A few years ago, Neiman Marcus spent hundreds of millions of dollars renovating its stores to make the experience more engaging for customers who had grown accustomed to shopping from home.
Now the company is taking the same approach with its corporate offices.
Neiman Marcus’s new headquarters, slated to open early next year in a Dallas skyscraper, represents a roughly $100 million bet that, in the post-pandemic world, people can’t be expected to present, you have to give them a reason.
The new space will have no private offices, no assigned workspaces of any kind, in order to free up more space for conference rooms, couches, and other breakout areas intended to accommodate groups of people. The department store operator is dedicating roughly 70 percent of its 85,000 square feet of floor space to such collaboration areas, compared to 30 percent for individual workstations. Those proportions were reversed at the company’s former offices, a suite of suites just above its Dallas flagship store, which it still owns.
The new office is built to reflect a landscape where much corporate work can be done from anywhere. Instead of places where people must show up to do (and keep) their jobs, employers like Neiman Marcus are increasingly seeing the office as a space to exchange ideas and share unique experiences that can’t be replicated anywhere else.
The company is going further than many fashion companies toward a hybrid work model, where employees can coordinate with colleagues to meet in person as needed, rather than having a set schedule.
“Bringing people together in one physical space requires a lot of coordination of people’s schedules and lives,” said Eric Severson, chief of staff and ownership officer for Neiman Marcus Group. “So you should only do that when that’s the best way to build something together or have an experience together.”
Not all companies are so flexible. After two years of crafting remote work policies on the fly, professional employers and employees around the world are negotiating what permanent work arrangements will look like. Apple this week told employees near its Cupertino, California, headquarters to report to the office three days a week starting in September. Nike and Adidas have had many of their corporate employees come in at least a couple of days a week for months.
More than ever, the office is a powerful recruiting and retention tool. Everything from its design and layout to a company’s requirements for the days and times people need to come in sets the tone for whether employees view your organization as a desirable place to work. Even companies with the strictest office attendance policies should take note, whether that means more meeting space or investing in ergonomic couches and chairs or other perks that can rival the comfort of a home office.
“The biggest thing you can do wrong is go back to what you were doing before the pandemic,” said Craig Rowley, senior client partner at recruitment consultancy Korn Ferry. “You need this kind of iterative process to get your people back to the office.”
Even before the pandemic made remote work the norm, Neiman Marcus had already decided to move toward a hybrid model, where its corporate teams would only use the offices when needed. That gave the company a head start in planning its new center, which incorporated research “spanning sociology, social anthropology and industrial engineering,” Severson said.
The biggest learning was that offices were more useful for collaboration and that other employee needs (privacy and moments of rest and rejuvenation, for example) could be better met elsewhere. He also learned from his meetings with the global architecture firm Gensler and the “human-centric” design firm IDEO, as well as the furniture companies he employed, that the most attractive modern offices function much like homes.
“It’s a combination of developing an open concept, but also allowing people to choose the place they want on any given day throughout the day,” Severson said. “Then they will move as they would at home; they get up, they sit at their desk, they go from the kitchen to the bathroom and to the sofa.”
To achieve this, the company will bring in “auxiliary furniture,” or casual office equipment and accessories intended to support a variety of postures, including sitting, perching and lounging. It also came up for a space with “tons of amenities” like a conference center and entertainment space on the building’s 42nd floor, where it can host “fashion shows and recognition events,” Severson said.
When it comes to office design, fashion creatives need spaces that inspire them to envision their most innovative ideas, but décor elements need to make sense and live up to the brand, said Melissa Gonzalez, director of the fashion firm. MG2 architecture and founder of The Lionesque Group. .
“It’s about establishing that multi-sensory environment where interiors exude brand personality and boost energy and well-being,” he said.
On, the Zurich, Switzerland-based running shoe brand, opened its new 17-story office space earlier this year outfitted with a central staircase, called “The Trail,” designed to replicate the trek that the three founders of the brand made it through the Engadine valley in Switzerland in 2009, when they set out to build the company for the first time.
Employees are encouraged to use the ladder whenever possible as a source of motivation and a reminder of the journey the company has taken to climb. They’re also organized into “towns,” similar to the ones the founders encountered climbing the mountain, rather than discrete departments, to encourage collaboration.
Nike’s headquarters in New York has a swimming pool, several gyms, a basketball court, and cafes with free food and drinks, including coffee made by an on-site barista. The newly expanded Adidas headquarters in Portland, Oregon, has a gym, rooftop lounge, coffee shop, juice bar and a green roof covered in vegetation.
For brands that want to inspire without breaking the bank, simple additions like green plants could add a “naturally therapeutic” feel to an office, Gonzalez said. Rearranging existing furniture to make a space more welcoming and collaborative is another cost-effective solution, Rowley said.
“The immediate thing is to rethink how you are distributed,” he said. “For example, if you have four cubicles that are going to be empty, can you turn them around and buy a couple of bean bags and create a space where people can collaborate?”
It’s true that many corporate workers have come to appreciate remote work. But more than the ability to answer emails in their pajamas, what they’re looking for most is the flexibility to use the office — and their work hours — in a way that makes sense to them, Gonzalez said.
One of the things corporate workers appreciate most about working from home is that they no longer have to deal with the wasted time and stress of commuting. But, in the two years since the pandemic began, many workers have been conditioned to fill what used to be their commute time with extra work, Rowley said.
Companies forcing a mostly remote corporate workforce to return to an office (even just a couple of days a week) need to take into account the new compensations they are creating and adjust the responsibilities and deliverables of people in a company. way that is beneficial and rewarding on both sides, experts say.
For example, on days when an employee arrives, your responsibilities may need to shift from difficult tasks, such as preparing a PowerPoint presentation or spreadsheet, to an easier task, such as being present at a one-on-one meeting with an employee. manager.
While these aren’t new offerings, perks like (good) coffee and an occasional free meal, plus face-to-face time with team members, especially senior leaders, are still a big help, experts say.
“You can order bagels once a week or make a coffee on weekdays as a benefit to the team,” Gonzalez said. “We have discussed bringing in a masseuse to massage people every quarter; it depends on how far you want to take it.”
More important than what is in the office is who is there. At the top of the list are managers, directors, and senior executives who need to set the tone and be available to mentor young talent, as well as other team members who have missed important workplace rituals due to the pandemic, Rowley said.
“If you’re going to have people come into the office to use it together, there has to be a reason,” Severson said. “When they leave, they need to feel like ‘wow, I just did something that I could only do here with other people in this physical space.'”