May 12, 2020 - Technology

Salesforce CEO hopes America's return to offices is only weeks away

Ina Fried, author of Login

Corporate America is getting closer to a return to the office, but Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff told "Axios on HBO" that it won't be a return to normal.

The big picture: When American office workers do start going back to work, they will find a host of new policies and practices, ranging from appointments to ride an elevator to temperature checks to restrictions on movement throughout the office.

Why it matters: It's a big reason why many tech companies are taking their time planning a return to the office for those who are able to work from home.

  • As for when he expects to be back in the office, Benioff said, "I hope that actually we're weeks away from that and not months away from that."
  • The issue hits close to home for Salesforce, which has bet big on large office towers, both for its San Francisco headquarters and around the world. In addition to Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, the company has high-rise offices in New York, Indianapolis, Atlanta and London, and it's announced towers in Chicago, Tokyo, Dublin and Sydney.
  • Asked if he now regrets such a strategy, Benioff quipped, "Can you ask me that a year from now?"

Between the lines: In an April 26 tweet, Benioff laid out a series of steps necessary for a June 1 return to work, including the widespread availability of both antibody and viral testing. Benioff said he didn't want to assign blame for slowness in testing in the U.S., noting he is "really in a mode of forgiveness."

  • "I've been working with these governments all over the world, and I have really been, you know, at times very impressed with what they've done. And at times I've been extremely disappointed."
  • Salesforce has seen different scenarios play out in different countries, citing South Korea in particular for having done "a great job."
  • "We should model what they've done," he said. "They're way ahead of us in terms of the testing infrastructure, their vision of integration, of how the testing works."

Yes, but: Benioff also acknowledged that societal norms play a role and that the types of surveillance done in some countries wouldn't go over here.

  • "So you're going to have to pick and choose what the right things are for us," he said.

The bottom line: Benioff called the virus a "great unifier," noting it infects indiscriminately. When pressed, he acknowledged that the virus is exacerbating existing race and class inequalities.

  • He said that institutional racism reveals itself in moments like this, adding we need to have "a greater focus to make sure that we have higher levels of equality in the world and higher levels of health care for all."

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