REI is going remote and selling its corporate headquarters

REI’s rendering of its then proposed Bellevue, WA campus, March, 2017
Aug 13, 2020

REI Co-op has announced plans to sell its newly completed corporate campus in Bellevue, WA. Instead of the central location, the co-op will embrace a new HQ set-up of multiple satellite campuses and “lean into remote working as an engrained, supported and normalized model.”

The first reason given for the move are the proceeds from the sale of the building and land. The funds will shore up REI’S balance sheet in the wake of COVID-19 and enable investments in growth initiatives as well as commitments to nonprofits and carbon goals.

The second is increased confidence in the benefits of remote working, including being able to recruit outside of the Puget Sound region and offering more flexible work schedules and less commuting time for existing staff. The decision comes after REI’s headquarters successfully transitioned to nearly 100 percent remote work in early March.

“We learned that collaboration doesn’t have to be tied to a single location,” Ben Steele, REI’s EVP and chief customer officer, told RetailWire. “We learned that mobile working tools and technology are pretty effective, and we learned that the benefits of flexibility to the individual employee are pretty profound.”

REI so far has plans for three satellite locations in the Seattle area to provide space for in-person collaboration. Mr. Steele noted that REI’s corporate team continues to work largely from home due to local guidelines and is finding ways to adapt to the changes, such as having fewer casual brainstorming sessions and the difficulty building camaraderie and integrating new employees.

In a memo to employees, REI CEO Eric Artz also acknowledged that working from home has “its own set of unique challenges” and will be an adjustment for some. He noted that some employees may already be missing hallway conversations, in-person work-sessions and “incredible cultural moments” such as REI’s Anderson Awards peer recognition program. He’s confident “innovation, collaboration and imagination” will solve any shortfalls.

Mr. Artz concluded, “This year has shown us our home is not a building. Our home is wherever we find ourselves doing our best work, pursuing our outdoor passions, serving our communities. Serving each other.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What steps will be critical for REI to ensure the shift to remote working and multiple satellite campuses proves effective? Do you think the move will prove successful for REI and do you expect other retailers to take similar action?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"If they can make this work then they will be at the forefront of a model that I am sure many others will follow in the coming years."
"This is a bold move that will be met with challenges."
"While everyone is still learning, it has become clear that the traditional office environment will forever change."

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39 Comments on "REI is going remote and selling its corporate headquarters"

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Mark Ryski

REI’s decision to shift to work from home and abandon their new campus is a dramatic example of the kind of decisions many businesses are grappling with. All companies need to find ways to cut expenses and operate their businesses – as drastic as this move by REI may seem, we’ll be seeing a lot more of it in the months to come. This is far from over.

David Naumann
David Naumann
Marketing Strategy Lead - Retail, Travel & Distribution, Verizon
1 year 2 months ago

The pandemic has forced many companies to adapt to a remote workforce for several months and it has proved to be a successful test with positive results. We will see more companies scale back their office space and allow more employees the option to work from home. Keeping some office space for occasional team meetings is a smart strategy and it is imperative that companies provide remote employees with all the necessary equipment, including office furniture in some cases. This is going to have a huge negative impact on commercial real estate.

Zel Bianco

If retailers can save money by doing this and put those savings towards remote working tools I believe it will prove to be successful. We have been working this way for over four months now and I feel that productivity has been as good if not better than when we were all in the office. Stand up meetings are critical to getting priorities for the day set and tools like Teams for communicating via chat during the course of the day have also proven to be very effective. Retailers and suppliers must embrace this new way of working as it will be here for some time and maybe forever more. I found the latest mini white paper from McKinsey on what CPG sales organizations need to change to compete very helpful and informative.

