Dell to color-code staff based on how hybrid they really are in RTO push

Sources slam aggressive 'back to school' grading system as HR vows to track VPN use, badge swipes

Exclusive Dell has told workers it will track the onsite presence of hybrid employees – those who work part remotely, part in the office – using electronic badge swipes, VPN monitoring, and a rather creepy color-coding system.

"In the latest Jeff Clarke return-to-grade-school initiative, HR will be keeping an attendance report card on employees, grading them at four levels based on how well they meet the goal of being in the office 39 days a quarter," a source familiar with Dell told The Register, referring to the IT giant's chief operating officer.

"Employees who do not meet the attendance requirement will have their status escalated up the ladder to Jeff Clarke, who apparently believes that being a hall monitor trumps growing revenue."

In a statement, a Dell spokesperson told The Register, "We shared with team members our updated hybrid work policy. Team members in hybrid roles will be onsite at a Dell Technologies office at least 39 days per quarter (on average three days a week). In today’s global technology revolution, we believe in-person connections paired with a flexible approach are critical to drive innovation and value differentiation."

Starting next Monday, May 13, the enterprise hardware slinger plans to make weekly site visit data from its badge tracking available to employees through the corporation's human capital management software and to give them color-coded ratings that summarize their status. Those ratings are:

  • Blue flag indicates "consistent onsite presence"
  • Green flag indicates "regular onsite presence"
  • Yellow flag indicates "some onsite presence"
  • Red flag indicates "limited onsite presence"

A second Dell source explained managers aren't on the same page about the consequences of the color tiers, with some bosses suggesting employees want to remain Blue at all times and others indicating there's more leeway and they could put up with a few red flags.

"It’s a shit show here," we're told.

As The Register reported earlier this year, on February 5 Dell issued a "return to office" policy that required workers who declare themselves hybrid employees – who work from a Dell office at least 39 days per quarter – or remote employees – who work remotely all the time.

The policy, which exempts field employees, is controversial because it states that choosing remote status will hinder career advancement and increase the chance of being selected for a layoff, among other downsides.

Dell on Earth

Those we heard from at the time characterized the policy as a stealth layoff, one that would particularly affect women because they're more likely than male colleagues to elect to work remotely. Thirty-five percent of Dell's global employees self-identify as women, according to a February 10-K filing, and among managers that figure is 29 percent.

Dell is tracking badge-ins and VPN connections to ensure employees are onsite when they claim they are

"Dell is tracking badge-ins and VPN connections to ensure employees are onsite when they claim they are (to deter 'coffee badging' or scanning your badge then going immediately home)," a third source told us. "This is likely in response to the official numbers about how many of our staff members chose to remain remote after the RTO mandate."

The Register understands from our sources that about half of Dell employees in the US are remote workers and that outside the US it's more like two-thirds. Field workers account for maybe three or four percent of the company's workforce in both the US and abroad, with the remainder designated as hybrid employees.

Dell, which laid off at least 13,000 people since the start of 2023, in a recent financial filing said, "As of February 2, 2024, we had approximately 120,000 employees."

The Register however has been made aware of internal workforce figures that exceed 150,000. Absent a clarification from Dell, which we've asked for, we can only speculate about the reason for the discrepancy.

We're told that the goal of the worker tracking appears to be workforce attrition. "The problem is the market is soft right now for tech," our second source, pointing to recent AWS job cuts. "Everyone is laying off."

This person anticipates further Dell layoffs over the summer, though no dates have been set.

Our third source indicated that the onsite tracking policy seems unusually aggressive for Dell. "Even pre-pandemic, they never pushed or pressured folks to be in the office," this person said. "A common phrase used to be 'Work happens where you make it,' with the office often being a ghost town multiple times a week, or after lunch, or pre-holidays."

Dell in February reported fiscal year 2024 revenue of $88.4 billion, down 14 percent from 2023, and profits of $3.2 billion. ®

Editor's note: Dell after this story was filed wrote to say its publicly reported number of employees, 120,000, is correct. The corporation did not, as requested, explain the 150,000 figure. One of our sources suggested that includes contract workers.

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