July 22, 2024

Remote working is the new norm for many white-collar workers, but their bosses still aren’t on board.

Rather than accept the shift in working culture, some employers have resorted to strict mandates and punitive policies to get employees back in the office.

Dell has been trying its best to do the same.

In February, the tech giant introduced a return-to-office mandate, telling workers to formally classify themselves as either hybrid or remote.

Those who chose remote are no longer eligible for promotion or able to change roles. Meanwhile, hybrid workers must come into the office 39 days a quarter, roughly three days a week, and their attendance is monitored using a color-coded system.

Several months after this RTO policy was announced, it appears it hasn’t worked.

Close to 50% of Dell’s full-time workers in the US have opted to stay remote, according to internal data on the entire full-time workforce seen by Business Insider.

Unless they agree to change their classification, those US Dell workers are now ineligible for promotion.

The data showed that around a third of international staff chose to stay remote.

Dell Technologies building in Round Rock, Texas

Dell’s headquarters are in RoundRock, Texas.

Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Dell did not answer specific questions from BI regarding the data, but said it believes “in-person connections paired with a flexible approach are critical to drive innovation and value differentiation.”

The data seen by BI isn’t available to all Dell employees, but many confirmed anecdotally that half or more of their team had opted to stay remote.

“My team is spread out around the world. Almost 90% of the team did the same as in our case there was no real advantage going to the office,” one worker said.

Eleven employees from sales, tech support, engineering, and HR departments spoke to BI to explain why they opted for remote work despite losing their shot at career progression. All the employees asked to remain anonymous as they are not permitted to speak to the media.

The benefits of WFH

For several Dell employees, the personal and financial benefits of working remotely were too good to give up.

“I benefited a lot from being WFH since 2020 and had a lot of personal growth. I’m not willing to give that up if I don’t have to,” one employee told BI.

The staffer explained that prior to COVID-19, their life “was basically home and work,” and there was little time for anything else.

Like many who started working remotely during the pandemic, the Dell worker said working from home gave them more time to spend with family, exploring hobbies, and meeting friends outside the workplace.

“The more time I have to spend in the office, the less time, money, and personal space I have for all of that. I can do my job just as well from home and have all of those personal benefits as well,’ they said.

“With the salary that we are receiving, a return to the office would leave a huge hole in our budget,” said another employee, citing the cost of commuting and meals at work.

Some workers have ‘no office to return to’

Some staff said they had no choice but to classify as remote because offices nearby had been shut down or were too far away to commute to.

“Dell closed down the facility in 2020 that I worked at, so I have no office to return to,” one worker explained.

But with teams spread across multiple states and time zones, some of those who did live near an office felt it was pointless to show up.

“The particular work I’m doing now means I don’t really have a ‘team,’ and the people I work with most are at different sites,” one employee told BI.

Another staffer on a global team said their schedule required the flexibility of working from home: “I am not going to work eight hours in a Dell office and then come home and work three more hours in meetings with my folks in India or Malaysia.”

The staffer said there had been no response from HR about how the new policy had restricted the team.

Several of BI’s sources said their colleagues who opted for hybrid work have described near-empty offices in some locations.

“My meetings are now with people in different conference rooms across the country by themselves,” a remote employee told BI.

“The reality of this thing is dumb.”

Jeff Clark Dell

Jeff Clark, vice chairman and chief operating officer at Dell, pictured here in 2012.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty

Another staffer told BI that some had questioned the logic behind the new policy in a company town hall and was told by COO Jeff Clark that working in an office can allow staff to spread knowledge among each other.

Clark did not respond to a request for comment from BI.

‘A meaningless threat’

Several senior employees told BI that because they had already moved up the ranks, there was really no more promotion Dell could give them.

“I’ve got nothing left to get promoted to unless I want to get into management,” said one senior engineer.

A more junior employee pointed out that, regardless of the policy, promotion opportunities have felt limited in recent years.

“I know a few people who probably would have been deterred from staying remote due to the threat of the possibility of promotion, but since there haven’t been any opportunities, they saw it as a meaningless threat.”

In its latest full year results, Dell reported annual revenue of $88.4 billion, a 14% decline from 2023 and below pre-pandemic earnings. In the first quarter of its 2025 financial year, the company reported $22.2 billion in revenue, up 6% from the same quarter the previous year.

Michael Dell at the Featured Session: Business, Life, and the Magic of Austin: A Conversation with Michael Dell as part of SXSW 2024 Conference and Festivals held at Austin Convention Center on March 14, 2024 in Austin, Texas.

Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of Dell.

Errich Petersen/Getty Images

As the reality of Dell’s new working culture has set in, several employees told BI they were looking to leave the company.

“Every mom that I talk to at Dell says that they are looking for other jobs because they need the remote work,” said one employee.

Another said he was looking for new jobs and would “jump ship” as soon as he found something. Almost everyone he knew at the company, other than very junior employees, was doing the same thing.

“Before this whole fiasco, I wouldn’t have considered going somewhere else,” he added. “Being a second-class citizen doesn’t leave you any career opportunities.”

Are you a worker at Dell or another company pushing staff back to the office? Contact this reporter at [email protected]


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