Marlena Sloss | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff told employees in a Slack message on Friday that the company’s newest hires aren’t being productive enough, and he asked for feedback as to why that’s the case.
“Are we not building tribal knowledge with new employees without an office culture?” he asked in a message viewed by CNBC. He said he was “asking for a friend,” a phrase people often use on the internet to humorously reveal their curiosity about a topic. The message included an emoji showing a smiling face with a halo hovering over it, suggesting innocence.
Benioff’s companywide message addresses what’s become a hot-button issue in Silicon Valley. Since the arrival of Covid sent workers home almost three years ago, companies have been trying to reimagine a future workplace that allows more employee flexibility than in the past. Some businesses have allowed employees to work from anywhere permanently.
Salesforce, the biggest private employer in San Francisco, was among the first tech companies to tell its workforce they didn’t have to come back. Last year, Salesforce acquired communications app Slack, and Benioff said people can work very effectively from their homes. Salesforce said it would let teams decide how much time they would be in office.
But Benioff may be recognizing some of the challenges remote work presents. On Friday he highlighted an issue that he said was affecting employees who joined Salesforce this year and last. Salesforce’s headcount grew by 32% in the past year, and last month it cut hundreds of jobs.
A Salesforce spokesperson declined to comment on Benioff’s message but sent a statement on the company’s policy.
“We have a hybrid work environment that empowers leaders and teams to work together with purpose,” the spokesperson wrote. “They can decide when and where they come together to collaborate, innovate, and drive customer success.”
Benioff is contending with slowing revenue growth as the economy weakens, and a thinning of the upper ranks within Salesforce. Last month, the company said Bret Taylor would be stepping down from his position as co-CEO in January. He’d just been promoted to share the top job with Benioff a year earlier. And days later, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield announced his departure.
Here’s the full text of Benioff’s Slack post:
How do we increase the productivity of our employees at salesforce? New employees (hired during the pandemic in 2021 & 2022) are especially facing much lower productivity. Is this a reflection of our office policy? Are we not building tribal knowledge with new employees without an office culture? Are our managers not directly addressing productivity with their teams? Are we not investing enough time into our new employees? Do managers focus enough time and energy on onboarding new employees & achieving productivity? is coming as a new employee to salesforce too overwhelming? Asking for a friend. (Im leaving this open ended to get the broadest level of response.)
The message prompted a variety of comments.
Some reacted with an emoji stating “THIS” alongside an up arrow. Others chose emojis that read “WFH” or “citation needed.” Dozens went with a standard emoji known as thinking face.
Benioff chimed in again in the responses.
“Asking hard questions of employees (and customers and each other) for their answers is one of the most effective ways to get answers as a leader today,” he wrote. “It’s why we bought Slack because there is no better way to ask questions and crowd source answers quickly. Already today we have almost 500 replies to these questions — amazing and incredibly useful!”
He was displeased that his message found its way to the press, ultimately ending up on Twitter.
“I hope you will agree it is also disappointing that our private conversations here were almost immediately given to the public media,” he wrote. “I wonder how do we reinforce that Trust is our highest company value? How do we demonstrate the power of Trust and Transparency without an immediate public disclosure. It gets to the heart of who we are at salesforce.”
His responses were shared with CNBC.