: Flexibility, plants and good vibes are all part of Salesforce’s return-to-office strategy

Technology giant Salesforce hired a whopping 15,000 people in the past year, but knows “the office” also has some heavy lifting to do when it comes to attracting, hiring and retaining workers down the road.

“I don’t think anyone will be surprised that nobody wants to come in [to the office] Mondays or Fridays,” said Michele Schneider, senior vice president of global workplace services at Salesforce

on Thursday, during a virtual coffee hosted by Ken Biberaj at commercial real-estate firm Savills.

But Schneider also thinks office space needs to do better by employees, starting with making “very stressful” journeys back into buildings feel less draining, particularly as the globe grapples with the delta variant of COVID-19.

Beyond offering hybrid and some permanent remote-work options, Salesforce also has been focusing on things like providing upbeat music in office lobbies, more natural light and plants that improve indoor air quality, and even furniture that can make in-person collaboration more comfortable.

Schneider said that about 55% of Salesforce buildings were now open globally, in accordance with local health and safety protocols, which can mean opening only a few floors at a time to workers.

“It’s a release valve,” she said of having the option for some staff to work a few days in the office. With more than 60,0000 staffers globally, the COVID crisis has meant months-on-end of remote work, but also sometimes navigating cramped apartments with roommates, all while the cloud-based customer-relationship management company has been delivering blockbuster financial results.

Salesforce in May reported $5.96 billion in revenue for the second quarter, a 23% increase from a year before. The San Francisco-based company also reported $3.2 billion in operating cash flow, 74% more over the same stretch.

Its deal to buy Slack Technologies Inc., a digital-office powerhouse, for $27.7 billion closed this week.

The outlook for U.S. office space has been improving in recent months, but remains one of the cloudier parts of the commercial real-estate landscape after the pandemic ushered in an overnight reckoning around remote work.

“I’d love to see office utilization as high as possible,” Schneider said, but added that Salesforce also has been reviewing its leases with landlords as it thinks about the future of work, including by “digging into things like health and wellness” around plumbing, heat and air ventilation systems, and what landlords might be responsible for providing.

“Flight to quality continues to be the dominant theme of the pandemic and has only intensified as the recovery begins in earnest,” real-estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle

said this week in a second-quarter office outlook.

The report also noted that San Francisco’s office market still faces significant headwinds, despite its June lifting of COVID restrictions, as asking rents fall, tenant concessions rise and the office vacancy rate sits at 20.2%, the worst in the Bay Area since 2003, after the dot-com bust.

Read: How Silicon Valley is returning to work with a mask non-mandate

As part of the reopening, Salesforce has rolled out to help its offices and those of its customers reopen more safely, including by streamlining things like staff schedules, wellness checks and on-sight meetups.

The company has newly constructed waterfront office towers in Dublin and Chicago, structures that punctuate the skyline with a message that the office isn’t dead. It also plans to hold its annual Dreamforce conference Sept. 21-23 in-person in San Francisco, New York, Paris and London, although U.S. attendees will need to be fully vaccinated.

Schneider said the focus isn’t only on figuring out what work arrangements are best for employees, but also on how office space is currently used, and will be used five years from now.

From employee surveys, she said roughly 60% to 70% of Salesforce staffers preferred coming into the office one to three days a week.

“We are in hiring mode,” Schneider said, adding that flexibility and the quality of its real estate will be a big part of recruiting and retaining talent.

Read: Office property values could plunge by 54% if work-from-home lasts: Fitch

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