In June 1963, U.S. President John F. Kennedy made his famous “Ich Bin Ein Berliner ” speech in, you guessed it, Berlin.
The context was to show American support for beleaguered West Berlin, which was then surrounded by the Eastern Bloc and in need of America’s support. That was back in the Berlin Wall days for those of you not that into history.
Less remembered is the fact that Kennedy’s German was, well, not good. Apparently, a Berliner is also a kind of sweet pastry. So for many Germans, what they heard Kennedy say was not the intended “I am a Berliner” but rather “I am a Donut.”
Ich Bin Ein Remote Worker
So what does this historical anecdote have to do with, well, anything?
It jumped to mind after I read this quote from Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff.
“I am a remote worker.” Familiar ring?
Benioff didn’t try to further invoke JFK by attempting to translate this into German. It’s “Ich bin ein Fernarbeiter” by the way.
As far as we know, Berliners do not eat Fernarbeiters for breakfast. So Benioff would probably be pretty safe with this translation.
So what was Benioff on about with his implicit declaration of solidarity with remote workers?
Well, as we and just about every other outlet have written, CEOs of some of the world’s largest companies have been pressuring their employees to come back to work. And usually three days a week for some reason.
Benioff has been a notable exception. As a report in The Street put it, the CEO appears to be zigging where many of his fellow leaders are zagging on the issue of remote work.
The Office is No Bueno for Benioff
Benioff framed his support for remote work – which has wavered in the recent past – around his own personal preference for working from home. And let’s face it, the billionaire Benioff probably has a pretty sweet WFH setup. Like the best camera and mic available. And stocked bookshelves in the background with the books he has written facing outward for all to see. And of course a mini fridge. You know, for sodas.
Now Benioff appears to have pivoted back to being all in on the remote future. Or at least his version of it.
He recently said this in an interview, “I’m a remote worker. I’ve always been a remote worker my whole life. I don’t work well in an office, it just doesn’t work with my personality.” Me niether Marc.
Benioff framed the pros and cons of remote work around the nature of specific roles, which makes a certain amount of sense. Introverts can write code at home. While extroverts should come into the office and sell, sell, sell.
“They need to mix in person and remote together. Our engineers are extremely productive at home,” Benioff said. “We have lots of people who are extremely productive at home. But there also has to be salespeople being productive in the office selling to customers. And we need to make it all work.”
Fernarbeiter jokes aside, Benioff’s current views on RTO seem sensible and track with how many of us feel about work. If all you do is type all day, you can do that anywhere. And the company doesn’t have to pay for all the coffee or Red Bull you drink if you are working from home. If you are energetically talking to people all day, maybe it’s better to be around others when you do so.