Every employer in the business world seems to be playing an international chicken game – every brand is waiting to see how much workplace flexibility their product and talent competitors are willing to offer to keep up with that crowd. Currently, an expectation of two days teleworking per week and three days in the office is the trending standard, but with workers leaving in droves to get more work from home, this definition of “hybrid” is likely to be temporary. Some employers could soon bend to the demands of the workforce and allow off-site working three or four days a week, but it’s suspected others, like Google, are just waiting for the remote work revolution to wear off so they can all Virtual employees can reconvene the office full-time.
However, amid all this change and tension, there is one player in the game who doesn’t seem affected by competitive positioning… and he’s on his way to an early win.
After an impressive $27.7 billion acquisition in late 2020, Salesforce and Slack are joining forces not only in software development for the future of work, but also in innovative thought leadership. Their bold and unabashed announcement last year of a maximum workplace flexibility policy and decision to begin reprioritizing existing properties stands in stark contrast to the hesitant and skeptical messages from other leading tech companies. Their return-to-office plan alone would be enough to cite both brands as leaders in the remote work revolution, but if you peek inside the companies’ virtual windows, there’s even more activity internally that suggests this partnership is will be way ahead of its talented competitors and set a winning lap when other brands compete.
Interviews with senior executives from this dynamic duo uncovered five strategies that are attracting the industry’s top talent and raising the bar on expectations for flexibility in the workplace.
1. Provide enterprise-wide flexibility
Offering long-term remote work feels like a chore for many companies as they reluctantly give in to employee demands for more flexibility on an individual or team basis. But not Salesforce or Slack. Right off the bat, they communicate intentions not only to commit to permanent hybrid working, but over time to increase remote opportunities for all employees. This means that flexibility is less likely to be perceived as a privilege for certain workers or to become a discriminatory factor that could affect the company’s diversity, equity and inclusion goals.
Brian Elliott, senior vice president at Slack, explains, “When it comes to designing a workplace policy, we believe ‘One Size Fits None’ applies. There is no single model that works for everyone, so we want to empower each of our employees to find a schedule and place that optimizes their personal and professional success, aligns their plan with their team’s needs and dynamics, and then continually adapting it for future adjustments.” Steve Pickle, Executive Vice President of Employee Success Operations at Salesforce, echoed the same thing: “If there’s anything we’ve learned over the past few years, it’s that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to work . Return-to-work dates are immaterial – we developed Flex Team Agreements to empower teams to decide how, when and where to work based on their unique roles, expertise, locations and client needs.”
2. Diversification of job value
While other employers are threatening (or at best enticing) their employees to return to the office, Salesforce and Slack appear to be rethinking the purpose of workplaces altogether. The recent purchase of Trailblazer Ranch is a taste of a future trend to use specific work environments to encourage different types of productivity. For example, hybrid workers around the world are learning to typically stay at home or work locally for virtual meetings and focused, non-disruptive tasks, and then meet with their colleagues in the office to collaborate on a team project or make an efficient group decision.
But with Trailblazer Ranch, Salesforce takes that concept to the next level by offering a new kind of workspace for an even greater variety of tasks. This company defends that productivity doesn’t always come in the form of meetings and reports, and in an environment that’s neither home nor office, the results could be even better. The press release describes how guests “will have the opportunity to participate in tactile experiences such as guided nature walks, restorative yoga, garden tours, group cooking classes, art journalism and meditation. Learning, planning, and team building are important to the Trailblazer Ranch experience, but we can do it in a whole new way—surrounded by nature, with wellbeing, giving, and fun at the core.”
3. Training for the future of work
In the fairy tale of hybrid working, proximity bias is the big bad wolf. Too often, a return to the office involves a return to “business as usual” – which is traditionally a return to management methods based on physical surveillance and presence-based productivity measurement systems. Obviously these are not conducive to external performance management and over time can contribute to unbalanced career development or a discriminatory employee experience. The Salesforce and Slack staff are aware of this risk and are taking additional steps to work together to prevent it.
They are one of the first employers to develop and offer a new certification requirement for hiring, based on building habits that help ensure equality in a hybrid workplace. To date, over 40,000 employees have participated in the hiring program, which includes bias training and inclusive hiring practices for managers and recruiters with the goal of reducing bias in the hiring process and providing access to underrepresented talent.
4. Investment in research
For decades, Salesforce software has been an iconic solution to the age-old constraint that we can’t manage what we can’t measure. This brand legacy will continue to be strong in this new chapter as a location-flexible business world, as evidenced by the formation of Slack with the Future Forum, a research consortium formed to explore the principles of flexibility, inclusion and connection in digital-first workplaces and to direct .
In partnership with The Boston Consulting Group, MillerKnoll, and Management Leadership for Tomorrow, this organization has published insights into how inflexible return-to-the-office policies impact the employee experience and will collect, analyze, and disseminate more data in the future through leadership forums, surveys and case studies. Research on the impact of large-scale remote work on organizational development is exceedingly rare – Future Forum will fill an urgent need to enable more companies around the world to make more informed decisions about their own flexibility policies.
5. Modeling of virtual-first behaviors
While other executives wring their hands and wait for data analysis reports, the executives of these brands understand how important it is for the success and sustainability of change management that leaders lead by example. Not only have both Slack and Salesforce removed exclusive executive floors and suites from offices, but Slack executives have implemented “speed limits” on time spent in the office — they’ve committed to spending no more than three days a week in the modeling office Experience Slack’s flexible and digitally-focused approach to work.
In the original announcement of permanent flexibility plans, Salesforce suggested to its 73,000+ employees, “This is not just the future of work, this is the next evolution of our culture.” The good news is, they put their money where their mouth is . The acceptance of remote work at the highest level does not only have an impact Where Your employees work, however how They work. To reduce reliance on shared time, company-wide no-meeting weeks help build employee habits around asynchronous communication and meeting hygiene that can more easily accommodate a variety of time zones and individual schedules.
Even among remote work thought leaders, these behaviors and investments from Salesforce and Slack are impressive. Both companies had only a mediocre relationship with workplace flexibility prior to the pandemic, and this commitment after such a short time is unparalleled.
The race isn’t over yet, however, and other competitors may be closing their gap with Salesforce and Slack when it comes to talent, product, and thought leadership. According to the experts at Distribute Consulting; Atlassian, Microsoft and Meta should not be underestimated. Distribute COO Sunny Ziemer and her team have made it their mission to oversee the entire telecommuting industry and advised, “All of these brands are showing signs of a long-term commitment to flexibility (like dedicated departments for the future of work or the employing a senior level head of remote) and are motivated by their products, which allow flexibility to put their money where their mouth is. The race is definitely not over yet.”