RTO lessons from Dell’s badge swipe tracking program

A look at the potential of how this program tracks—and doesn’t track—with RTO comms best practices.

Three years on from the outset of the pandemic, many organizations have brought either some or all of their employees back to the office on a full or part-time basis. Now, Dell is taking this one step further in its return-to-office push.

According to a report from The Register, Dell is slated to begin taking attendance for its hybrid workers to ensure that they’re meeting in-office quotas. The grading scale will have a color-coded system that will give information on how often a person shows up to the office.

“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.”

Another Dell source said that not all managers are on the same page about the color code system, with some enforcing more strictness and others giving more leeway. They also said it’s out of character with past moves the company has made concerning work-from-home arrangements.

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.”

Returning to the office (RTO) isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but all policies should begin as a deeper conversation about how you can communicate better about your company’s expectations of employees in the office and the cultural conditions that underpin the decision.

Planning with objectives

A given set of objectives is core to any communications initiative, RTO rollout included. No one should either proclaim into the void or speak without an objective about any workplace announcement.

Cat Colella-Graham, communications consultant and professor at St. Francis College, said that people need to know how the announcements and changes you’re sharing matter to them and the company.

“Oftentimes in these cases, two good additions to add to your plan are manager guidance and change champions,” she said. “Manager guidance provides opportunities for questions and language the managers can use with their team, especially since the smallest unit of culture is between manager and employee. This enables you to ensure clear consistent communication is supported.”

Colella-Graham added that having people in place to affirm the reasoning for changes can help weave them into already existing cultural norms.

“Change champions are those in your organization at any level across multiple departments that can reinforce your key messages and most importantly share feedback to the resistance,” she said.

Connecting by being direct from the outset

When you’re speaking with a cohort of people who may have gotten used to working from home for several years, getting across the reasoning for a return-to-office policy is critical. According to communications consultant Chris Pinto, it’s all about driving home the why upfront. That also means being prepared for different kinds of responses.

​​”So many times, internal communications fail because the message is hidden behind superlatives and superficial prose to soften the blow,” Pinto said. “Know the reason for the ask of the employee and ensure that you talk through all of the potential responses before you send the message.”

It’s also important for communicators to play the role of connector. While Dell’s badge swipe situation may not be initially popular, comms pros can help shepherd it along to a point in which it’s accepted as part of the larger company commitment to in-office collaboration.

“Communication professionals are the connection between the words on a page and action,” explained Pinto.  “We understand our organization’s voice better than anyone else, but with that, comes responsibility. When we find our voice as communicators, others will listen and trust us as guardians of the brand and the organization, because of our willingness to be honest and vocal about comms strategy and execution.”

Customizing and adapting the message

While it’s undoubtedly a big part of the communicator’s job to be able to reach the entire organization with the details of a sweeping change like a return-to-office, you’ve also got to be able to customize that message for smaller and even remote populations of the company too.

“I always recommend a stakeholder mapping exercise for employees, which can include leaders, managers, deskless employees,” Colella-Graham said. “Then with the global message tailored messages that will be meaningful will lead to more action.

Comms can also work to build bridges with other departments during these times of change.

“Communications can advise on the surround sound of the communications plan to best meet objectives, but comms should also understand they need to educate those in non-comms roles as to why their approach matters.”

Learn more from Collela-Graham during her session at our Employee Experience Conference in Nashville this August.

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports and hosting trivia.


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