It's been over a year since the first COVID-19 case was reported. To stop the spread of the coronavirus, while waiting for the vaccine to be developed, national governments in different countries introduced hard lockdowns which forced many organizations to implement the working from home strategies until its safe to return to the office.

In early February 2021, Spotify and Salesforce pronounced the 9 to 5 workday a thing of the past. Employees of both companies would now only come into the office between one to three times a week even after it becomes safe to return to the office following the pandemic.

In this article,  Robin Fisher, recently-appointed senior VP for the Mediterranean, Middle East & Africa at Salesforce, joins me in a Q&A to discuss the thought process why Salesforce decided to kill the 9 to 5 workday, why companies should look to work from anywhere, how they can make it happen, and the company’s plans for South Africa.

Q&A with Robin Fisher, VP at Salesforce

Robin Fisher, Senior VP for the Mediterranean, Middle East & Africa at Salesforce.

iAfrikan: Why did Salesforce decide to kill off the 9 to 5 workday? What questions did you and your team ask yourself before concluding that you were killing the 9 to 5 workday?

Robin Fisher: 2020 was an unpredictable year with a lot of change, and as an organisation we had to reconsider not just how we delivered to our clients, but also how we delivered to our employees.

We realised that the ‘traditional’ way of working, in an office, 9 to 5 had to change, but that was accelerated by the pandemic.

Our shift to a work from anywhere policy comes as a result of employee feedback derived from surveys Salesforce introduced to understand how employees were feeling and their pain points as everyone moved home.

These surveys have led to real change in our programs and policies and helped us to address these pain points by introducing things like office set-up stipends, childcare benefits, extended parental leave, and more (outlined in detail here).

Our reopening and work from anywhere strategy was guided by the same feedback. Nearly half of our employees want to come in only a few times per month. At the same time, 80% of employees want to stay connected to a physical space.

This has led us to introduce three options; a flex model in which employees come into the office only as needed - maybe a couple of days a week; a completely remote model for employees who are not expected to be in the office; and finally, office-based for the smallest population of employees that are in positions that require them to be in the office.

We’re also redesigning our workspaces to accommodate a more hybrid style of working with more collaboration and breakout spaces and fewer seas of desks.

Why should companies look to work from anywhere? Will it work in Africa considering the high internet cost? How can they make it happen?

Work from anywhere unlocks opportunities for companies to be location-agnostic, which means they can hire people from areas where they traditionally didn’t have a presence, or service customers in geographies that may have been off limits before.

This is as possible here as it is anywhere else.

For many businesses and South Africans who were forced to move to a remote work setup with the introduction of the hard lockdown (and subsequent lockdowns thereafter), remote working has shown to be successful, and the result is that a lot of businesses have already adapted to a hybrid-model or a flexi-model.

That being said, many South Africans aren’t able to access cost-effective, high-speed broadband. Another significant challenge is the issue of load shedding. Businesses need to consider the implications of this and how to deal with it as a part of their remote working and business continuity strategy.

Salesforce provides the management tools (sales, service, marketing, collaboration) that allow employees to access the applications and data they need from anywhere on any device. This allows digital users the ability to run their business from their phones if needed (4G/Wifi).

Having employees working remotely should result in lower office space expenses, which could be used to fund a remote working plan that assists employees with costs such as remote set-up, and internet or mobile usage costs, for example.

According to IDC's Salesforce Economy data for South Africa, Salesforce and its ecosystem of partners and customers will create $2.1 billion in new business revenues and 5 240 new, direct jobs in the country by 2024. So far how many of the 5 240 jobs have been created in South Africa? The company's plans for South Africa and what have you executed so far?

At Salesforce we currently provide remote support for the South African market, with a dedicated team solely responsible for the market. We count the number of clients, the annual order value, and we then have our dedicated head count. In terms of Salesforce as a business, we have over 200 employees whose sole responsibility is to serve the South African market, this is their only job - and the local market in South Africa has hundreds of customers who use Salesforce.

Emerging markets are an important focus for Salesforce, and our recent Q4 earnings for the end of financial FY21 showed that South Africa is one of the fastest growing regions internationally.  For South Africans who want to upskill and are looking for ways to kickstart their career, our Salesforce Trailhead Academy is a free platform that will teach Salesforce skills, which could potentially lead to a job at Salesforce.

We have a strong and robust local partner ecosystem that supports local customers to extract maximum returns from their investment in Salesforce. We are seeing over 40% YOY growth in the number of Salesforce certified individuals in the local ecosystem and over 100% YOY increase in the subjects/products that local people are certified on.

What challenges did you face or you are facing while implementing the "working from anywhere" strategy in your offices in Silicon Valley vs implementing it in your offices in South Africa

Salesforce does not have a local team on the ground in South Africa at present.

What challenges did your employees in South Africa face while adapting to working from anywhere and how did you support them? What matrix did you put in place to measure whether the strategy is more efficient and productive than 9 to 5?

As above, we have no local people onsite in South Africa (yet).

The team that supports South Africa currently operates from Ireland, UK and France. Previously these users would have been aligned with the local offices in these regions on a flex basis as they would have flown in to be with the market/customers every month - so this is the biggest change given most were used to remote working. However, we have noticed that due to remote working and acceptance that we have greater access to executives who previously would have wanted onsite meetings, that we have seen increased productivity due to reduced travel/commute time.

Anything else that is important regarding working from anywhere that we should be aware of?

The key to ensuring successful remote working is to lead with trust (of both the employer and employee), whilst leveraging the appropriate CRM tools. The tools ensure that employees have the relevant data and tools to do their job, whilst also providing the Management Information Tools to ensure accountability and productivity of all individuals.

Training, onboarding and culture are important for attracting and retaining digital workers. It is important that you have the correct tools in place to support this through learning platforms (like Salesforce Trailhead) and collaboration (like Salesforce Quip and new acquisition Slack) along with the CRM tools for Sales, Marketing, Service, Analytics etc.

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