Dell becomes latest employer to punish remote workers

Dell has announced new penalties for staff who work from home. Why are so many companies stepping up their return-to-office efforts?

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Helena Young
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Global software company Dell has warned hybrid and remote workers they will be less likely to get a promotion, in a sign that the return-to-office debate has hit crisis point.

The new policy means Dell (which boasts a 158,000-strong workforce worldwide) joins a growing list of organisations, including Boots, which have U-turned on previous flexible working policies. Rejecting its benefits, they are requesting that employees return to fully in-office work amid concerns that home working could impact productivity. 

With flexible working on the rise in the majority of UK workplaces, the group is stepping up their efforts in 2024, raising questions about the impact on talent and recruitment strategies.

Dell tells remote to beware of “trade-offs”

Dell previously boasted a generous remote working policy that not only permitted, but encouraged remote work. In 2022, its Future of Work report boasted that “a long-term ambition for Dell Technologies is for 60% of our workforce to operate remotely on any day”. 

That no longer seems to be the case. Unveiling its new office work ‘incentive’ in an internal memo, the company informed employees they must work from an “approved” office for a minimum of 39 days per quarter, or around three days per week.

Addressed to remote team members, it read: “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.” 

Another Dell employee reportedly told Business Insider that at-home workers will also miss out on rewards for onsite workers, such as funding for team meetings. They will also apparently be more at risk of losing their job in the event of a restructuring. 

Remote workers punished

With its latest HR strategy, Dell joins a group of large employers who are trying to disincentive staff members from the home desk, including Amazon and Meta.

In a recent survey by, remote staff were found to be 24% less likely to receive promotions compared to in-office (60%) and hybrid colleagues (59%).

It’s a similar story for pay. The same survey finds that only 41% of remote employees received a salary increase of 10% or more, compared to 51% of hybrid staff and 52% of fully on-site colleagues.

Bosses defend the decision to link remote work with performance reviews by arguing the practice limits employee learning and development. Commenting on its new policy, Dell explained: “We believe in-person connections paired with a flexible approach are critical to drive innovation and value differentiation.”

The idea holds less weight given Dell’s previous attitudes towards remote work, however. In 2022, CEO Michael S. Dell criticised in-office mandates on a LinkedIn post

“At Dell, we found no meaningful differences for team members working remotely or office-based even before the pandemic forced everyone home,” he wrote. 

These remarks make Dell’s decision to demote remote staff all the more baffling. With no evidence to suggest that remote work limits workforce productivity, Dell can hardly expect to convince its workers of a need to work in-office beyond obeying the whim of their employer.

Remote teams help, not hinder

Despite big-name businesses amping up the return-to-office debate, exclusive research from has found that remote workers at smaller companies are actually less likely to see it negatively impact their career – the opposite, in fact.

In a survey of 546 businesses, those clinging to a fully in-office culture were found to be twice as likely to have laid off staff in the past year, compared to remote and hybrid teams.

The findings suggest that the decision by some businesses to penalise employees who work from home could actually be detrimental to growth. 

Organisations where flexible working is encouraged require smaller office space, drastically reducing their overhead costs. Being frugal on space means they can avoid making layoffs and maintain or grow their workforce – effectively getting more for less.

Conversely, forcing employees back to the daily grind means firms like Dell – which is currently paying rent on an estimated 224 office bases globally – must accommodate for the charge, further stretching their already thin margins in today’s stagnating economy.

Fighting the inevitable

Employees will rightfully feel concerned when they see industry leaders like Dell deliberately handicap remote workers. But flexible working is actually on the up in UK workplaces.

Research from the same Startups survey shows that 66% of businesses plan to introduce remote work policies – such as the four day week – to their office this year.

The government is also onside. New legislation including the Flexible Working Bill will make it even easier for staff to request flexible work arrangements from April 6.

Dell workers have already aired their displeasure at the new policy. With UK workers now favouring flexible work benefits over a pay rise, the more likely outcome of a return-to-office policy is a thinned-out workforce of dissatisfied staff; a result that will disadvantage productivity and employee engagement more than remote work ever did.

The firms fighting the return-to-office corner have already proven they are no stranger to a U-turn. As the rest of the business world embraces flexible working and its recruitment and cost benefits, we can expect another pivot soon.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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