be too tempting for some pets to resist, we fitted the mailroom with a heavy door that swings closed to keep inquisitive pets away from office supplies and packing materials, not to mention paper shredders, printers and other equipment.
The kitchen and lunchroom is, likewise, a pet-free zone. It’s not only a food safety precaution— nobody wants pet hair “seasoning” their salad— but it helps curb our own temptation to share our lunches with pets.
Rather than having computer wires and cables hanging onto the floor, they are neatly corralled in wire holders suspended beneath the rows of desks, out of the reach of curious paws and jaws. Plus, some of our regular dog helpers are notorious trash-pickers, so we knew we needed a solution that would keep our space neat while discouraging pets from scrounging through bins. We decided to eliminate individual trashcans under desks, which put temptation literally at eye level, and place larger, lidded bins in each area of the office for departments to share.
While all visiting pets must be potty-trained, every pet parent knows that accidents are often inevitable. We knew that we would need to choose a dark carpet, but we came across a solution for stubborn stains. We opted to put down carpet tiles that can be individually removed and easily replaced, if needed.
PB: How do you create an atmosphere encourages productivity with four-legged friends around?
Ashton: Happy employees are productive employees. In a survey by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), the majority of workers surveyed felt that having pets in the workplace leads to a more creative environment, increased employee satisfaction, decreased absenteeism, and improved relationships between managers and employees. We find this all to be true at Petplan!
PB: What advice do you have for other companies looking to make their office more pet-friendly?
Ashton: Bringing your best friend to work has so many benefits, and with a little preparation and mindfulness, it can be a great experience for everyone. Here are three ways to make bringing a furry family member to work safe and fun:
Technological Tie-Ups: From computer cables to the office supply closet, there’s no shortage of gadgets and gizmos that can land our pets in trouble. Before bringing your best friend into your office, be sure to clear your work area of any loose cables and cords that might make tempting chew toys, and keep things like fans, paper cutters and printers up high and out of paws’ reach.
Behind Closed Doors: The office environment is a brand new experience for your dog, and he’ll want to explore new sights and smells in every direction. Keep careful watch at office doors—especially the ones that lead outside—and keep your dog leashed at all times when not gated or crated safely in your workspace to maintain control of his whereabouts.
Office Paw-litics: Just as you probably don’t get along with every single person you work with, your pets can clash with certain personalities at work, too. To keep squabbles from surfacing, introduce your furry friend to one or two other pets at a time, rather than turning him loose into a group. Keep toys, treats and anything pets might compete over out of common areas, and avoid letting other pets into his personal space like his bed or his cat carrier.