Dave Bruno

This move by REI is likely just the first shoe to drop in a long line of companies significantly downsizing their facilities. I applaud REI for their bold move, having recently completed the new headquarters, and I think their strong culture will make the permanent transition to a remote model work. It sounds like REI is not underestimating the challenges that remote cultures present, and we should continue to watch their progress closely to gain lessons from how they overcome those challenges. I suspect the many more retailers that will likely follow their lead will have a lot to learn. And as an aside, watch for the (massive) crisis looming in commercial real estate…

Neil Saunders

Let’s be honest: REI is selling the HQ because it needs the cash and also needs to reduce expenses to be viable over the longer term. However a lot of companies have quickly found that new ways of working during the pandemic have advantages and are, therefore, keen to keep some of those methods even as we move into recovery. In my view the future will be blended: a lot of firms will have more working from home, but will mix this up with days on-site and away days where people meet face-to-face. Social gatherings for work purposes are still essential and have a key role to play – it’s just that they don’t necessarily need to take place at a big, fancy HQ.

Scott Norris

This can also be an opportunity for REI to dynamically put its teams in more direct contact with users and environments — use the products, interact with customers and suppliers, learn from experience and take that back into the organization. I’d expect to see more business travel, not less, from this strategy, but if done well, it will be a better investment than fixed real estate.

Georganne Bender

It’s also easier to sell a corporate headquarters that you never moved into in the first place. Less baggage. Some company will get a brand new, never been used campus.

Shep Hyken

The second reason for REI’s sale of their campus is exactly what REI is about. They are focusing on their employees. Going to smaller “satellite” locations still gives people a place to meet, but their reasons to go remote are a lot about lifestyle for employees. This fits into their culture. As a consumer, when I go to REI, most of their sales people on the floor are outdoor enthusiasts. These aren’t randomly hired team members. The last paragraph of this article sums it up nicely: Mr. Artz concluded, “This year has shown us our home is not a building. Our home is wherever we find ourselves doing our best work, pursuing our outdoor passions, serving our communities. Serving each other.”

Richard Hernandez
Richard Hernandez
Director, Main Street Markets
1 year 2 months ago

This is not a surprise and as this pandemic continues, you will see a lot more companies focusing on remote working and smaller campuses.
We have been discussing remote working for years, but the pandemic has really made companies look at it as a sustainable options to getting the day to day done.

Bob Amster

The sale of the new corporate office building appears to be a good, calculated move, influenced by the pandemic. REI now has had five months of hands on experience with remote working environments and, most likely, honing the process to enhance productivity all along. Now that REI has had this experience, recovering the expense of their new building and permanently reducing the required office space are strong incentives toward selling the building. Many retailers will follow in REI’s footsteps and, at a minimum, reduce the office space footprint permanently.

Raj B. Shroff

One of the important steps will be to align on expectations. In an office, it is easy to expect back to back calls, meetings, etc. When working from home, while those used to it can be disciplined, for many it’s not so easy. Ensuring some flexibility and scheduling simplicity will be important and there will be consideration of adjusting the work week – we are built around an antiquated factory model of 8 to 5. Of equal importance will still be in-person collaboration to build bonds that are difficult, though not impossible, to build online.

I think in the short-term REI and others can be successful. However until better collaboration tools are built, I think the longing for physical connection will be too strong to overcome. In-person, remote hybrids will be most realistic, similar to what’s happening in many schools this Fall.

Brett Busconi

REI is a company with a reputation for strong culture — and a critical component of moving to a more remote office setup will be to capitalize and build further on that existing culture. The move to do this before many other companies fits with this culture and I think it shows strength in their leadership.

In a year, virtual companies will be just another way to describe the new working environments. Retail may have some challenges from the corporate perspective which necessitate more in-person planning/sharing, but I would not expect retailers to stand apart from what I think is the immediate future of corporate office structure change in America.

Oliver Guy

Huge and dramatic. This is the first example of this I have heard of in any industry and it could well become an example and a watershed moment.
There has been a lot of talk about how this type of working opens up larger talent pools because you are no longer constrained by geography. However this could also mean that certain roles could be done from lower cost economies. The whole world is changing in front of our eyes.

