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Saks CEO: Zoom is a culture killer for companies

The return to the workplace is here.

Yessi Bello-Perez

Leader

Unleash Your Culture Metrick, who’s been leading Saks since 2015, said the business hit a wall with Zoom, comparing its popularity to “when cigarettes went mainstream.”

  • Saks employees will return to the office in September.
  • COVID-19 jabs will be mandatory.
  • The company will adopt a more flexible working model, but the office will become the default workplace.

Marc Metrick, the chief executive of Saks, has told the company’s 500 corporate employees in New York, that work will resume in the office as of September. 

In his message to employees, Metrick said the office would again become the firm’s primary workplace following more than a year of remote work. 

“This was really great to be able to get work done at a time when it just wasn’t safe, but as it becomes safe, this isn’t the right option for us and we need to be much more office-based,” Metrick commented during a Zoom interview, reports the New York Times

The CEO said there would be more flexibility but highlighted the office would be the default workplace. 

Saks began making changes to its office space in the fall when it first considered a return to the workplace, which was then derailed due to the pandemic taking a turn for the worse as cases began to spike.

The company added amenities like a nail and hair parlour and is offering subsidized lunches to employees. 

Saks is also seeking an open floor plan office where only a small group of people, including Metrick, will have private offices. The remaining offices will be used as Zoom or in-person meeting rooms. 

“It’s literally round tables with five chairs and people can plop down there with their laptops,” Metrick said. “It’s kind of like a student union in college would have been. It’s a very social and open work environment.”

Metrick, who’s been leading Saks since 2015, said the business hit a wall with Zoom, comparing its popularity to “when cigarettes went mainstream.”

“It wasn’t until a few years later that people realized, ‘Oh my god, this stuff kills you,’” he added.

Interestingly, Metrick said he didn’t agree with WeWork’s chief executive Sandeep Mathrani, who recently said remote workers were less engaged than those coming into the office. 

“Zoom and the virtual world is a culture killer for companies,” Metrick said. “It doesn’t mean the individual is engaged or not engaged, or working hard or not working hard, or productive or not productive — but culture is so important to a business. And there’s no way that having 900 people dispersed and only existing in an intentional Zoom world with no unintentional conversation is good for a culture.”

COVID-19 jabs will be mandatory

To return to the workplace, Sak’s employees will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

“If we’re asking people to come back, we have to make the environment as safe as we possibly can,” added Metrick. 

Indeed, requiring employees to get vaccinated continues to be a hotly debated topic

Like other large cosmopolitan cities across the world, New York has suffered the impact of mass remote working with many storefronts and public transport networks facing devastating losses. 

Although many companies are adopting a hybrid working model, many employers are calling employees back to the workplace at different times. 

For example, Goldman Sachs, whose CEO David Solomon said working from home was an “aberration,” has asked employees to return to the office as early as 14 June.

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