COVID-19 effect

Massive Austin employer predicts permanent shift to work-from-home for most workers

Massive Austin employer predicts permanent shift to work-from-home

Typing at a laptop computer
Michael Dell expects many people will not go back to the office after the pandemic peaks. Photo by PeopleImages

Close to one-third of the employees at Round Rock-based Dell Technologies Inc., the second largest corporate employer in the Austin area, were already working remotely before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Now, Dell is poised to enlarge its permanent work-from-home workforce.

During a May 12 webinar, Michael Dell, founder, chairman, and CEO of his namesake company, “guaranteed” that a larger share of Dell Technologies’ workforce will work from home after the coronavirus outbreak subsides. The company employs about 13,000 people in the Austin area.

The CEO didn’t assign a percentage to the higher share of telecommuters envisioned by his company. Dell’s declaration was reported by the CRN tech news website.

The Associated Press quoted Jen Felch, Dell’s chief digital officer, as saying she expects more than 50 percent of the company’s 165,000 full-time employees around the world to be working from home after the pandemic lets up. That compares with 30 percent before the outbreak. During the current lockdown, more than 90 percent of Dell’s full-time employees are working from home.

“I think if you were skeptical about work from home, you probably aren’t now,” Dell said during the webinar, hosted by New York City-based Presidio Technology Partners LLC. “And I think we’ve all learned a lot in the last few months here. I think that will flow through and create opportunities.”

And Dell isn't alone. On May 12, tech giant Twitter announced that all of its workforce can choose whether to come back into the office when they reopen. If not, those employees may continue working from home forever.

FlexJobs, a website that promotes remote jobs, put Dell at No. 19 on its annual list of the top 100 remote-friendly companies. Dell has appeared on the list since 2014, “showing a sustained commitment to including remote work in their standard business practices,” FlexJobs says.

In January, Overheard on Conference Calls, a source of workplace reviews, advice, and insights, ranked Austin third on its list of the best U.S. cities for remote workers. Ranking factors included WiFi speeds, coworking spaces, and cost of living.

Before the pandemic, eight percent of the Austin-area workforce was telecommuting. A report from the National Bureau of Economic Research estimates 37 percent of U.S. jobs can be done entirely from home, with Austin tied for third place among U.S. metro areas with jobs allowing that capability (46 percent).

For the workforce at large, Dell believes remote work in Austin and elsewhere will become “a more permanent feature of the workplace.”

survey by Dell rival IBM Corp., another major employer in Austin, shows many Americans are open to that “more permanent feature.” Nearly 40 percent of the adults surveyed think their employer should provide remote work options once operations return to normal, and 54 percent would like telework to become their primary way of working.

During the pandemic, more than half of American workers have had the opportunity to work from home.

In the webinar, Dell said a spillover benefit of the coronavirus-propelled shift to working from home is a big reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, since most of those emissions come from cars, CRN reported. Dell called that “a big silver lining.”