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Inside Adidas Group's performance-enhancing HQ

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Adidas Group has redesigned its UK headquarters to boost the performance and well-being of its staff 

As a studio full of limber bodies moved seamlessly from a downward dog into a handstand during a 45-minute lunchtime power yoga class, this Drapers journalist got first-hand experience of Adidas Group’s commitment to the fitness and well-being of its 460-strong team at its UK headquarters.

This is just one of the many classes held daily at the “Fit Box” gym. The sportswear giant is investing in the physical and mental health of its employees in a bid to boost productivity, drive efficiency, and encourage communication and collaboration throughout the business.

The expansive campus in the northern city of Stockport is the group’s head office for the regional west of Europe, covering the UK, Ireland, the Nordics, Iberia, France and Benelux. It has been undergoing extensive ongoing refurbishments to modernise the space over the last eight months.

We encourage everyone to be the best version of themselves and sport is at the heart of everything we do

Jonny Kidd, senior director of brand activation at Reebok

The site features the global Adidas “My Arena” design concept and features the brand’s white, black and grey colour palette, open-plan spaces, a clear-desk policy and hot desking system, break-out meeting areas, multiple kitchens, fully adjustable sitting-to-standing desks, meeting rooms rather than managers’ offices, an adjoining fully equipped gym, exercise studio, basketball court and five-a-side football pitch, and an on-site medical and wellness team.

Initial work began in January and the final stage of the redevelopment, comprising a central atrium, canteen, cafe and bar area will be completed on 1 October.

An adjacent warehouse servicing the UK and Ireland was converted into a state-of-the-art showroom in 2015 featuring 18 rooms for Adidas, two large rooms for Rebook and a full-size theatre for large meetings.

“It’s a concept based around realising the needs of employees have changed and trying to build an environment where people will be more productive, creative, happier and more motivated,” explains Tony Cooke – affectionately known as “TC” by his colleagues – vice-president of HR for regional west of Europe at Adidas Group.

A big part of our business and culture is how we look after the people

Jonny Kidd, senior director of brand activation at Reebok

“It allows people to have various areas to work in for different reasons, whether that’s writing on the walls [which are covered in whiteboards], having a one-to-one coffee and a chat, or holding a big company-wide meeting. We want to be in a position where we are relieving employees of their worries and providing them with the tools they need.”

Flexing muscle

Although it is still early days and the business has yet to formally measure the effects of the revamp on staff productivity, the benefits are already palpable, reports Jonny Kidd, senior director of brand activation at Reebok: “At the heart of the business is creativity, collaboration and confidence, and we wanted to make sure the environment was set to deliver that.

“We now have the right facilities to get the job done faster, which is great as it’s a fast-paced business. Motivation is also on the increase but the biggest thing I have observed is an increase in cross-departmental workings and cross-function collaboration.

You have to work together now because of the way the office is laid out

Tony Cooke, vice-president of HR for regional west of Europe at Adidas Group

“There are central hubs that connect people and you will see people from all different parts of the business radiate there. That’s exactly what it’s designed for. The redesign has been readily received and the benefits are starting to show.”

Jonny kidd left, tony cooke 1 right rt2

Cooke agrees: “Like a lot of businesses, we do surveys on employ engagement and one thing that always comes up is people work in silos. [The new office] has helped us enormously with that. You have to work together now because of the way the office is laid out.”

He adds that the introduction of facilities such as Skype for easy international communication and large meeting rooms has cut down on some travel costs, as staff can hold meetings with colleagues and customers from the office.

Showing off

Meanwhile, the recent showroom upgrade has “borne fruit commercially”, says Kidd, as it allows both Adidas and Reebok brands to show off their full collections to the highest standard, “doing the product justice”.

Given the nature of the business, which is the second-largest sportswear clothing and footwear brand in the world behind Nike, and has turnover of more than €21bn (£18.7bn) in 2017, it is unsurprising that sport and fitness play a big role in changing the culture of the company.

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Adidas’s store at Westfield London features the “stadium concept” shopfit that has been rolled out globally

“We encourage everyone to be the best version of themselves and sport is at the heart of everything we do,” explains Kidd, a 21-year Adidas Group veteran, who initially progressed through the ranks in the Irish arm of the business.

We make sure everyone is in the best of health but also that everyone is fit for work

Jonny Kidd, senior director of brand activation at Reebok

“We wanted to make sure we have a facility that could assess, educate and help people grow, and improve physically, mentally and socially. A big part of our business and culture is how we look after the people.”

The business runs up to 12 fitness classes a week and three or four cross-fit classes per day, run by three in-house coaches and external partners. There is also a wellness centre on site where medical practitioners work with the Fit Box staff to assess whether there is a physical or medical need for new programmes for staff.

“We make sure everyone is in the best of health but also that everyone is fit for work,” says Kidd. “We ask for a little contribution per month for access to everything, that allows us to evolve the programmes and the partners that come in to run classes to keep it fresh and keep everyone interested.”

