Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff explained on Thursday during a Fortune CEOI video call about how the business software giant has been navigating the uncertain times, describing the crisis as “unlike anything I’ve ever been through.”
“This is my first pandemic Alan, so I don’t know if I have the right answers,” Benioff told Fortune CEO Alan Murray, who was moderating the event.
Benioff said that 50 of the company’s 50,000 employees had contracted the coronavirus. Like other tech companies including Amazon and Microsoft, Salesforce urged its employees to work from home in early March, just before shelter-in-place rules started spreading across the country.
General anxiety about the coronavirus coupled with the isolation of being alone at home took an emotional toll on Salesforce’s workforce, with 36% saying they were experiencing mental health issues, Benioff said. The company now does daily mental health check-ins and calls with employees to gauge employee well-being, he explained.
Benioff cautioned that while Salesforce and other companies are starting to take steps “to get business happening” like it was previously, “we have to remember the virus is still out there.”
“That is a question mark,” Benioff said. “And there’s a high likelihood for the virus returning in the fall—that has to be taken into consideration.”
He noted that companies must take in account numerous scenarios for re-opening their businesses, even planning for the possibility of the pandemic extending until the middle of next year.
Salesforce workers in South Korea will likely return to the office on May 11, he said. Health experts have praised South Korea for its early actions to reduce the spread of the virus, such as quickly implementing nationwide coronavirus testing.
But office life will be different for those South Korean Salesforce employees, Benioff said. Workers will have their temperatures checked daily and will need to tell management if they’re feeling sick.
Workers will be “queued into the elevator” in an orderly manner and they will be ordered to allow for “appropriate distancing on the floors,” Benioff said. Salesforce will use its own contract-tracing technology to warn others of any spread of the virus. Employees will be notified if fellow Salesforce workers get a fever, and all workers will then be required to work from home for at least two weeks, he said.
When Salesforce workers in San Francisco, where the company is based, return to the office during the first week of June (as is currently planned), Benioff said that they will face a similar situation as their South Korean colleagues.
“When you come back, we won’t have 10, 20 people in the elevator—we will have a few people,” Benioff said. “They will get a ticket [informing them] when they can arrive in the elevator, much as you would arrive at Disney for a ride.”
Salesforce may even install plexiglass dividers at people’s desks, which would act like corporate versions of salad bar sneeze guards.
As Benioff put it, “It will be a slightly different work environment than it is today.”
“A jar of Gummi Bears is not going to be there,” Benioff said.
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—Listen to Leadership Next, a Fortune podcast examining the evolving role of CEO
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