Dell tells remote workers that they won’t be eligible for promotion

Mike Powers
Dell tells remote workers that they won’t be eligible for promotion

Starting in May, Dell employees who are fully remote will not be eligible for promotion, Business Insider (BI) reported Saturday. The upcoming policy update represents a dramatic reversal from Dell’s prior stance on work from home (WFH), which included CEO Michael Dell saying: “If you are counting on forced hours spent in a traditional office to create collaboration and provide a feeling of belonging within your organization, you’re doing it wrong.”

Dell employees will mostly all be considered “remote” or “hybrid” starting in May, BI reported. Hybrid workers have to come into the office at least 39 days per quarter, Dell confirmed to Ars Technica, which equates to approximately three times a week. Those who would prefer to never commute to an office will not “be considered for promotion, or be able to change roles,” BI reported.

“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 onsite,” Dell’s memo to workers said, per BI.

Dell didn’t respond to specific questions Ars Technica sent about the changes but sent a statement saying: “In today’s global technology revolution, we believe in-person connections paired with a flexible approach are critical to drive innovation and value differentiation.”

BI said it saw a promotion offer that a remote worker received that said that accepting the position would require coming into an “approved” office, which would mean that the employee would need to move out of their state.

Dell used to be pro-WFH

Dell’s history with remote workers started before the COVID-19 pandemic, over 10 years ago. Before 2020, 65 percent of Dell workers were already working remotely at least one day per week, per a blog that CEO Michael Dell penned via LinkedIn in September 2022. An anonymous Dell worker who reportedly has been remote for over 10 years and that BI spoke with estimated that 10 to 15 percent “of every team was remote” at Dell.

Michael Dell used to be a WFH advocate. In his 2022 blog post, he addressed the question of whether working in an office created “an advantage when it comes to promotion, performance, engagement or rewards,” determining:

At Dell, we found no meaningful differences for team members working remotely or office-based even before the pandemic forced everyone home. And when we asked our team members again this year, 90 percent of them said everyone has the opportunity to develop and learn new skills in our organization. The perception of unequal opportunity is just one of the myths of hybrid work …

At the time, Dell’s chief described the company as “committed to allow team members around the globe to choose the work style that best fits their lifestyle—whether that is remote or in an office or a blend of the two.” But the upcoming limitations for fully remote workers could be interpreted as Dell discouraging workers from working from home.

“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,” an anonymous employee told BI.

Dell’s new WFH policy follows the February 2023 layoffs of about 6,650 workers, or around 5 percent of employees. Unnamed employees that BI spoke with showed concerns that the upcoming policy is an attempt to get people to quit so that Dell can save money on human resources without the severance costs of layoffs. Others are concerned that the rule changes will disproportionately affect women.

Meanwhile, the idea of return-to-office mandates helping businesses is being challenged. For example, a study by University of Pittsburgh researchers of some S&P 500 businesses found that return-to-office directives hurt employee morale and do not boost company finances.

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