The move toward greater corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been taking place for quite some time. The current pandemic has provided the opportunity for technology providers to take even greater action, and possibly broaden the scope of what should be included in the definition of CSR.

Traditional CSR activities include educational programs, investments in local or underprivileged communities, increased hiring of minorities, and initiatives to reduce carbon footprints or to support environmentally friendly projects. During the Covid-19 crisis the list has been broadened to include initiatives such as free access to platforms, donations of healthcare related equipment, and more employee-friendly corporate policies.

Will CSR last beyond the pandemic?

A key question is whether these efforts will pay off in the long run. Will employees and customers remember them as altruistic acts, or will they ultimately view them as self-serving initiatives?  Much of this will likely depend on the company’s record prior to Covid-19.

Was the organization already concerned with promoting greater sustainability?  Did it already invest in the local community?  And did it already create a work environment that demonstrated appreciation for employees and promoted diversity among senior management?

CSR in action – the Salesforce initiative

One of the bolder moves by a technology organization came very early in the pandemic, when Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, who is already known for his commitment to promoting greater equality and social causes, announced that his company would avoid significant layoffs for 90 days and called on others to do the same.

Marc Benioff made the announcement on 24 March, even before overall unemployment rates skyrocketed and smaller organizations, particularly tech start-ups, were forced to cut staff in an effort to reduce expenses.

Granted, Salesforce is in the enviable position to be able to take this stance, but Benioff’s action challenged other organizations to similarly demonstrate that they were putting employees ahead of profits.

Salesforce launched several other initiatives as well. It created Guiding Principles for operations during Covid-19 and a Covid-19 Vision, Value and Methods statement (both promote employee and customer well-being). It also launched Salesforce Care, a portfolio of new, free, and rapidly deployable solution bundles targeting specific customer segments (such as Small Business, which provides free access to Salesforce Essentials and Tableau Desktop; and Healthcare, which provides products such as Health Cloud and Salesforce Shield, among others, to emergency and care management providers).

But do CSR initiatives matter?

It appears that they do.  Enterprises customers often cite that when prices and features are roughly similar, they prefer to work with a vendor that is easy to do business with and understands their needs.  There are also a growing number of investors want to support socially responsibly organizations.

Similarly, staff turnover is expensive, therefore efforts to retain employees make good business sense. Furthermore, millennials often want to feel that they are contributing to the greater societal good, and want the organization to which they devote 40+ hours a week to be guided by principles that extend beyond profits.

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