The uptake from staff for the gym, classes and its new running club is high – more than 80% of employees are involved. The Fit Box has around 700 bookings a month and two newsletters detailing the upcoming programmes are circulated throughout the business monthly. All classes are booked through an app, and take place before and after work and at lunchtime, “as it is a business at the end of the day”, notes Kidd.

There is also an opportunity for members of staff to train as instructors – for example, Adidas Group pays for courses in exchange for teaching one class a week.

Fit for purpose

More retail and fashion businesses are beginning to realise the benefits of offering such facilities to staff, says Fran Minogue, partner at recruitment consultancy Clarity Retail. “Businesses are recognising that investing in sports and wellness may mean they retain more staff, which is cheaper than losing and replacing them. If you have a subsidised lunch or gym class on site, people are naturally going to spend more time at the office. And investing in their well-being means they are more efficient, productive and happy.”

However, Minogue adds that not all businesses have the space – or funds – to make such an investment: “The problem for a lot of fashion businesses, particularly those in London, is a lack of space for such facilities and the fact that many are so cash restrained at the minute. Many recognise that they should invest in their offices and staff’s well-being in the long run, but they simply can’t afford to do it in the current climate.”

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A yoga class at Adidas Group’s headquarters in Herzogenaurach in Germany

Companies have become far more inclusive of staff when redesigning offices, observes Tom Hitch, senior marketing executive at office design specialist Peldon Rose, which has worked with The White Company and Matchesfashion, as well as non-fashion companies Pret A Manger and Moo.

“Companies don’t see it as ‘having’ to incorporate health and well-being – it is being accepted as a norm, and quite a fundamental part of talent acquisition and retention. 

“Through workplace studies, staff are now able to voice their thoughts on the working environment, and are seeing their ideas actioned and incorporated into the office. Quite a few of our projects recently have had yoga or meditation areas, free snacks and drinks and even gyms installed based on staff insights. This awareness to learn about how the office can help benefit staff well-being and fitness means that we are seeing more intelligent spaces, which staff are embracing.

“Sit-stand desks, biophilic design and maximising natural light are common ways of helping to improve well-being. Only certain companies are able to put elaborate well-being features into their office, so there is certainly something to be said about companies exploring the options available to them, and how those options might best benefit their people.” 

Jumping the hurdles

Despite the positive reaction to the changes from staff at Adidas Group, the transformation was not without its challenges, notes Cooke, who has worked at the group since joining from Reiss in 2001.

The idea that people work nine to five now is gone. People come in early, leave later, work from home, have admin days …

Tony Cooke, vice-president of HR for regional west of Europe at Adidas Group

“We struggled with two groups of people. First, managers who would much prefer to have control of where people work and where they sit. They were used to coming in at 9am and knowing where everyone was. Then we came along and said, ‘You can work where you want, and you can sit where you want,’ so they needed some help,” Cooke explains.

Adidas group pitch white board

Whiteboards allow staff to share ideas

“Another group we struggled with are those who have been around the longest, as they were more set in their ways and used to their way of doing things. The worst example would be me,” laughs the Liverpudlian. “My office was like a museum.”

“More like a shrine,” quips Kidd.

“It was full of pictures, books, there was footie stuff in it, and the HR stash of chocolate digestives,” continues Cooke. “Now my office is the same as everyone else’s. There were some people who found it difficult, but we had to do away with that mindset. Rather than assume people would get on with it, we gave them a bit of help

“We brought in well-being champions and created a programme that explained what we were doing so people could understand the process of change. We asked people where they felt they were on a curve of acceptance. A lot of the younger colleagues were already at the acceptance stage but there were a few people that said we are still at the disputing phase, so we had to encourage them at bit.”

The fact that [freedom] is now part of our working culture is a big difference

Tony Cooke, vice-president of HR for regional west of Europe at Adidas Group 

Both Cooke and Kidd note a distinct change in the culture of the business, driven by pride in their new surroundings and the new levels of trust placed in the workforce.

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The Adidas gym at its headquarters in Herzogenaurach, Germany

“The idea that people work nine to five now is gone,” says Cooke. “People come in early, leave later, work from home, have admin days … We used to clock in and out, but we’ve done away with that. It is another example of people coming to terms with a new way of working, and fundamentally it is based on trust. The fact that [freedom] is now part of our working culture is a big difference.”

Kidd agrees: “Everyone is playing their part and there is an element of pride and respect in that.

“The physical environment of the office helps people get together and chat, while the fitness element helps camaraderie as well. There has always been a sense of team and supportiveness in the business, but this has heightened it.”

While many talk about the benefits of fitness and well-being for a business’s workforce, Adidas Group is paying more than just lip service and is starting to reap the rewards. As competition across the retail landscape intensifies businesses of all sizes need to take wellness into consideration to attract and retain the best staff. Many may not have the opportunity to implement a complete overhaul, as Adidas and Reebok have done, but smaller measures such as introducing flexi-time and hot-desking will increasingly become the norm to stay one step ahead.

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