Safely reopening our offices: The Salesforce approach

by Brinley Jacqueline

Elizabeth Pinkham, executive vice president, global real estate, at Salesforce shares her views on how to reopen business safely in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

As Head of Global Real Estate, I’m helping develop Salesforce’s plan to ensure our employees can return to our offices safely, when the time is right. As countriesstates, and cities discuss the relaxing of stringent coronavirus restrictions with different measures across the world, our team must plan how to re-open our global campus of over 160 locations while supporting the health and safety of our 50,000 employees and the communities where we live and work.  

I think this process will be like using a light dimmer, not a light switch. We’re not going to open up the doors and have everyone at the company back at their desks on day one. Instead, we are looking  at the return as a phased approach starting with the employees that are most critical to our office operations. Our decision on timing will be dependent on the various guidelines set forth by every location in which we operate and the guidance of the Center for Disease Control and other health-minded organizations. For the latest on our return to the workplace timing, see this update.

As we look towards this next step—and in the spirit of sharing in order to help others—below are guiding principles we’re thinking about as we prepare to reopen our offices.

Of course, there are still an incredible number of unknowns. Throughout this process, we know that we need to move fast, that perfection is not the goal, and that constant iteration is the new reality. But most of all, we know that the safety of our employees must always be our top priority.

1. Create a Guideline Matrix for reopening

We have developed a decision-making process to weigh the many inputs that need to be evaluated before we consider opening a Salesforce location. 

This Guideline Matrix includes looking carefully at government guidance, medical expert advice, local leadership feedback, and other crucial factors. It will be populated and reviewed separately for each location, as recommendations can vary greatly across regions and countries. 

It was a priority to build this Matrix early, such that if the virus does resurge in a given location, we have a clear and robust process we can use as we make new decisions about partially or fully closing a location again. 

2. Prepare with new health and safety measures

Once employees start to return to the office, how can we ensure we keep them safe? Rapid and available testing is going to be the bridge to the new economy and getting back into our office spaces. 

In addition to testing, we’re also evaluating other critical tools and measures—temperature screening before entry, requiring face coverings, redesigning the workspace for physical distancing, regular and frequent deep cleaning, office signage to communicate and remind everyone about maintaining physical distancing, and other new protocols, and manual contact tracing.

3. Set expectations and overcommunicate

Anxiety is natural as we begin to return to our offices, and we expect lots of questions from our employees. As such, what we communicate, when we communicate, and how we communicate will be critical. 

That communications journey will be crafted as an integrated plan that will support all phases of the experience. We’re thoughtfully planning how to make the “welcome back” experience as reassuring as possible. 

We’ll be sharing information and setting expectations about the new workplace environment before employees even step foot in the offices again. This will be done with webinars, reopening playbooks, Trailhead training, lots of visuals, and more, so everyone is prepared and knows what to expect. 

Once we’re back in the office, we’ll provide onsite signage and communications, supported by workplace services teams communicating how the “new normal” of the workplace needs to operate. Overcommunication in the spirit of employee wellness and reducing anxiety is the goal.

4. Redesign the office for physical distancing

We are responding to the new realities of physical distancing and redesigning all our workspaces, including employee work floors, meeting rooms, kitchens and social lounges, coffee bars, building lobbies, elevator cabs, reception areas, and more. 

This means that a typical employee work floor and meeting room may only be able to hold 40–50% of the normal capacity, which is something to consider as you plan your own phased return to work. 

We’re also modeling out alternating work shifts and team attendance in order to control the density of employees in the office and on specific floors at any given time. Human Resources departments can support this model by identifying which teams will most benefit from working together. 

For example, at Salesforce, we’re analyzing our data and modeling out staggered arrival time management and notifications for specific groups so that we can manage elevator capacity effectively. The last thing we want is employees waiting too long for elevators and backing up into the lobbies and out onto the sidewalks. 

Teams that can do their work remotely may need to continue to do so until further phases of a return to work plan is implemented. 

5. Build the strongest supply chain you can

You can have the best plan in the world, but if you don’t have critical items like cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, or face coverings, you won’t be able to open your doors. 

We discovered early on that our supply chain had to be rechecked, rethought, and, in some cases, rebuilt. In addition to the items we were always counting on, we realized we also had to go out and source some new products—like temperature readers and face coverings—and change quantities of existing products to meet new cleaning and health protocols. 

6. Invest in deep cleaning like never before

We all know about washing our hands. But what is the best way to deep clean and sanitize workspaces with COVID-19 as our new reality? 

There are excellent guidelines for cleaning protocols available, and we are planning to increase both the frequency and the depth of the cleaning services in our offices. 

For example, we will be doing regular cleaning during the day, wiping down elevator keypads, doorknobs, light switches, table and counter surfaces, and then doing deeper cleanings in the evenings. 

We also expect new materials, like antimicrobial metals such as copper, brass, and bronze, to play a bigger role in our designs going forward. And since the virus is airborne, we are working with all our building management teams to optimize core building systems, like airflow, to avoid contamination. 

Consider creating a checklist for essential systems including HVAC air filtration systems, plumbing, kitchen equipment, and key engineering systems. 

Agility and flexibility are key to building a robust plan for opening your office doors, and being able to pivot to close them again if required. There are so many data management challenges, many of which are entirely new and we’ve never had to solve before. But with thoughtful planning, constant communication, and the ability to see and manage your key data, we can all look forward to safely reentering our workspaces and seeing our colleagues again.

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