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REI wants to sell its new headquarters before it moves in

Andy Uhler Aug 13, 2020
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Ben Steele, REI's chief customer officer, at the outfitter's Seattle flagship store in 2015. REI has abandoned plans to move into its new headquarters during the pandemic. Suzi Pratt/Getty Images for REI
COVID-19

REI wants to sell its new headquarters before it moves in

Andy Uhler Aug 13, 2020
Heard on:
Ben Steele, REI's chief customer officer, at the outfitter's Seattle flagship store in 2015. REI has abandoned plans to move into its new headquarters during the pandemic. Suzi Pratt/Getty Images for REI
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Recreational Equipment Inc., the retail co-op where members get discounts on gear for hiking, camping, biking and other outdoorsy stuff, was set to move 1,200 employees into a brand-new Seattle-area headquarters this summer. But yesterday, after months of employees working at home while COVID-19 spread, the company said that’s not happening anymore.

“We really sought to build a space that was, I think, very representative of the brand and ethos of the co-op,” said Ben Steele, REI’s chief customer officer.

The property features outdoor staircases, native plants and skylights. Steele said instead of moving in, REI will lease smaller offices around Seattle and allow employees to work remotely.

Sara Sutton, CEO of FlexJobs, isn’t surprised REI is pulling the plug on a new headquarters.

“They’re identifying that there are a lot of opportunities for their employees to work from home remotely and still maintain productivity even if they can’t be in the office,” she said.

But retail employees, of course, still need to be in REI stores to help customers.

A customer shops at a reopened REI.
A customer shops at a reopened REI. (Courtesy REI)

Cali Williams Yost, founder of the Flex Strategy Group, said companies considering their workplace strategy should avoid tilting too much in one direction. 

“I think there is this tendency to think, ‘Oh we can save all this money, let’s get rid of all our workspace’ when really it’s about optimizing it,” she said. Employees want a hybrid approach, she said, with some time at the headquarters and some time working in their kitchen.

REI’s Steele said the company hasn’t lined up a buyer for that new campus outside of Seattle yet, but he’s not concerned about the money already spent.

“We think it’s a very attractive space, and we expect to get premium pricing should we reach an agreement with a buyer,” Steele said.

At the same time, fewer companies are looking for office space, so selling it could be tougher than it was just six months ago.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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