When it comes to the workplace, can you teach an old dog new tricks?

By Alice Wilkinson

In a recent blog post, a colleague discussed the return to the office, and what it would mean for the dogs bought or adopted during lockdown. As an owner of her very own lockdown pup, Georgina is at the coal face of this particular issue.

The question of whether or not businesses will welcome an influx of newly acquired dogs carries with it some serious implications. As we are all so fond of saying, the Covid-19 pandemic has changed everything. But now that lockdown restrictions are over, will offices across the country be inundated with pets, or will we revert to old behaviours and attitudes to the workplace?

The Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association calculated that, since the first lockdown in March 2020, 3.2 million UK households decided to bring home dogs. Now, these new dog owners are returning to the office – and some plan to bring their dogs with them.

As a result, canine clauses, stipulating how many dogs can be in an office, are becoming commonplace in central London leases. In a recent article in The Times, a representative of Savills specialising in office rentals stated that, pre-Covid, 95% of landlords refused to allow dogs in the building. Now, in order to optimise their offering and appeal to occupiers, landlords are increasingly welcoming office dogs – to a point: “you can’t have 50 dogs in a 10,000 sq ft office building”.

The current demand for talent is intense and employers are zeroing in on the changed and changing needs of their employees post-pandemic, offering tempting incentives to entice them back to the workplace. PwC is giving cash bonuses to every employee (some 22,000) for “new office clothes, a bike for commuting or restarting a gym membership”. Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs is rewarding workers who come into its London offices at Plumtree Court with free breakfast, lunch, and ice-cream from Hackney Gelato.

Business leaders are determined to bring employees back to the office, but the focus is now on making the workplace an attractive place for them to be. The rise of hybrid and flexible working; the attention paid to communal spaces, amenities and facilities; workplace wellness programmes. These trends suggest that where and how we work has changed materially and for good. Certainly, the canine clause gives London’s office dogs a new air of legitimacy.

But recent headlines call into question whether the world of work will really be different in the long term. By now, we are familiar with the notion that businesses are changing their office footprint, in light of the fact that many employees will not be in the office full time. And yet, over the summer, a KPMG survey found that only 14% of chief executives actually planned to downsize their office space.

Moreover, in a new survey from the BBC, the majority of workers said that they would prefer to work from home either full-time or at least some of the time. But half of senior leaders said that workers staying at home would adversely affect both creativity and collaboration – against just 38% of the general public.

We are struggling to marry our pre- and post-lockdown existence. The last 18 months have taught us that we do not have to be in an office every day in order to be productive. The daily commute need not be daily, after all. But the temptation to return to “normal” – the old normal – is growing.

Tellingly, in the last few weeks, Dogs Trust experienced a 35% increase in calls related to giving up dogs and said traffic to the “giving up your dog” pages of its website had increased more than 180% in July, compared to pre-pandemic visits in February 2021. There was also a 100% increase in traffic in July compared to what it had seen six months earlier in February.

Initially, lockdown seemed to have revolutionised the world of work for good. But now, after so much change and upheaval, perhaps we are settling back into old, familiar behaviours. Though hybrid ways of working do seem to be here to stay (certainly, employer attitudes towards working from home have shifted, and it is no longer a byword for bunking off), other aspects of the working world are far less certain. For now, dogs are part of daily office life but, as we gravitate back to familiar working behaviours, it will be interesting to see how long this new-found legitimacy lasts.