As Delta Variant Raises Anxiety, How Shoe Companies Are Plotting an Office Return — From Hybrid Models to Vaccine Requirements

Return to office has become a reality. But across different companies, the rollout is by no means uniform, especially with new worries about a coronavirus resurgence.

Many retail and footwear players have introduced target dates for bringing back their corporate workforce. In many cases, employees are already working on-site, either full-time or in a newly formed hybrid work environment.

Companies with large campuses, such as Nike and Adidas, have already offered glimpses into what the future of work in these sprawling headquarters might look like.

In May, Nike said it planned to bring employees back to its headquarters in Beaverton, Ore. in September with a “3-2 flexible work model” which allows employees to work remotely up to two days a week. Adidas said last week that it planned to increase capacity on its Portland, Ore. campus to 50% on August 2 on a voluntary basis after operating at 25% capacity on a voluntary basis.

Outdoor retailer REI Co-op announced in February that it would test a remote working model for up to five days a week from its future satellite offices located in Issaquah, Wash.

But the spread of the Delta variant has placed certain plans in flux. With the variant accounting for 83% of new Covid cases, some offices have already delayed their returns. Apple told employees on July 19 that its return-to-office date had been pushed from September to October.

Employers are closely monitoring local guidelines and adjusting plans accordingly. In some cases, employers are requiring employees to be vaccinated in order to return to work. Walmart said all its US-based corporate employees must be vaccinated by October 4 to return, according to a memo from CEO and president Doug McMillon, CNBC reported. According to a New York Times report, Saks is aiming for a September return to the office for its nearly 500 New York-based corporate employees, with some flexibility. The company will require employees to be vaccinated in order to return.

“With Covid cases back on the rise, and places like Los Angeles County reissuing indoor mask mandates, the most critical issue employers face is whether they will require employees to return to physical work locations and, if so, will they require employees to be vaccinated,” said Angela Reddock-Wright, the founder of Los Angeles-based employment mediation firm the Reddock Law Group “Employers have to balance their obligation to create safe and healthy workplaces against the economic benefit of opening their doors and starting to serve customers and clients again.”

Some companies are merely encouraging vaccinations rather than outright requiring it. Columbia Sportswear, headquartered in Oregon, declined to comment on their return to office plans, but CEO Tim Boyle has publicly encouraged his employees to get vaccinated.

For Crocs, U.S. employees are not required to be vaccinated, but unvaccinated employees must wear masks in the office. Most U.S. Crocs employees have been back to work in the company’s Broomfield, Colo., and Westwood, Mass. offices since early June.

Crocs CEO Andrew Rees told FN that having employees back in physical offices has helped the company roll out new initiatives, such as the commitment to become net zero by 2030.

“As a company, we are mostly back,” Rees said. “We think that’s important for the purposes of collaboration and working effectively together and getting most of these kind of projects done.” 

Tapestry, the New York City-based parent company of Coach, Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman, has already brought some employees back to its offices in New York, Europe, and China. CEO Joanne Crevoiserat told FN that Tapestry aims to open its doors to even more New York-based employees after Labor Day and plans to implement a hybrid working model moving forward.

“If we’ve learned one thing in the last 18 months, it’s how successful we can be in a remote environment,” Crevoiserat told FN. “We haven’t missed a beat so far in this remote environment. And I think we’ll continue to learn and adapt as we move forward.”

Under Armour, VF Corp., and Foot Locker declined to comment on their plans for the return to office. Skechers and Asics did not return a request for comment.

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