In the pre-coronavirus world, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff's investment in mega towers around the world to house his employees looked like a sign of a powerful company leaving a mark in the skyline. In the post-coronavirus world, it looks like a potential liability.
It's a lofty goal. Some tech companies, including Twitter, have gone so far as to tell employees they'll never need to return to the office if they don't want to. Others, like Facebook, don't anticipate employees returning to their offices for months.
Meanwhile, companies have learned that employees can be just as productive, if not more so, at home as they were at the office. That could create a scenario in which companies reduce their real estate footprints, save money on the rent, and keep employees working.
But Benioff has long taken a different tack. He's been investing heavily in Salesforce towers in major cities around the world. It's been a show of force for the company. It's also a signal of pride for the company's employees.
Now, though, things have changed and many workers feel safer at home, away from colleagues, and with a reduced risk of getting sick. A recent IBM study says that more than half of Americans have no desire to go back to the office. If his people don't want to return, Benioff's investment in towers could prove a major problem in the coming months and years.
That reality doesn't appear to be lost on Benioff. In the interview, he was asked whether he regrets investing in mega towers. "Can you ask me that a year from now?" he replied.
Some reporter will be sure to remember to ask him in a year, but in the meantime, Benioff's quandary is a learning opportunity for business owners. As tempting as that big office or flashy high rise may be, there's a good chance employees in a post-coronavirus world won't come knocking. There's got to be a better way to make a statement without taking on such a massive risk.