Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff is changing his tune about remote workers: ‘They do better if they’re in the office’

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As companies tried to get workers back to in-person work last year, Salesforce and its CEO Marc Benioff criticized the idea of office mandates. Benioff argued in June that “office mandates are never going to work.” And in September, the company’s chief people officer, Brent Hyder, wrote in a company blog post that "at Salesforce, we’ve never had office mandates, and we never will.”

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But as challenges mount for Salesforce, Benioff has changed his tune about remote work—at least when it comes to productivity.

“For our new employees who are coming in, we know empirically that they do better if they’re in the office, meeting people, being onboarded, being trained,” Benioff said in an interview with the On With Kara Swisher podcast, recorded during last week's Upfront Summit and released Monday. “If they are 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. Engineers would have to come in only 10 days a quarter, yet administrative employees would need to come in three days a week. Sales and marketing staff—when not out making sales calls—would need to be in the office four days a week.

But Benioff refused to call the new structure a return-to-office mandate. “I don’t want to force anybody,” he said, warning that pushing the issue too strongly would lead to an outflow of talent. “We don’t want to lose our stars."

Instead, Benioff wanted Salesforce to give people “reasons” for coming back into the office, and said that employees were still free to ask their managers to classify them as fully remote. Yet Benioff suggested that Salesforce would always need some people doing in-person work, saying that “in some cases, folks should be in the office.”

Salesforce did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Salesforce CEO earlier hinted that some roles at the company would be brought back to the office. In a December call with analysts, Benioff said that some roles at the company were “factory jobs—folks that are required to be here.” That same month, he also told employees in the company’s #all-salesforce Slack channel that workers hired during the pandemic had “much lower productivity.”

Is remote work less productive?

Some corporate leaders argue that remote work hurts productivity and company culture. BlackRock CEO Larry Fink last September suggested that bringing workers back into the office would increase overall labor productivity, and thus help to bring down inflation. In January, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz complained that the company’s at-home workers lost both “the art of collaboration” and “a connection to a shared mission, something bigger.”

Opinions differ on how remote work affects productivity. Surveys of workers show they believe they are more productive when working from home, while executives are less confident that remote workers are as productive as in-person workers.

Salesforce is trying to cut costs following slower growth and activist investors demanding change at the company. The company is cutting thousands of employees, as well as slashing between $3 billion and $5 billion in costs. It also disbanded its mergers and acquisitions committee, ending a run of multibillion-dollar acquisitions, like its $27.7 billion purchase of Slack in 2021.

The cost cutting appears to be working, at least for now. Salesforce reported adjusted earnings per share of $1.68 for the quarter ending Jan. 31, beating expectations of $1.36 a share. The company also gave a better-than-expected revenue forecast for the current quarter.

On Monday, Benioff joked about the array of activist investors challenging Salesforce. “I actually need a CRM system just to keep track of them all,” he said.

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