The office is crucial for professional development. You can’t expect to grow in your career without spending time with your coworkers, learning by osmosis, picking up cues from observing your superiors, and bonding with your peers and managers.
That’s been the party line for the past three and a half years among CEOs who are insistent that remote work has no staying power—or that it shouldn’t, at least, among anyone with ambitions of climbing the corporate ladder.
Just ask Twitter’s Elon Musk (who has said remote workers are just pretending to work), Goldman Sachs’ David Solomon (who called working from home an aberration) or Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg (who said it’s easier to build trust when you’re working in person). It’s also ostensibly been the belief system of Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff, who even went so far as to bribe his workers into returning to the office by promising to donate $10 to a charity of a worker’s choice for each day they come in.
But at the 21st annual Dreamforce summit in San Francisco this week, Benioff told MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle that he believes in the benefits of remote work—especially for him. Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, Ruhle pointed out, recently said workers who refuse to return to the office “may be facing pink slips.” Benioff’s take?
“Well, I'm a remote worker. I've always been a remote worker my whole life. I don't work well in an office,” Benioff said. “It just doesn't work for my personality. I can't tell you why. I do love to go in to visit customers, though. I'm on the road constantly visiting customers.”
“For my people, my message [is] they need to mix in-person and remote together,” Benioff said. “[It’s] great to be together and also get productivity at home. Our engineers are extremely productive at home. We have lots of people who are extremely productive at home. But there also [have] to be salespeople who are productive in the office. We need to make it all work.”
Benioff’s back and forth
Despite the divorce between Benioff’s personal preferences and his hopes for his workforce, he nonetheless has kept a more measured approach to in-person work than some of his Fortune 500 peers. His comments on MSNBC this week are his latest zag in his many years of waffling on the issue.
In 2022, Benioff insisted that return-to-office mandates, unlike what Elon Musk or Jamie Dimon were saying at the time, were “never going to work,” echoing the company's standing policy at the time that let employees decide where to work from. But back in March of this year, he said that the new Salesforce employees who show up in person do better, because they’re “meeting people, being onboarded, being trained.” If they’re “at home and not going through that process, we don’t think they’re as successful.”
Benioff suggested that Salesforce would require different amounts of in-office time for different departments, but refused to call it a mandate. “I don’t want to force anybody,” he said, reasoning that pressing the issue too forcefully would only cause a talent shortage. “We don’t want to lose our stars.” Rather than use brute force, he hoped the company could provide “reasons” for voluntarily returning. But the leash remains short; Salesforce would always have at least a portion of its workforce working face-to-face. (In another zigzag, Benioff is also encouraging boomerang employees to come back into the fold and apply to one of its 3,300 open roles after laying off 10% of its workforce.)
Post-pandemic, Benioff told Ruhle, he and other Salesforce senior executives have had “many long aggressive conversations” about downsizing their real estate footprint.
“We just don't need as much [office space] anymore, because our employees learned how—during the pandemic—to work at home,” Benioff said. “And now…we can do both: Be very successful, innovate, be with our customers, make it all work, have great revenues, high margins, great cash flow, do it all. And here's the result—look at this conference.”
The Dreamforce conference generated about $90 million for the local San Francisco business community, and brought over 40,000 people to a city whose in-office population remains 60% below pre-pandemic levels, per the San Francisco Chronicle. That means even if they do show up to company headquarters three days per week, Benioff’s employees will be the anomaly.
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com
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