Phil Chang

The pandemic has showed us that we can take down old paradigms whenever we want (or, some would argue, when we must). This is a great paradigm to take down.

It removes costs from the cost model and allows *most* employees to be happier in their own happy places. Maybe I’m naive but I’d like to think that translates to better retail and hopefully flat to slightly cheaper retail.

I think I’d want to see REI and other retailers/companies take the next step which is to help with changing zoning laws so those great big buildings become mixed usage locations.

Stephen Rector

Other companies are going to follow and the commercial real estate sector is going to be the next area that gets crushed due to the pandemic. The winners will be those who can figure out how to convert this unused space into something that can be a positive for the local communities where they are located.

Ben Ball
This is going to be a lot messier than current enthusiasm for remote work would lead us to believe — and I am a long-time proponent of remote work in the right circumstances. But companies are going to be pressed to do this that shouldn’t. The short-term success of the experiment during COVID-19 will drive corporate peer pressure to realize similar cost savings and to appear equally progressive in the press and in boardrooms. Activist investors will push for the short term boost to the balance sheet of real estate sales and the expected long-term cost savings of remote work. Employees who have discovered the comfort of working in their bunny slippers with their favorite coffee mug in hand will resist going back to the office. None of this is driven by the core benefits of remote work, which can be substantial. It will be knee-jerk reaction and executive FOMO. Buy the dip in commercial real estate REITs. Many of those companies will be looking for office space again in a few years. At least,… Read more »


Andrew Blatherwick

There is a lot to be said for more flexible working and working from home. However a company has to make sure they do not lose the benefits of collaboration between employees and within departments. There has been evidence over the last few months that some employees really thrive working from home while others miss the social interaction with other employees and the spark they get from getting and sharing ideas and are also experiencing mental pressure and stress.

If REI splits departments across the three satellite offices they could fall into deeper departmental silos which is very dangerous, particularly from a supply chain point of view. It takes greater management to ensure that departmental interaction takes place and internal communications need to be increased. If they can make this work then they will be at the forefront of a model that I am sure many others will follow in the coming years.

Lisa Goller

REI’s bold move typifies our flexible future of work. Committing to remote workspaces will help REI win with cost savings, employee comfort and creative collegiality.

Critical steps to ensure effectiveness include investments in:

  • Tech: Reinvest property gains into a robust technology infrastructure to maximize productivity and minimize IT glitches;
  • Collaboration: Schedule frequent team and all-staff communications to increase employee engagement and visibility;
  • Morale: Use satellite offices and online events to help employees feel valued and connected. Celebrate wins to express gratitude and unity to enhance motivation and retention.

Given the nature of REI’s business, the company could encourage employees to use the time savings from no commuting to spend more time enjoying outdoor activities to promote total well-being. After all, happy, healthy workers are productive workers.

Other retailers will watch REI to weigh the costs and benefits of foregoing their own expensive commercial real estate.

Xavier Lederer

This is a bold move that will be met with challenges. Employees are divided on the question: PwC’s Remote Work Survey about a post-COVID-19 world recently found that, while only 32 percent of employees want to work remotely full-time, 51 percent want a mix of office and remote work. Only 17 percent want to go back full-time (or close to full-time) to the office. I notice with my clients that companies with strong values that employees live by on a day-to-day basis, crystal clear goals and priorities, and a healthy management team that shows their members’ vulnerabilities (i.e. the exact opposite of superheroes), have the highest chances of making remote work a success.

Evan Snively
Evan Snively
Loyalty Strategist, Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute
1 year 2 months ago
  1. That is a giant and undoubtedly very unique space – I am curious who the buyer is.
  2. I do think that REI will be successful in their efforts. The move is in line with their cultural values and so I would expect most employees to support and embrace the move. As for the success of other retailers, it really is going to be a case by case basis and prior company culture will certainly play a role in each brand’s success.