Every employer in the business world seems to be playing an international game of chicken — each brand waiting to see how much workplace flexibility their product and talent competitors are willing to offer, so they can match that amount. Right now, an expectation of two days per week of remote working and three days in the office is the trending standard, but with employees quitting in droves to find more work from home allowances, this definition of “hybrid” is likely to only be temporary. Some employers might soon bend to workforce demands and allow off-site working three or four days per week, but it’s suspected that others, like Google, are just waiting for the remote work revolution to subside, so they can call all virtual workers back into the office full-time.
However, amidst all of this transition and tension, there is one player in the game that doesn’t seem phased by the competitive positioning… and they’re on track for an early victory.
After an impressive $27.7 billion acquisition in late 2020, Salesforce and Slack are combining forces in not only software development for the future of work, but in innovative thought leadership as well. Their bold and unabashed announcement of a maximum workplace flexibility policy last year and decision to start reprioritizing current real estate is a stark contrast to other leading tech companies’ hesitant and skeptical messaging. Alone, their return-to-office plan would be enough to tag both brands as a leader in the remote work revolution, but when you peek inside the virtual windows of the companies, there is even more activity happening internally that suggests that this partnership is going to be pulling far ahead of its talent competitors and taking a victory lap by the time other brands get started.
Interviews with senior leaders from this dynamic duo revealed five strategies that are attracting top industry talent, and setting the bar for workplace flexibility expectations at a new height.
1. Offering Company-Wide Flexibility
Continuing to offer remote work permanently feels like a chore for many companies, as they’re begrudgingly giving into employees’ demands for more flexibility on a per-person, or per-team basis. But not Salesforce or Slack. Right off the bat, they are communicating an intention to not only commit to permanent hybrid working, but increase remote opportunities for all employees over time. This means that flexibility is less likely to be perceived as a privilege for certain workers, or to become a discriminatory factor that could combat company diversity, equity, and inclusion goals.
Brian Elliott, a Senior Vice President at Slack, explains, “When it comes to designing a workplace policy, we believe that ‘One Size Fits None.’ There is not a single model that works for everyone, so we want to empower each of our employees to identify a schedule and location that optimizes their personal and professional success, align their plan with their team’s needs and dynamics, then continuously iterate to accommodate future adjustments.” Steve Pickle, Executive Vice President of Employee Success Operations at Salesforce echoed the same, “If we’ve learned anything over the past couple years, it’s that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to work. Return-to-work dates are beside the point — we developed Flex Team Agreements to empower teams to decide how, when and where they work based on their unique roles, expertise, location, and customer needs.”
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2. Diversifying Workplace Value
While other employers are threatening (or, at best, tempting) their workforces back into the office, Salesforce and Slack seem to be rethinking the purposes of workplaces altogether. The recent announcement of Trailblazer Ranch is a sneak peek into a future trend of leveraging certain work environments to fuel various types of productivity. For example, around the world, hybrid workers are learning to typically stay home or work locally for virtual meetings and focused, interruption-free tasks, then meet their colleagues in the office to collaborate on a team project or make an efficient group decision.
But with Trailblazer Ranch, Salesforce is taking that concept to the next level by offering a new type of workplace environment for an even wider variety of tasks. This company is defending that productivity doesn’t always exist in the form of meetings and reports, and in an environment that is neither home nor office, results could be even stronger. The press release describes how guests will “have the opportunity to participate in tactile experiences like guided nature walks, restorative yoga, garden tours, group cooking classes, art journaling, and meditation. Learning, planning and team-building are important to the Trailblazer Ranch experience, but we can accomplish this in a whole new way — surrounded by nature, with wellbeing, giving back and fun at the center.”
3. Upskilling for the Future of Work
In the fairy tale of hybrid working, proximity bias is the big bad wolf. Too often, a return to office includes a return to “business as usual” — which is traditionally a return to management methods that rely on physical supervision and presence-based productivity measurement systems. Obviously, these are not conducive to off-site performance management, and over time can contribute to imbalance career development or discriminatory employee experience. The Salesforce and Slack workforces are well aware of this risk, so they’re taking extra measures to work together to prevent them.
They are one of the first employers to be developing and offering a new hiring certification requirement based on building the habits that will help ensure equality in a hybrid workplace. Over 40,000 employees have participated in the hiring certification program to date, which includes bias training and inclusive hiring practices for managers and recruiters with the goal of reducing bias in the hiring process and opening up access to underrepresented talent.
4. Investing in Research
For decades, Salesforce software has been an iconic solution to the age-old obstacle that we can’t manage what we can’t measure. That brand legacy will be continuing strong in this new chapter as a location-flexible business world, as evidenced by Slack’s creation of Future Forum, a research consortium built to research and guide the principles of flexibility, inclusion, and connection in digital-first workplaces.
In partnership with Boston Consulting Group, MillerKnoll, and Management Leadership for Tomorrow, this organization has already published insights about how inflexible return-to-office policies are impacting employee experience, and will continue to collect, analyze, and distribute more data in the future via leadership forums, surveys, and case studies. Research on the impact of high-scale remote work on organizational development is extremely rare — Future Forum will be fulfilling an urgent need so that more companies around the world can make more informed decisions about their own flexibility policies.
5. Modeling Virtual-First Behaviors
While other corporate executives are wringing their hands and waiting for data analysis reports, the leaders of these brands understand how critical it is to the success and sustainability of change management for executives to lead by example. Not only have both Slack and Salesforce eliminated exclusive executive floors and suites from offices, but Slack executives have adopted “speed limits” around time spent in the office – they’ve committed to spending no more than three days per week in the office, to model Slack’s flexible and digital-first approach to work.
In the original announcement about permanent flexibility plans, Salesforce proposed to its 73,000+ employees that, “This isn’t just the future of work, this is the next evolution of our culture.” The good news is that they are putting their money where their mouth is. Embracing remote work at the highest scale is not just impacting where their employees are working, but how they are working. To reduce dependency on shared time, company-wide no-meeting weeks are helping build workforce habits of asynchronous communication and meeting hygiene that can more easily accommodate a variety of time zones and individual schedule diversity.
Even among remote work thought leaders, these behaviors and investments from both Salesforce and Slack are impressive. Both companies only had a mediocre relationship with workplace flexibility prior to the pandemic, this level of commitment after such a short amount of time is unparalleled.
However, the race isn’t over yet, and other contenders may be closing their gap on Salesforce and Slack when it comes to competing for talent, products, and thought leadership. According to the experts at Distribute Consulting; Atlassian, Microsoft, and Meta shouldn’t be underestimated. Distribute’s COO, Sunny Ziemer, and her team make it their mission to monitor the entire remote work industry and advised, “all of these brands have indicators of long-term commitment to flexibility (like dedicated Future of Work departments or employing a senior-level Head of Remote) and are motivated by their products that enable flexibility to put their money where their mouth is. The race is most definitely not over yet.”