It’s the kind of thing you’d expect at one of those hip startups or buzzy co-working spaces: a free-for-all among employees for workspaces, with no assigned seating and the walls decorated with colorful examples of the company’s products.
But this is the new headquarters for one of Boston’s most promiment corporate names, sporting apparel giant Reebok, whose relocation from a suburban office campus to the urbane confines of the city’s waterfront industrial park is part of a larger effort to spark new life in a brand that has struggled in the US.
Already, Reebok executives say they’ve noticed a brisker pace and more interaction among employees, some of whom were initially skeptical the (wide) open-office concept was little more than a gimmick. But the fears of chaos at the new place turned out to be unfounded.
“Once we started moving people here in September, the word kind of went back to Canton that hey, ‘this is actually pretty good,’” Reebok president Matt O’Toole said. “The pace of play has really increased as a result.”
O’Toole said the work environment is intended to get workers to think and act more like they’re part of a startup, instead of an international shoe and apparel juggernaut.
Toward that end, the company didn’t include assigned seats in the new 220,000-square-foot layout at 25 Drydock Ave. Workers generally stick to their respective “neighborhoods,” as O’Toole calls them, within the building, but they have flexibility about where they can set up their workstations every day. The goal is to encourage collaboration and more frequent conversations. That approach to office planning, known internally as “My Arena,” is being rolled out to other parts of Reebok parent Adidas’s global empire.
Reebok shoes are mass produced overseas, but the company still makes prototypes onsite to test out. Industrial sewing machines and other equipment used in these processes are showcased in prominent places now, as opposed to stuck in the basement in Canton. Visitors to the 13,000-square-foot flagship store on the first floor can buy customized shoes and watch as the final pieces are assembled.
Fitness, of course, is front and center in Reebok’s new home. The space includes a 30,000-square-foot, two-story gym with a boxing ring as well as cycling, yoga, and dance studios. Reebok offers an unusual benefit: Employees pay $75 a month to use the gym, but they get $7.50 back each time they work out. Ten visits a month, and the gym membership is free. (The running track in Canton, though, had to be left behind.)
While the new commute has been tough for some employees, O’Toole said the Boston location has made Reebok more attractive to people who live in the city or commuters from the North Shore who found Canton to be too far to drive.
The new space underscores a broader shift within Reebok, one that’s been in the works for several years, to focus more on fitness and innovation, and away from pro sports and promotional pricing. The company has been closing outlet stores in the United States, O’Toole said, and focusing on higher-quality, higher-priced items. One example is the Nano, a higher-end training shoe (list price: $130) popular among CrossFit enthusiasts.
“We’ve almost created the soul of a startup here,” O’Toole said. “It feels like a new company. We are moving so much faster. There’s less meetings, less e-mails. There’s this feeling like, let’s go, increase the pace.”