Almost half of US Dell employees would rather work from home than get promoted


Some Dell employees are not happy with the company’s RTO policy. — Getty Images/The New York Times

Even months after tech company Dell pushed its strict return-to-office policy barring fully remote employees from promotions, its workers still refuse to come back to in-person work.

Almost 50% of Dell’s full-time US workforce and one-third of international employees have continued to work remotely, according to internal data from the company, Business Insider reported. Unless these employees return to the office or Dell changes its remote work policy, they will not move up the ladder.

Remote workers were willing to defy company policy because the perks of staying at home simply outweighed what they believed working in person had to offer.

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

Other employees found that returning to in-person work simply wasn’t practical given the nature of their job.

“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,” another employee said.

Multiple Dell employees told Insider they work with team members in different time zones and held meetings requiring them to be on the clock at times when being on-site wouldn’t be appropriate. Others said they lived too far away from a company location or that a Dell office near them had recently been shut down.

Dell did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment, but told Insider it believes “in-person connections paired with a flexible approach are critical to drive innovation and value differentiation.”

Its RTO policy rolled out in March certainly reflects this. The policy reclassified employees into remote and hybrid workers, with those in the latter category required to work in person for at least 30 days per quarter, about three days a week. In a 2022 blog post, the company set a goal for 60% of its workforce to be remote at any given time.

In May, Dell cracked down on enforcement, instituting additional means of tracking employees’ office attendance. The tech company began keeping track of how often employees swiped their electronic key card and their VPN usage to see which staffers were really showing up three days a week. Those who were received blue flags, and employees who showed up less frequently received green and yellow flags, with never-seen employees getting literal red flags from the company.

But time and again, remote employees have shown their disdain for policies like these: After software company SAP began enforcing its RTO rules in January, 5,000 employees signed a letterto company executives in a remote-work rebellion, saying they felt “betrayed” by the policy.

An October 2023 survey by FlexJobs found that among 8,400 US workers, 17% of employees would sacrifice up to 20% of their pay if it meant being able to work remotely. Over half of respondents said they knew someone planning to quit their job because of an unwanted RTO mandate.

“Lack of remote work options is a significant reason why people leave their jobs,” FlexJobs career expert Keith Spencer wrote in the report.

How to quell the remote-work rebellion

Despite the ire over inflexible RTO policies, Dell’s own strict set of rules follows a trend in companies favoring hybrid and in-person employees, particularly when it comes to promotion. According to a January report from employment data platform Live Data Technologies, companies have maintained their position when it comes to rewarding in-person employees.

Of 2 million white-collar workers, 5.6% of hybrid and in-person staff received promotions at work last year, compared with 3.9% of remote workers. Ninety percent of CEOs surveyed said they’d favour employees who came into the office for a raise or favorable assignment.

“People may not like it, but I can’t build a company by playing to the lowest common denominator,” Vineet Jain, CEO of software company Egnyte, told the Wall Street Journal. “If you don’t show up and work with the rest of your colleagues, it’s showing a lack of connectivity and a lack of ownership.”

But Stanford economist Nick Bloom isn’t buying the strategy of strict RTO policies and found that hybrid work in particular has its benefits in the workplace ecosystem.

According to a study he authored published in Nature this month, employees who worked from home twice a week reported greater job satisfaction and had reduced turnover compared with fully in-person employees. In fact these flexible arrangements slightly improved productivity among a group of 1,612 employees at a Chinese technology company from 2021-22. It also had no impact on rates of promotion.

Though he didn’t extol the benefits of exclusively remote work, Bloom advocated for flexibility for workers – not only for their own sake, but for the sake of managers hoping to keep talented employees.

“The results are clear: Hybrid work is a win-win-win for employee productivity, performance, and retention,” Bloom said. – Fortune.com/The New York Times

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