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Company Finds Virtual Dog Show Breeds Employee Engagement

A woman petting a beagle dog on the floor.

​Artificial intelligence company Interactions is going to the dogs … in a good way. The Franklin, Mass.-based company conducted a one-hour virtual dog show recently, complete with judges and an American Kennel Club background, as 16 canines of all shapes, sizes and breeds entertained employees via Zoom.

The company, which builds intelligent virtual assistants used to manage customer experience for companies, has eight offices in the U.S. and one in London and India. About one-third of the 475 employees worked remotely prior to the pandemic, according to Mary Clermont, chief people officer. Since the advent of COVID-19 in mid-March, Interactions has transformed into a completely work-from-home culture, with plans to continue to do so when the pandemic ends.

"This has really leveled the playing field [among employees], having everyone at home," Clermont said.

Along with that change came the realization the company had to find ways to keep employees connected, said Caron Casey, HR business partner/employee experience.

"We had to start utilizing Slack more, letting [employees] know we were still here, and provide them with some kind of downtime and relief."

Like many companies, it initiated a virtual happy hour, but only about 10 people of the 130 that signed up for the event interacted. An even quieter crowd tuned in for the second happy hour. Something new and different was needed, Casey said, and the virtual dog show was born.

"We had some employees get really into this," Casey said. Some dogs performed tricks in their yards and living rooms as Casey acted as emcee, speaking into her hairbrush "microphone" as she shared canine biographies with the Zoom audience and judges asked owners about their furry friends.

Entrants included Happy, a 2-year-old English bulldog more interested in his owner's treat jar that fetching a ball; Sarah, a 12-year-old Papillion angry at being awakened from her nap on the couch; Junior, a 6-year-old miniature Australian shepherd who rings a bell to be let out of the house; Roxie, a 12-week-old Newfoundland/Pomeranian mix; Weesie, a smelly, toothless Chihuahua/Italian Greyhound mix and Sen. Reginald Barkington, a 2-year-old Labradoodle whose biography indicated he was "incapable of relaxing and will steal your socks and your heart."

Harper, a Shetland sheep dog pictured here, captured the most votes with tricks he performed under the supervision of his 4-year-old owner.  Harper, winner of Interactions' virtual dog show.

Casey promoted the show on Slack and hosted it on Zoom. The event's popularity, she said, has inspired her to make the show an annual event.

"I think [employees] like having an activity. I think people who are introverted like a way to interact," and this is one way they can do so. Other virtual activities have included yoga and meditation sessions, a parents' forum and employee "home shows" that included one worker giving colleagues a tour of his garden and another displaying the medieval-like labyrinth he created in his backyard.

"You're learning so much more about the people you work with" through these virtual events "than you would if you were still in the building together," Casey said. She offered the following recommendations for planning a virtual dog show:

  • Provide a registration cutoff date a few days before the event and ask employees to submit the name, age and fun facts about their dog.
  • Find ways to include employees who are not dog owners, such as serving as judges.
  • Compile a list of contestants to share with the judges and go over the show lineup with judges and contestants prior to the show.
  • Give participants two or three minutes to show off their dogs.
  • Pay attention to the chat function to keep abreast of questions from the audience. This is an emcee duty.
  • Test the polling function prior to the event and make it easy for people to use.
  • Encourage employees' children to participate, including by voting.
  • Consider archiving the video so employees in different time zones can access the show later.
  • Consider awarding a prize for the winning dog. Harper won a box of his favorite treats.
The family-friendly event resonated with employees, Casey said, because it was so different and "kids were able to participate—I think that's our sweet spot."


​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.