RTO U-turn | You can stay remote but you won't get promoted, Dell warns employees

You can stay remote but you won't get promoted, Dell warns employees

Dell has informed its employees via a memo that career progression is only available to employees who meet its classification for hybrid or remote work.

The memo reads: "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."

To qualify as a hybrid worker, Dell employees must work from an “approved” office for a minimum of 39 days per quarter, working out at around three days per week.

Excluding remote workers from promotion opportunities is a major U-turn from Dell’s previous flexible working policy.

Having told staff about a three-day-per-week in-office mandate in February, a long-time remote worker stated to Business Insider that previously, “Dell cared about the work, not the location.”

The memo confirms intel from an employee who confidentially spoke to the Register about punitive measures for remote workers. “Choosing to be remote does indeed put career advancement at a standstill,” they said.

Another employee says that further to limiting career progress, remote workers will also receive no funding for team onsite meetings and their remote status will be considered when planning organizational or structural changes such as workforce reductions.

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In February, Dell said in a statement that “we believe in-person connections paired with a flexible approach are critical to drive innovation and value differentiation.”

Dell’s new hybrid working model has not gone down well with its employees. “The entire company has been complaining about this behind closed doors," one employee told Business Insider.

It is a significant departure from the company’s previous commitment to flexible working. CEO Michael Dell said in a 2021 interview with CRN that remote working is “absolutely here to stay.” 

He also provided a hypothetical scenario of two companies, one where workers are mandated to work in the office and another that offers flexibility to its workforce. “Which company do you think is a more attractive place to work? This is not really a hard test,” he noted.

Dell’s CEO also criticized in-office mandates in a LinkedIn post from September 2022. “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,” he wrote. “At Dell, we found no meaningful differences for team members working remotely or office-based even before the pandemic forced everyone home.”

His post also reiterated Dell’s commitment “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.”

Dell employees: RTO policy is ‘anti-women’ and ‘quiet firing’

Employees are unhappy with the new policy and its impact on their careers and lifestyle.

“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 employee tells Business Insider.

The new policy presents a difficult decision to employees who are unable or unwilling to travel to an office three days per week.

It also raises concerns for employees who are not located near one of Dell’s “approved” list of offices, of which there are 17 in the U.S. and 26 globally.

"I now know I have no office. So I am remote, or I move if I want to stay,” says one employee who has been working remotely for many years.

According to Business Insider, the employee was sent a promotion offer in February around the time the return-to-office (RTO) mandate was launched, stipulating that to receive the promotion, they would need to relocate much nearer to an approved site and travel to the office at least three times per week.

Employees are also critical of Dell’s statement that in-office work will drive in-person connection. Many of Dell’s teams are nationally or globally distributed. “Every team has people in at least two states, some in three or four. I can't think of one team where everyone is in one location," a worker explains.

Another says they would support the mandate if their team was based locally, but the distribution of employees means they would “be in a room with a bunch of people who don't know how to do my job or how to help me."

A further senior employee believes the new policy will negatively impact women in particular. "Every team I work with has at least one person if not two or three affected by this policy. They are overwhelmingly women. This new policy on its face appears to be anti-remote, but in practice will be anti-woman."

Plenty of Dell workers believe the move to limit progression and enforce in-office work is a form of quiet firing. “There are headcount cuts that need to happen and we are suffering,” the senior worker explains. “If people leave on their own, they don't have to pay out severance.”

Dell has not publicly responded to the criticism over its RTO and career progression policy.

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