Sunday, December 4, 2022

Dell’s Effort to Deal With the Biggest Remote Work Problem

Editor’s note: The author’s firm provides advisory services to various companies, including Dell Technologies.

Dell is interesting in a way that shouldn’t be interesting. It’s a technology company that has truly embraced operating data heavy. 

What I mean is that Dell management, and I see this when someone transfers into Dell from another technology firm, aggressively uses data to make decisions. It’s one of the most data-focused companies in a market that should be defined by that data focus but often isn’t. Transferring managers are often amazed at how much information they have relevant to the decisions they make. It is arguably why Dell has been successful over the years.

At the recent Dell Technologies World, I had a chance to meet with Jenn Saavedra, Dell’s chief HR officer. Given my own HR background, I know data is critical to doing that job well. 

The problem that most companies deal with poorly now when it comes to their remote workforce is making those workers, particularly new hires that have never come into the office, feel like they are in a company and not working for some ephemeral entity with which they have no deep connection. The kinds of things that are being missed are the group or individual lunches, dinners, after-work activities, hobby groups, and other practices that build teams. Those kinds of activities ensure that remote employees gain a sense of corporate family, which is often seen as a critical aspect of employee loyalty and retention. They are also seen as a limiting factor to bad employee behavior like self-dealing and embezzlement.  

As expected in my conversation with Saavedra, I learned that Dell is ahead in this regard, and, I think, its approach could help other companies fix similar issues. 

Dell’s fix for remote employee disengagement

Dell has created a structure in which employees are assigned to specifically work on this problem of making Dell a great place to work. The implementation sounded like an update of the Great Place To Work effort that arose decades ago at ROLM Systems but with less operational overhead. These identified managers, who once were organized by site, are now transitioning to more of an organizational structure around interests. If folks aren’t coming into offices, Dell figured out that they needed to make that shift.  

These site managers then help employees interact both inside and outside of work around common interests, connecting employees in the same region together for activities and have other tools to make those who are remote from other employees still feel like they belong in the Dell family.  

This speaks to what I think of as the big mistake other companies are making regarding this problem. Most companies seem to be either ignoring the problem or execute before they understand it. Dell appears to be following a more scientific method approach. First, define the problem, then analyze it to create a plan designed to address the cause, and then monitor the execution, so if it doesn’t go as planned, you can drop back into the planning stage to improve the result.  

This has allowed Dell to build a sense of community among its employees during a time when many other companies are unable to do so. And it allows Dell to avoid another mistake, which is forcing employees back to work. This is contributing to another problem in “The Great Resignation,” which suggests these alternative approaches are doing more damage than good.

Lessons learned

As with any problem, if no one owns it, it’ll never be fixed. With problems like employee bonding and engagement, many firms I’ve investigated appear to think this is the manager’s responsibility to fix. 

But those managers lack the tools and insight to fix it for remote employees, so they instead order people back to the office. Ironically, often the managers are staying remote, demonstrating an impressive level of hierarchy and generating an equally impressive number of resumes from the resulting employee discontent.  

Dell’s data-based approach goes directly after the cause of the problem, creates a group focused on that problem, and results in analysis and testing to evolve into what is an sound approach to this issue of creating and sustaining an employee bond. It is an effective piece of work, and credit goes to Saavedra, her team, and Dell for not only a solution, but the data-based approach that created it.  

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