Is there space for pandemic pets in the office?

By Georgie Procter

The past two years of lockdown living have seen a number of trends appear, following an increased amount of time spent at home. Personally, I’ve indulged in most lockdown phenomena – baking numerous loaves of failed sourdough, trying to keep up with Joe Wicks, and becoming the proud owner of Robin, my nine-year old Podenco Canario.

Robin, a senior pooch who spent previous years hunting rabbits, now lives a laid-back life in southwest London and spends most hours of the day by my side.

One of the main factors for deciding to adopt a dog, like most owners of lockdown pets, was the increased amount of time spent at home. The Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association calculated that about 3.2 million households have become new owners of dogs since the first lockdown in March 2020. Following an incredibly tough two years, I feel I speak for all 3.2 million households when I say that Robin has been a much-valued addition to my life.

But, as we come to the end of lockdown living and ‘Freedom Day’ looms, I wonder how our canine friends will fit into our professional lives. The return to the office will be crucial for many and, as reported by The Office of National Statistics, 85% of working adults currently home working want to shift to a hybrid approach – a balance of both home and office working.

As a young professional, I am eager to embrace a hybrid way of working. So far, I’ve been lucky enough to have Robin both in the office and at home during this year of work-life limbo. But now that we are formally set to return, is the future office prepared for a canine invasion?

Pets have had the luxury of continuous love and care for the past two years. So, it is no surprise that a survey of 3,000 pet owners found that a fifth worried about their pets having separation anxiety now that lockdown has ended. Our lifestyle priorities have shifted and, for many, this has meant an increased focus on the welfare of our furry friends. This change in attitude will need to be kept in mind by employers as they embark on new models of working. The reality is that office life will not be the same as it was, pre-Covid.

According to a survey by Comparethemarket.com of 1,003 workers, 42% of respondents plan to bring their dog to the office. Clearly, companies need to start looking for ways of catering for both employees and their pets in the workplace. Some household names – Google, Amazon and Ben & Jerry’s – have been promoting pet-friendly corporate spaces for a while. In the near future, pet-friendly offices could become a key way for employers to attract and retain good workers.

It was recently reported by The Times that the pet food firm, Bella & Duke, is creating exercise areas for dogs at its new 929 sq m headquarters in Rosyth, Fife. Exercise areas may be a stretch for some companies, but as we incorporate flexibility into our work culture, certain decisions need to be made on how best to cater to staff. A shift in perspective on the importance of our four-legged friends and normalising employee commitments could pave the way for a modern way of working.