FIG Dogs

FIG: Where “Dog-Friendly” Is More Than Just a Policy

Written byFIG Team
November 2, 2020

The year was 2014. Robert Valdes, Partner and Chief Operating Officer at FIG, had just adopted Brock, a 7-month-old shepherd-pit mix. Enamored as any new dog parent is, Robert started bringing Brock to work. Every day. 

It didn’t take long for our dog-owning staff (of which there are many) to follow suit. Within weeks, the office felt more like a dog park than a workplace. Before total havoc ensued, Ted Alcarez, Chief People Person, whipped up some policies and procedures to rein in the canines. He also brought in Sebastian Arias, a certified dog behaviorist, for an agency-wide training workshop on positive reinforcement and free-will cooperation. Here’s how it went… 

The culture at FIG has become irreversibly inseparable from the dogs of FIG. “Dog-friendly” is one of the first lines in our job postings, and many employees cite it as a top perk. For Samuel MacDonnell, a Group Account Director, the policy “gave a sense that there would be an overall friendly culture.” Ross Fletcher, a Creative Director, says, “It was proof that culture was important to the agency, which was important to me.” (Neither of them own dogs, by the way.)

So what has happened to the dog culture this year, now that office life is on pause and we’re physically separated? The answer: It’s gotten even stronger. Throughout the pandemic, the dogs of FIG have kept us feeling close in a time of unprecedented separation. Bounding into video conferences and barking in the background of phone calls, they give us something to talk (and laugh) about other than work, igniting watercooler chat that is hard to come by in the virtual workplace. And much like the bookcases, bedroom decor, and other intimate details of our homes that are now revealed by Zoom backgrounds, dogs loping in and out of screens give a glimpse into the workings of our “offline” lives — and in doing so, help build rapport (especially for employees who joined FIG in the remote era).

For our staff without dogs of their own, working from home means no more impromptu belly rubs and tug-of-war breaks with their furry friends. Greer Hiltabidle, FIG’s Office Coordinator (and a non-dog owner), says the hardest part about working from home is not having the dogs around — which is why she’s instigated a bevy of dog-themed virtual events. “For those of us cooped up in modest closets like my East Village apartment, it's particularly comforting to see our four-legged coworkers cast across the screen,” she says. Her most elaborate stunt yet? The first annual FIG-Minster Dog Show: an hour-long Zoom spectacle wherein the office dogs bark, wag, and flaunt their greatest tricks (so far, “roll over” is the most advanced move we’ve seen). “What better way to celebrate our favorite coworkers?” she asks.

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At FIG’s weekly happy hour organized by Greer, the dogs are always guests of honor. 

Beyond entertainment, the pandemic is prompting a fundamental reconception of how we work — and a revalorization of that now-amorphous concept known as work-life balance. Working from home has its perks — there’s no commute, no dress code, and no one can stop you from typing emails in bed — but it also poses unique challenges: juggling childcare and homeschooling, maintaining balance between the personal and the professional, sharing close quarters with family and roommates, and managing isolation and loneliness in the absence of communal events. As the line between work and life continues to blur, four-legged companions can inject structure and balance into otherwise shapeless workdays. Here’s what a few of us at FIG have to say about the dog-related diversions:  

“Pola keeps me on a schedule...Taking care of her is the only way I can truly disconnect from work on a busy day.” -Jessica Ruiz, Data & Analytics Director

“The responsibility of taking Ripley out is very important for my mental health; otherwise, it's easy to stay inside all day with little exercise.” -Noel Wilcox, Business Affairs Manager

“Willow helps me de-stress and remember that there are more important things. She has given our home a new sense of purpose in an otherwise gloomy and confusing year.” -Katie Gallagher, Group Account Director

“Before I adopted Chance two months ago, the days in my studio apartment seemed exactly the same and could get lonely. He’s made it a lot more manageable and comforting.” -Alexis de Seve, Account Director

Overwhelmingly, the dogs bring joy and ease to remote work. There is, however, one unavoidable challenge: meeting interruptions. “I was on a client call presenting work and Bailey started whimpering loudly and making odd yelping noises,” recalls Finnian O’Neill, Executive Director of Client Services, of his golden retriever. “It sounded like an animal was being mistreated in my apartment and I had to explain to everyone that she was just having a nightmare.” For Amy Blitzer, Director of Project Management, UPS packages and food deliveries spur immediate chaos from her shepherd-boxer mix, Gus: “I’m thankful for the mute button to hide all the barking!” Katie, the aforementioned Group Account Director, has noticed a pattern with her vizsla: “Willow always seems to be in prime play mode anytime I have an important call!”

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“Let me parallel-path that and circle back” - Gus, filling in for Amy on an important budget meeting

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Working hard, or hardly working? Ripley captured by Noel


“Your meeting can wait — it’s play time!” Chance begging Alexis for a tug-of-war break

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Willow (and Katie, on the other side of the leash) enjoying some much-deserved PTO 

Luckily, the canine commotion is more entertaining than disruptive. Laughing about a time that her husky interrupted Richard Tan, Partner and Chief Financial Officer, during an all-agency Zoom meeting, Noel says, “She adds comic relief, especially when she hits the ‘witching hours’ from 3 to 6 PM… That's when she decides to start crying, howling, and acting pitiful because she wants dinner.” The dogs remind their owners (and anyone else in the meeting) to make time for meals, walks, and play breaks — no matter how many legs you have.  

A growing body of research suggests that dogs help humans build community and manage stress, and anecdotal reports show they improve the social atmosphere in work environments (Tarkan 2013). At FIG, we see evidence of these effects every day — especially during the pandemic. “When I have a lot of meetings or to-do’s, seeing a dog through the screen creates this ‘be present and enjoy this sweet pup’ moment for me,” explains Liza Therkelsen, a Research Strategist. “If I am ever feeling overwhelmed, I simply take a dog break,” adds Kortney Brand, a Media Planner. We can’t wait to see all the dogs back at the office, but in the meantime, they’re only a Zoom away. 

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