Main content - the story so far, what's to come and why Salesforce Towers will be empty for a while yet

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan October 20, 2020
It's nearly 6 months since Salesforce first pitched as a platform for organizations to re-open offices safely. The offering has evolved, but so has awareness of the complexities of such a return to the workplace.

Salesforce tower

It’s coming up for six months now since Salesforce launched, a set of offerings designed to assist organizations make a safe return to an office-based workspace. At the time, I thought it was a pragmatic start to what was clearly a work in progress. That has turned out to be the case, with additional capabilities and functionality being added, such as last month’s expansion into vaccine rollout management

Today has seen new capabilities introduced around workspace and helpdesk features, including: 

  • Employee Workspace - a central digital hub for employees to access tools and resources they need to work from anywhere, including productivity apps, like Google Workspace and Quip, and  learning platforms, like myTrailhead, payroll systems, and more.  
  • Employee Helpdesk - to allow employees to ask questions and get help quickly from wherever they are, whether they need IT support or have questions about HR policies and benefits. 
  • Queue Management - to help bricks-and-mortar businesses minimize physical lines by creating virtual queues to protect customers and manage onsite capacity.
  • Broadcast Messaging - to allow businesses to proactively communicate updated hours of operation, changing appointment times and health and safety reminders to customers and employees through preferred channels, such as text, WhatsApp, or Facebook Messenger. 
  • Digital Trust Cards - to allow local store employees to update websites and apps with safety protocols specific to that location.


It won’t be the last update clearly as the COVID crisis continues and employee and organizational needs evolve to take account of changed circumstances. As Genevieve Weber, SVP & COO, Platform, Trailhead & Developers at Salesforce, puts it:

Given the understanding that we are in the new normal, that we are in a new type of working that is changed forever, we know that employees want tools to be productive and that's what you'll see coming. In addition, we know for a fact that customers want to be informed, they want to feel protected, so you will see expansion of There are more things to come, because we know that these apps that we are innovating on are helping our employees feel more productive. One of the reasons that's so important is because we know that in companies whose employees are happy in addition to their customers, they have two times more revenue than companies who don't value their employees. And so as a result, you'll see that that's where we're going with it. 

So that’s the mission statement and we can expect additional functionality to come. At this point, I am obliged to return to my thesis from earlier in the year that the availability of viable tech solutions is very welcome, but at the end of the day, a return to the office is going to hinge on the trust between employer and employees - and as Salesforce’s own running Tableau analysis indicates, there’s considerable evidence of a trust deficit on that front. Weber argues: 

I think there's always going to be fear about what's going on in the world without a vaccine at this current time. But I think that definitely helps us feel more more secure. There is trust that is built through this product that we have. But yeah, the Tableau data is very telling. I think it's natural for people to be hesitant. When we think about just at Salesforce and the conversations I've had about what does going back to work look like for us, we know that things have changed forever in terms of the way that we work and the way that we live quite frankly. Organizations need to be able to adapt to these changes.

Global differences

And that of course is where comes in. But while those comments about new worlds of work clearly have universal resonance, there is no 'one size fits all' message around this topic. 

A glance at that updated Tableau data today indicates significant international differences in attitudes towards returning to the office and what priorities organizations will need to focus on to bridge that trust gap. For example, the number one global focus areas for businesses over the next six months are said to be deploying technology to ensure employee safety at work as number one, followed by employee mental health and workplace design. 

In the US, tech is number one, but employee benefits comes second, then workplace design, with mental health concerns down in fifth place. In the UK, post-COVID workplace design is the number one priority if companies want to get staff back into the office, followed by mental health concerns and then tech to ensure employee safety at work. In France, where harsh lockdowns have returned, workplace design comes as top priority, but the next focus is on remote work capabilities. Meanwhile in New Zealand, where the virus has been all-but-beaten, eyes are on the future with employee training and skills development seen as the most important focus area for business.

What that means is that there’s no ‘global’ pitch to businesses here. As I noted back in May, localization and responding to local situations remains critical. Weber concurs: 

Places in Asia where the virus spread first...we have to tailor the message because they've already re-opened. They're onto the next phase which is growth. How do I grow my business? But it very much depends on the timing of where we are in the virus. In the US, we had a lot less remote working [pre-COVID]. People were less familiar with that. You saw in some of the Tableau research where employees were saying that they still aren't sure that remote working is the future, which is super-interesting. But you know in the US we were less used to things like having your groceries delivered, whereas in the UK that was a common thing. So I think it definitely depends on which country we're talking about. The good news is I think the use cases are relevant for all of the countries, it's just a matter of where they are in this in this new normal.

If you look at what was done in Japan, for example, where they're almost back to normal. In Japan, [it's a] very rule observing culture and wearing masks, quite frankly, is part of their culture anyway. If you had an allergy or a common cold, you'd be wearing a mask, let alone in a pandemic. So I think look that the approach is definitely cultural. You're seeing that in the US, right now. In addition to the capitalistic part of it, the push to open businesses in states that some would deem are not ready to do that given the status of the pandemic…it really depends. It's definitely cultural, but I do hope that we can all get on the same page.

Eating your own dog food

There is one potential elephant in the room when it comes to pushing a return to the workplace offering and that’s the fact the Salesforce has told its own employees that they don’t need to come back into the office until 31 July next year. I’ve seen and heard a few cheap shots from critics that Salesforce isn’t exactly ‘eating its own dog food’ here. 

I actually think that’s an unfair critique. To my mind, it’s perfectly appropriate to continue to encourage remote working given that the pandemic is not under control in large parts of the world, not least in the USA despite what’s being bellowed at the electorate from a re-election stage. In the UK, as in other parts of Europe, the official government advice is to work from home whenever possible. Against that reality, empty corridors in various Salesforce Towers around the world for another few months is just common sense. 

Timing is the key here - and re-opening needs rehearsal and planning. You can’t just fling open the doors one morning. As Elizabeth Pinkham, the Salesforce exec responsible for its global real estate strategy and overseeing the company’s workplace design, explained back in August:

We're looking at each and every building, the office readiness, social distancing for each and every floor, every square inch really. 

Progress has been made in some parts of the world, Weber points out: 

Not all of our offices are closed. In the countries where the virus is more in control, we have re-opened and we have used to re-open offices. I think is going to help us get back on July 31. We have a plan, for example, of what the return to office looks like for us. It's not everybody, all at once, on every single floor. 

I think the plan honestly depends on the state of the virus. In San Francisco, we're having success. If you look at New York, which had major trouble, now they're doing much better given that they were on lockdown for several months. In places that didn't do a lockdown, we're finding that the virus is a lot more apparent and abundant. So the re-opening plan for us, the good news is we have one. But we are being cautious about it in the US, just given the state of the virus now. I think once things improve, once we get a vaccine, it will be very different, but we will still need to help us return to work safely.

That eventual return to the Tower is something Weber is personally looking forward to: 

I actually returned to work from maternity leave during the pandemic, so for me, I've been out of an office since December, so I'm really missing it. I'm a few months ahead on not having the interaction with people, so I'm very anxious to get back to working in an office.

And she predicts when the office doors do reopen that: 

We will value what we had a lot more as a result of this experience.

My take

I remain impressed with the intent behind and the pragmatic approach to the return to the office workplace that is intended to enable. Just as a lot has been learned over the past 6 months about the COVID virus itself and how to contain it, so too it’s become apparent to almost all of us - sadly excluding a number of political ‘leaders’ on both sides of the Atlantic - that the idea of ‘everyone back to the office’ is far too simplistic. This remains, sadly, an evolving story and one to which we will undoubtedly return. 

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