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At Saks, Return to Office Means Mandatory Vaccines, Optional Manicures

He added that office workers represent “the first wave of a very essential layering of the density of New York City that’s needed to bring this city back.”

Still, people will be returning to a new type of corporate environment. Saks started making changes to its office in the fall, when it had been contemplating a broader return until the pandemic took a turn for the worse. It has added amenities like a nail and hair salon and subsidized lunches to ease the lives of employees. It is also pursuing a fully open floor plan, where only a handful of people, including Mr. Metrick, will have offices. Other offices will be converted into Zoom rooms or in-person conference rooms.

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

Mr. Metrick, who has led Saks since 2015, said that the retailer has 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 said.

Mr. Metrick said he did not agree with recent comments by WeWork’s chief executive, Sandeep Mathrani, who said at a Wall Street Journal event last week that the least engaged employees are the ones most comfortable working from home.

Saks, like many consumer-facing businesses, has a close and collaborative work environment based on its business model, where “it’s not as easy to draw lines about where responsibility ends and where the next person’s responsibility begins,” Mr. Metrick said. He has been more concerned about company culture than how hard employees have been working at home, especially as new hires have joined Saks, he said.

“Zoom and the virtual world is a culture killer for companies,” Mr. 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.”

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