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Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri on wanting workers back in person, and needing to hire more than 3% Black employees

August 4, 2020, 9:30 AM UTC
Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri on Leadership Next
Aneel Bhusri, co-founder and chief executive officer of Workday Inc., stands for a photograph at the company's office in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. Workday makes applications that help companies with mundane tasks like keeping payroll, plotting expenses, tracking employee absences and managing job candidates. Photographer: Michael Short/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Michael Short—Bloomberg/Getty Images

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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused some big tech companies to embrace remote work permanently. But Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri is eager to get his employees back to the physical office.

“I’m not a believer that having a significant population work from home forever is a great idea. You can’t really develop a great culture,” Bhusri, chief executive and cofounder of the enterprise software company, says on the latest episode of Fortune‘s podcast “Leadership Next.” 

“You can execute well, during this time, but you really can’t collaborate and innovate in the same way,” he tells Fortune‘s Alan Murray. “It’s really important that we come up with a model that works for our culture, but also gives some flexibility if people want to work a couple of days a week from home.”

Workday, which makes cloud-based software used by other companies’ human resources and accounting departments, is hoping it can start bringing employees back to its offices in January. That’s a more optimistic outlook than at Google, which last week told employees that they would be working remotely until at least July 2021. But Bhusri acknowledges “if there’s not a viable vaccine by January, we might be very well be in the same position as Google.”

In the remainder of the interview, Murray asks Bhusri about the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on Workday’s business and on its stakeholder capitalism. “Companies need to have a soul and need to step up in tough times,” says Bhusri, a member of the Business Roundtable and whose company is ranked fifth on Fortune‘s 2020 list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For.

He also discusses why tech companies—including Workday, where less than 3% of employees are Black—have failed for so long to hire and retain more diverse workforces and how to change that status quo.

“I think in the Bay Area, we all think the world is a meritocracy, and I think there’s some truth to it. I don’t think that’s actually how the rest of the world works out,” Bhusri says. “You really do have to lean in … to really create great career paths for everybody, not just for a few.”