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NVIDIA's Dog-Friendly Culture Helps Teach Employees About Accountability & Problem Solving

By Carol Novello, Humane Society Silicon Valley President, August 2014

I recently sat down with Jon Penn, one of NVIDIA’s IP attorneys, to discuss the company’s successful dog-friendly culture. As one of the leading high tech companies in Silicon Valley, Penn sees NVIDIA as a role model for having dogs in the workplace and showing how it can improve productivity at work.

“I’ve been in the Valley since ’89, and I’ve never been at a company that is as friendly towards animals as NVIDIA,” says Penn. “Silicon Valley is a very fierce environment to compete in. We are expected to be at the top of our game all the time. Yet, none of us can be that focused 24/7- we simply are not evolved for that.” When asked how animals in the workplace positively impact the working environment at NVIDIA, Penn replied how it brings you back to basics and helps keep things in perspective. “Dogs are completely detached from the whole “digital” culture of Silicon Valley,” says Penn. “They are really quite simple creatures. You give them the exercise they like and need, you give them the food they want and need. You provide companionship, and they are completely satisfied and happy.”

Penn continues, “To run your hand through their fur, sit with them or watch them, it reminds you that there are other ways of looking at things. Dogs just don’t get worked up if they aren’t driving a Porsche. They will chew up the seat cushion in your Honda just as readily as they would in your Land Rover. Having dogs in the office provides an archipelago of sanity and calm. It’s worth a lot to me personally to have them around. They are not involved in the Silicon Valley madness.”

At NVIDIA, employees can bring well-behaved, properly socialized dogs to work. “It’s all about accommodation and respect,” says Penn. “Dog owners at NVIDIA know we are very fortunate that we can bring our dogs to work. We certainly like having dogs here, but we still have to get our work done. And we do have employees who are nervous around dogs. We understand that and try to make sure that our dogs do not negatively affect our co-workers,” continues Penn. “NVIDIA has a management by objective business model so we apply that same concept to our dog-friendly policy.”

When rare incidents occur with pets and employees, Penn says problem solving and attention to the individual dog owner and that particular isolated incident are addressed rather than making a blanket decision applicable to all dogs and all owners. Owners take responsibility and are accountable for their animal’s behavior and make adjustments accordingly, even if that means no longer bringing their dog to work. For example, Penn says, “as much as I would love for my Vizslas, Summer and Casey, to come to work with me, the few times I’ve tried, it became clear that they were not well-suited to cubicles. Now I simply dog-sit my co-worker Liz’s dog Skye when Liz brings her in and has a meeting. Courtesy and consideration are the keys.”

“The best thing is that moments with dogs in the office are very much part of the routine,” he says. “They spend the day with their owners and they go out on walks and it’s all for the good.”

Growing up in an animal friendly household from as far back as he remembers, Penn, pictured with his male Vizsla Casey (8 ½ years old) and female Vizsla Summer, (2 years old), is a dog-loving IP Attorney at NVIDIA. In past years, NVIDIA has been one of the leading sponsors of Humane Society Silicon Valley’s Annual Walk ‘n Wag event and looks forward to participating again this year. Register to raise live-saving funds at hssv.org/walk