Making connections

Computer multinational Dell launched its flexible working programme in 2009. Now, with 900 UK employees working flexibly and 20,000 worldwide, Heather Greig-Smith talks to Dell UK HR consultant Yvonne Stewart about the challenges of connecting a flexible workforce.


“We very much recognise that life isn’t so much about nine to five and a fixed location,” says Yvonne Stewart. “A lot of our team are global team members who work across time zones. Sometimes we need to work a bit later or a bit earlier but it’s much easier to do that when you’re at home and can connect and manage your work around your life.”

Now 70% of the UK team work remotely and Dell’s UK head office has reduced its size from five to two floors. Given the number of people working remotely, the company set up an employee group to champion the flexible working community. “We became nervous that people were not connected so we now have ‘Conexus’ to enable people working remotely to connect with each other,” explains Stewart. “People are constantly interacting on a day to day basis with people around the globe but we also wanted to have a UK-specific group so they feel like they are part of the UK business.”

Stewart says it is important for companies to offer support for workers around flexible working policies – and appropriate training. In addition, they need to check in regularly that the arrangement is working well. Overwork can be an issue: “There’s always the danger that when you move away from the nine to five working environment it’s difficult to track your time – we have a very open policy where we make sure we have those conversations.”

In addition, she says there are times when employees may be struggling to juggle demands in their personal and work lives but haven’t considered flexible working as a solution. “There is a still a generation that feels if you’re not in the office you’re not working but there have been leaps and bounds since we rolled out the programme in 2009. We have really encouraged our leaders to recognise when our people are struggling – we offer it to them rather than them coming to us.”

Line manager training is crucial in enabling a successful flexible workforce, and Dell also operates a ‘host manager’ initiative. This gives workers someone to go to if their manager isn’t on site. Stewart says the company has done a lot of training in this area, supporting the host managers in cascading communications but not feeling they have to deal with performance objectives and reviews of non-reports.

There is also specific training for employees on work-life balance, working flexibly and being part of a remote team. “We improve on it year on year and will always continue to improve on it as we bring in a new generation of workforce.”

The design of the office is another area of ongoing improvement. Stewart says even since the programme started the ideal office environment has evolved. “People want more collaborative areas. They don’t really care about hot desks or hotel desks, but they want bigger spaces where they can go and break out with their team and meet with people,” she says. “When they come into the office they’re not coming in to do their day to day job, it’s about face to face engagement. They have meetings set up one after another to speak to people and get that connection. People will do their work at home but when they come in they want bigger, bright, open space to meet people.”

Stewart says flexible working policies are part of a big focus on wellness at Dell. “We see that reflected in our customer experience and it’s a real tool to help us attract and retain the best talent that’s out there.”

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