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A growing number of companies are pushing back their plans for workers to return to the office as the Delta variant of COVID-19 soars, raising questions about whether employees will ever see their old workspaces again this year.
Amid the debate, Salesforce (CRM) CEO Marc Benioff sees a disconnect between the C-Suite and employees being asked to return to work — and his take may not be entirely popular with his fellow corporate leaders.
"I'm going to get calls from CEOs who do not agree with what I'm about to say. So I'm just putting that out there ahead of time. But look, we're not all coming back," Benioff told Yahoo Finance in an interview.
His remarks come as large companies have been pushing hard to get workers back to the office — with a few even dangling the prospect of pay cuts for those who choose to continue remote work.
However, as 2021 enters its final quarter, the widening gulf between bosses and their workers shows no clear sign of being bridged. Benioff pointed out that globally, 15% of employees have come back to the office, and while he says it may eventually hit 40%, he doesn't see it going back to the total capacity.
For over a year, Benioff's Salesforce has embraced what he's called a "work anywhere, live anywhere environment" that's "all digital." What's more, employees are working and succeeding home, indicating that it's a trend here to stay, he added.
"You're at home. I'm at home. We're doing our work. This is going very well. And that's how a lot of people feel, which is they want to stay home, they want to continue to work at home. And that should be just all right, with CEOs, if their employees are productive," Benioff said.
He acknowledged that not all businesses or industries could work this way, but many CEOs need to recognize that work has fundamentally changed.
"I get it. But for all the CEOs who want to call me and say, 'Hey, Marc, you got this completely wrong. Everyone's going back to the office.' I don't think so. I think we've fundamentally shifted how we work and also what work is all about," Benioff added.
'Goodbye to the old world'
The 56 year-old billionaire founded Salesforce in San Francisco in 1999, pioneering the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model for customer relationship management software (CRM). In July, Salesforce closed its $27.7 billion record acquisition of messaging app Slack, which Benioff said is "absolutely critical for the future of Salesforce."
And if he were starting Salesforce today, the cloud executive said he would "start it on Slack," arguing that the digital headquarters "is more important" than the physical headquarters.
"We knew every company was going to have to have a digital HQ, that it was a must-have, not a want," Benioff said.
"You've got to start there. You're not ending there. And this is why all of our products and our capabilities all have to be connected into it," he added.
We've left the old world behind...The reality is we're in a pandemic world, you know, this is a forever virus.Marc Benioff, Salesforce founder and CEO
Last week, Salesforce (CRM) delivered yet another record quarter, as the cloud-based software giant's products continue to benefit from more companies embracing the all-digital, work-from-anywhere world. The company saw second-quarter revenue top $6 billion — up up 23% year-over-year, and hiked its guidance for fiscal year 2022.
Benioff pointed out that Salesforce's products are "incredibly relevant to today's time" as its customers undergo a digital transformation amid the pandemic.
Citing Salesforce COO Bret Taylor, Benioff explained that what's happening is "not a digital translation. It's a digital transformation. You can't just translate what you have been doing. You've got to transform and think about everything new."
He added: "You need to cultivate a beginner's mind. In this new world, if you're not cultivating a beginner's mind, as a CEO, I think you're making a mistake."
The CEO also doubled down on the thesis that the ways of working and running a company pre-pandemic are gone.
"We've left the old world behind. Goodbye to the old world. Now we're in a new world," Benioff said, later adding, "The reality is we're in a pandemic world, you know, this is a forever virus."
As such, Benioff argued that businesses and industries need two think about how to succeed in this new pandemic world.
"And that's why we need not a new version of something. We need a new vision for our future," he added.
Julia La Roche is a Correspondent at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.