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Remote workers are missing out on promotions

Being a remote employee at Dell now comes with a huge downside: fully remote workers will not be considered for promotion, or be able to change roles.

3rd Apr 2024

Dell’s CEO has taken return-to-office (RTO) mandates mandates to a whole new level.

Just when we thought these RTO orders couldn’t get any worse, Dell swoops in to prove us otherwise. Here’s the lowdown 👇

🤸‍♂️ Until recently, Dell was at the forefront of flexible working. A pioneer, you might say. Their hybrid working culture existed long before the pandemic, having been in place for well over a decade.

"Dell cared about the work, not the location". That’s what a senior Dell employee who's worked remotely for over ten years, told Business Insider last month.

🏅 Dell’s flexible approach to work even earned them a spot on the "Best Place to Work for Disability Equality Index" in 2018 - an accolade they’ve since received every year.

It’s a well known fact that flexible working arrangements can have a huge positive impact on the lives of people with disabilities, and without alternative forms of work, some disabled people wouldn’t be able to work at all.

⚖️ The company’s CEO, Michael Dell was previously one of the few tech bosses to advocate for remote work. In 2021, he told CRN that Dell’s expanded home-working culture was "absolutely here to stay”.

By 2022, the company’s stance hadn’t changed: "A long-term ambition for Dell Technologies is for 60% of our workforce to operate remotely on any given day”.

Michael even took to LinkedIn to publicly bash RTO policies: "If you are counting on forced hours spent in a traditional office to create collaboration and provide a feeling of belonging within your organisation, you're doing it wrong."

But in March 2023, the tide suddenly turned and Dell’s backtracking began. First, they ordered anyone living up to an hour away from one of their offices to come in at least three days per week. Why? Nobody knows for sure, but of course, Michael claimed it was ‘for the culture’.

February 2024 is when things really went downhill - Dell’s ✨unique✨ company-wide RTO order was announced.

What’s so special about it, you ask? WELL…

Unlike most others, Dell’s RTO policy doesn’t call for a full return to the office. Instead, the company is enforcing a stricter hybrid arrangement, which stipulates that employees must be in an “approved” office for at least 39 days every quarter, which equates to roughly three days per week.

From May this year, Dell employees will be classified as either ‘hybrid’ or ‘remote’.

Yes, remote.

You see, Dell is still allowing employees to remain fully remote if they want to. They still have that choice.

So what on Earth is the problem?!

Well, unfortunately, being a remote employee at Dell now comes with a huge downside: fully remote workers will not be considered for promotion, or be able to change roles.

The company memo states: "For remote team members, it is important to understand the trade-offs: Career advancement, including applying to new roles in the company, will require a team member to reclassify as hybrid on-site."

Contrary to Michael’s previous criticism of other bosses and their RTOs, it seems he’s pitched his tent and joined them in ‘Camp Presenteeism’.

For access to career development opportunities, a person must be in the office. Because sitting at a desk in an office = working hard but sitting at a desk at home = hardly working.

Even if Dell believes their remote employees are productive, dedicated workers, this still isn’t a good look for them. Flexible working options are not something that should be used as a bargaining chip or as a means of blackmail.

More importantly, what does this say about Dell’s supposed commitment to DEI?

This new policy is going to have a significant impact on disabled employees. Not to mention working parents and carers who are no doubt, mostly women.

Denying people access to opportunities and the chance to progress in their careers doesn’t exactly scream “inclusive’”, does it?

Dell’s decision is a bit of a head-scratcher. It’s unclear why the company has gone back on their flexible working pledge, but there’s a lot of speculation.

Professor Cary Cooper, an organisational psychologist and co-founder of the National Forum for Health and Wellbeing at work, says Dell's pivot could be a "panicked reaction to a world economy that's not very buoyant”. Similarly, many of Dell’s employees believe this is merely a cost-cutting exercise, a way to “thin the herd”.

Frustrated employees, some of whom were hired on remote contracts during the pandemic, expressed their concerns to Business Insider.

One person said: "We're being forced into a position where either we're going to be staying as the low man on the totem pole, first on the chopping block when it comes to workforce reduction, or we can be hybrid and go in multiple days a week, which really affects a lot of us."

The employee went on to explain that she lives roughly 45 minutes from the nearest office and works 10-hour shifts, four days a week. Commuting would be virtually impossible, however, given she no longer drives following a car accident.

Sure, she can work remotely, but at a cost. The price to pay? Her professional development.

The issue in this scenario is not Dell’s hybrid approach. Hybrid working is a fantastic option for a lot of organisations and their people; it’s a form of working that we love and even enjoy here at Flexa. But these harsh RTO mandates are not a fair solution, and ultimately strip employees of their freedom, autonomy, and in this case, access to opportunities.

If you must insist on having your team return to the office, at least do it in a way that ensures you’re still supporting people in the best way possible and setting them up to succeed. Transparency is key in situations like this. Policies need to change sometimes, but that doesn’t mean a company needs to jeopardise its integrity and reputation.