Having a dog-friendly workplace is an idea where reality and theory can collide in a spectacularly messy fashion. It’s a beautiful, utopian idea, but there are logistical problems in executing it, and few people have the will or energy to pull it off. I once worked at a startup where the founder brought his dog in every day. The dog was a beloved member of the office, but the idea of extending that policy went straight to hell as soon as we brought another dog in. I won’t go into the details, but ultimately, dog privileges were declared to be strictly a perk of the founder.
So keeping that in mind, this blog post describing the evolution of SparkFun Electronics’ dog-friendly office is really impressive, and something that anyone who wants an office to be open to employee pooches should read.
SparkFun did what my old startup job never could: It scaled up from having a few dogs to about 50 coming in every day. Not that it was easy. The author is quite frank about all the difficulties encountered along the way, including fights between dogs, dogs biting delivery people, and owners who didn't clean up poop, leading to a lot of grief for the groundskeepers.
For a while, SparkFun dealt with the dogs in a decentralized manner, where the manager of every department had a separate dog policy. That didn't work. Tension grew, and HR was frustrated by the various complications of 30 dogs running around the place. No one could really be blamed or disciplined, and so the problems continued to grow.
"No one dog owner could be reprimanded, so weaker blanket reprimands happened and the problem didn't go away," writes the company IT director, who on the blog calls himself Frencil.
At that point, no one could really blame the company if it just declared SparkFun to be a dog-free zone. Instead, it came up with the "Dog Tribunal," described as "the SparkFun equivalent of jury duty."
I have to admit, the term Dog Tribunal sends shivers down my back, and not the good kind. My nerd brain goes straight to an image of being hauled before a panel of sinister-looking men wearing monocles and black leather gloves who promise a quick execution if I only confess my crimes against the Imperial Leader of SparkFun.
Apparently, the HR people at SparkFun have brains that are much less distorted by years of reading Marvel comics and watching trashy science fiction movies, because SparkFun's Dog Tribunal doesn't involve any of that.
"It saved our dog privileges," the author says. With members selected at random, the Dog Tribunal meets monthly, handles dog complaints and (if necessary) punishments, and amends the company's Dog Policy as needed.
And of course, there's the poop. The poop is always a problem, and Frencil writes that one of the most significant changes was when the company installed poop bag dispensers:
"This minor expense for the company eliminated any excuse a dog owner had to not curb their companion but did so by attacking the root of the problem: the fact that humans are forgetful and wouldn't carry little baggies around. We still organize a mass cleanup day every six months or so but this problem, once thought impossible to crack, has largely dissipated."
The dispenser sign is pretty awesome, blending humor with a strong message, instead of the "Scoop your poop or DIE!!!!" authoritarian tone that most signs adopt. It's available for download if you want to use it yourself.
I definitely don't think that dogs are for every workplace. Not every environment is suited to having 30 to 50 dogs running around the place, and certainly not all people are suited to working around dogs. But for SparkFun, dogs have become a part of the corporate culture, and it has found a good middle ground between the decentralized system of vague managerial policies that it started with, and just having HR make decisions by fiat whenever needed. When rules are clear, sensible, and participatory, they're a lot less likely to cause resentment.
Have you ever worked in a dog (or pet) friendly environment? Would you want to? What have you seen go wrong (or right) in such a situation?
Via Sparkfun Blog
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