Over the past few years, Rajesh Vorkady has had additional co-workers who are not on-roll, including Zack, Zoey, Duke, Fae, and VenCAT. Their participation at the workplace has included looking cute, going for walks, sleeping during meetings, and occasionally gnawing on furniture. Vorkady is the chief executive and co-founder of Veeville, a Bengaluru-based integrated marketing communications company, where these four-leggeds come into work with their human parents.
“Our first office was a small room in someone’s backyard. It wasn’t uncommon to see cats, dogs, squirrels, butterflies, and birds hanging around,” says Bengaluru-based Vorkady. “Over time they got comfortable with having us around and vice versa.” The organization’s journey since 2009 has included several animal rescues, adoptions, and lending support to animal welfare causes. And so, it seemed natural that when pet parents joined the team, they were allowed to bring them to work. As they expanded, the team was clear that a new office space should allow for the inclusion of their pets: a decision that Vorkady says continues to augur well for them. “It feels great and the pets help take the edge of everyday stress at work.”
Veeville’s pet-friendly workplace might seem unusual in the professional sphere, but there are similar organizations in India with such policies. Amazon, Google, Airbnb, Salesforce, and Etsy are some of the global organizations that allow pets at the workplace. Indian companies like InMobi, Chaayos, and Urban Company are among others with pet-inclusive policies. Over the past few years, more organizations are considering creating a workplace with pet-friendly policies. These include allowing employees to bring their pets to work, adopting community dogs and cats, and supporting broader animal welfare causes. These pet-friendly spaces and initiatives stem from a growing awareness of “adopt don’t shop”, or advocating the adoption of homeless or abandoned pets rather than buying specific breeds, and understanding that employee welfare extends to helping them balance all commitments, which includes pets.
There have also been studies on the benefits of having pets in the workplace. According to research by the Virginia Commonwealth University, dogs in the workplace can buffer the impact of stress for their owners and coworkers who interact with them. Another study by American research and education organization, The Human Animal Bond Research Institute, found greater employee engagement and retention in pet-friendly workplaces.
For some companies, flexibility transcends hybrid or remote working and includes malleable spaces that allow for greater inclusion and balance. Coworking space provider WeWork India allows members and employees to bring their pets to work daily at all 50 of their spaces in India. “Pet-friendly workspaces rejuvenate employees, enhance work culture and create a unique and positive atmosphere in the workplace,” says Raghuvinder Singh Pathania, Head of Community and Operations, WeWork India.
There are other organizations that also see pet-friendly policies as an investment in employee welfare. “Having pets in the office and pet-friendly policies positively impacts our associates by reducing stress, boosting morale, and helps to build connections between Associates,” says Salil Murthy, Managing Director of Mars Petcare India, a global pet nutrition brand. Pets are allowed across their offices worldwide, including their Hyderabad office, with full time “pet sitters”. While employees are encouraged to bring their pets to work, the company also adopted Milo, a beagle, and Maya, a playful indie, as part of the office family.
Meerut-based psychiatrist Rashi Agarwal sees these initiatives as a boon for nuclear families living in cities without support for their pets while they are at work. “Pet-friendly office spaces can help reduce this load for employees and provide a mood booster for the office,” she says.
Bengaluru-based Devyani Jadhav notices a change in her mood and stress levels at the office when she brings her pets, Kira and Itachi, to work every Thursday. “This is my first pet-friendly workplace. They add a fun and heartwarming touch to our workspace,” says the WeWork employee. “They love it here; they have napped in cabins, and greeted members at the Community Bar (the front desk where members can connect with the WeWork community team).” Jadhav feels their presence has also helped her foster new friendships and has acted as a stress reliever, with colleagues coming to interact with them and get a breather from their work. “This demonstrates the significant role pets play in enhancing our mental well-being amid tight deadlines and busy days.”
Agarwal explains how just seeing the animal releases feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine to help reduce stress and boost one’s mood. “Workplaces are stressful places and pets can lighten the mood, bring a positive vibe, and make employees look forward to coming to the office,” she says. At many pet-friendly offices, colleagues also chip in to take pets for a walk or take care of them, which helps build camaraderie among employees.
It does take some thought and planning to include pets in the workplace and keep them and employees comfortable. WeWork’s Jadhav ensures that her pets do not cause disturbances by keeping them engaged. More than half of VeeVille’s office comprises open space, so pets can move around freely. There are some off-limit areas, to ensure pet safety by keeping them away from wires etc. “Most of the people at work are comfortable with pets. In case of some who are not, or visitors, we take extra care to ensure they are not inconvenienced,” says Vorkady.
Organizations with pet-friendly policies are often involved in and encourage their members to participate in animal welfare causes. Through their #BeIndieProud campaign, Mars Petcare has helped over 1,600 indies find homes, partnering with non-profits to encourage more people to become pet parents. “Ending pet homelessness is one of the biggest focus areas of our business,” says Murthy.
WeWork India’s efforts include ‘Tails of We’, their Employee Resource Group, which educates and encourages employees to support animal welfare NGOs and initiatives, and creates awareness about adoption and caring for community dogs. “Pet-friendly workplaces not only foster openness to dogs but also raise awareness about indie dogs and adoption,” says Vibha Shetty, Director, Broker Partnerships & Business Development, WeWork India who brings her eight-year-old indie, Jackie, to work regularly in Bengaluru.
The Veeville team also supports animal welfare causes, with their contribution ranging from financial assistance to creating material like calendars and posters that helps with fundraising. Vorkady makes an insightful observation of the influence of pets, over the years, on the team and work culture. “They remind us of the nicer version of ourselves, the version we then bring to the fore while dealing with other humans, too.”
Reem Khokhar is a Delhi-based writer.