Marc Benioff’s inner conflict on remote work surfaces as he declares ‘it’s not a one-size-fits-all agenda’

When GQ’s Joe Keohane asked Marc Benioff, the CEO of billion-dollar software firm Salesforce, whether he’s gained any insights over his yearslong negotiation over return-to-office rules, Benioff said it really comes down to overall life satisfaction. 

“People need to focus on being happy,” the billionaire said. “When I talk to my friends, and they’re going through some kind of existential crisis, I’ll say to them, ‘Just tell me what are five things that are making you super unhappy right now?’ And they’ll give me those five things.” 

He then asks them to write down the opposite—the five things that are making them super happy. Then comes the advice: “Just do a little bit less of the things that are making you unhappy.” 

For some workers, that may mean rebalancing their time spent at home and at work, he says. Some people even need to spend more time in the office, Benioff proposed, though some others, to be sure, need to spend more time at home (his own preference). 

“Every person’s different,” he said. “But I think to optimize the workforce, you have to realize it’s not a one-size-fits-all agenda.”

In some way or another, that’s been Benioff’s stance all along. The problem is when his mandates haven’t matched his statements—or his avowed ohana principles. (A representative for Salesforce did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment.)

Back in 2022, Benioff disagreed with many staunch CEOs at the time by saying return-to-office mandates are “never going to work.” Less than a year later, this past March, he said the new Salesforce hires who show up in person are generally more successful than their remote peers, because they’re “meeting people, being onboarded, being trained.”

Earlier this year, in what could be read as an act of desperation, Benioff went so far as to bribe his workers into coming back to the office with a $10 donation to the charity of each worker’s choice each day they come in. Since the spring, most of Benioff’s workers have been expected, if not officially required, to show face in the office three days per week. But he doesn’t call it a mandate, he told New York magazine’s Kara Swisher, because he doesn’t want to scare off valuable employees by making them feel forced: “We don’t want to lose our stars.”

At Salesforce’s sprawling Dreamforce summit in September, Benioff told MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle that he loves remote work, and he himself prefers it. “I’m a remote worker. I’ve always been a remote worker my whole life. I don’t work well in an office,” he said. “It just doesn’t work for my personality. I can’t tell you why. I do love to go in to visit customers, though. I’m on the road constantly visiting customers.”

As he did with GQ, Benioff stuck to his guns while speaking to Ruhle, insisting—despite the mandates—that his message to his people is to “mix in-person and remote together.”

“[It’s] great to be together and also get productivity at home. Our engineers are extremely productive at home,” he told Ruhle. “We have lots of people who are extremely productive at home. But there also [have] to be salespeople who are productive in the office. We need to make it all work.”

Aloha to that.

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