Top Workplaces 2022: Bark's secret to a stress-free workplace is its four-legged friends
COVID-19 sending Americans home to work over the past two years was a boom for pet adoption. More than 23 million households in the country took in a new pet during the pandemic to help family members cope with feelings of isolation. Now that people are returning to offices, however, some of those new pet owners are wondering how to care for their canine companions. Sadly, many are returning them to shelters.
If you work at Bark, you don’t have that dilemma. Long before the pandemic, the pet retailer had developed a culture that encouraged employees in its New York and Columbus offices to bring their dogs to work. In fact, on its careers page, it even tells prospective employees that “it would be kind of weird if you didn’t bring your dog to work. Being at Bark means having human and dog coworkers.”
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Bark was named the No. 1 large company to work at, according to employees, as part of Columbus CEO's 2022 Top Workplaces program.
Top Workplaces 2022:Best Columbus companies to work at, according to employees
The power of employees being able to work alongside their canine companions has been reinforced by a recent survey the company did to explore challenges dog parents face as they return to offices. One in three dog parents believe they’ll be happier and less stressed at work if they have their dog with them and 28 percent feel their life would be more convenient if they had this option. And 72 percent of dog parents who already have returned to work miss their dog while they are back at the office. The survey also found that pet parents will miss their dogs much more than they will miss their children or their spouse.
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“Employers that we speak with, including our peers or large companies, are always interested in how to create that environment where [you] can bring dogs into the workplace in a way that employees and the dogs are comfortable,” says Rustin Richburg, Bark’s chief people officer. “We’ve always done this. It’s always been a part of our DNA. Our culture is built around our mission as a company. It’s simple and straight forward. Make dogs happy. Everything we do stems from that mission.”
Bark was founded in New York as BarkBox by Carly Strife, Matt Meeker and Henrik Werdelin. The company, which launched in 2012, opened an office in Columbus in 2015 where it currently has 333 employees. In addition to the original BarkBox—a monthly box of themed toys and treats—the company also sells a themed collection of super-tough toys, treats and chews under its Super Chewer line; a chew plus toothpaste duo under its Bright line; and healthy, personalized meals under its Eats line. Partnerships with major retailers like Amazon and Target have helped fuel growth.
The company, which went public in 2021, has about 2.3 million active subscriptions.
Shelby Mason, senior community and engagement coordinator in Columbus, says the company believes people are its strongest asset. Even though the company is publicly held now, the “people-first approach keeps Bark down-to-earth and a place you want to be every day,” she says.
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Mason’s work directly impacts corporate culture. Her team plans what she describes as “cool engaging events to create meaningful experiences, community-building and brand integrity here at Bark.” Dinner parties with your dog, weekly wellness classes, take your (human) child to work day, drag queen bingo and family nights are a handful of events employees get to experience.
“When you round up a bunch of dog-loving weirdos with one goal, ‘make dogs happy’ … you have already created a sacred space,” Mason says. “The next part is to maintain that. Bark supports employees holistically—from unlimited time off, comprehensive benefits, a mental health-focused employee assistance program, employee resource groups, meaningful outings with coworkers and happy hour every day after 5 p.m.—Well, it’s gotten a little earlier, lately—Bark has a space for everyone to find themselves. We know our people make us great so the answer is always, ‘Yes, and your dog is invited, too.’”
Bark’s benefits package includes comprehensive pet insurance. The company is also a strong advocate for fostering, dog-friendly spaces, surrender-prevention community services and responsible sourcing and rehoming.
Dogs also have been an integral part of Bark’s return-to-the-office strategy. Last year, the company brought in COVID-sniffing beagles as part of a pilot program. The dogs were trained by BioScent, which trains medical scent-detection beagles in partnership with the Florida International University Detection Dog program. The dogs are able to sniff out a positive case with 98 percent accuracy. If a dog walks up to an employee and sniffs that he or she is positive, the beagle will sit. If negative, the dog will simply keep walking.
“We wanted to showcase the ability of these pups and what they are capable of doing and educate others around different alternatives around the power of dogs that we really haven’t embraced as a society,” Richburg says.
Bark has a hybrid work environment structured around what makes sense by team. Some teams come in certain days for ... face-to-face meetings and other times they work remote. “The approach,” Richburg says, “is where can we be the most productive, the most effective and still keep a level of culture and community within our teams as well.”
Laura Newpoff is a freelance writer.
500 W. Broad St. Columbus 43215
Business: Bark makes products, content and experiences for dogs and their people. It launched in 2012 with its first subscription product, BarkBox, and has since expanded with multiple subscription offerings.
CEO: Matt Meeker
2021 Revenue: $378 million