Ethics and Working From Home

COVID-19 brought us the great migration of employees from work to home. Now that the COVID-19 lockdowns are ending (although the rioters and protesters never did work from home), CEOs are thinking through remote work. Some CEOs are candid, as the Wall Street Journal reported. Rajat Bhageria, CEO of Chef Robotics said, “We tried. You just cannot get the same quality of work.” Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, noted, “We’ve seen productivity in certain areas drop.” Dana Cannedy, Simon and Schuster on the other hand offers this, “We’re all grown-ups. I don’t have an issue with it.” Mark Zuckerberg is also on board promising Facebook is still leaning in, “I think we’re going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work.” “Corporate Leaders Weigh In on Remote Work,” Wall Street Journal, September 25, 2020, p. B6.

The Barometer has some advice for the CEOs. Let’s be honest about the work-at-home issue. Not everyone is being honest. If you want to know about in-office vs. at-home work, talk to your customers. Indeed, listen in on the conversations your employees are having with customers, or not having. In probating a family member’s estate, the Barometer spent a good part of the national lockdown on the phone with bank estate departments, securities firms, utilities, and even the VA. They all explain that “your call may be recorded for monitoring or training purposes. The Barometer wishes that she had the calls recorded. Bob Newhart could not do as well making up comedic telephone calls. Those employees working at home sans supervision hav serious issues:

1. They struggle to pull up files.
2. Their voices, perhaps because they are speaking through their computers, are often garbled. You pick up about 50% of what they are saying. Calls, as a result, take longer.
3. Dogs and babies are now a big part of work conversations. The Barometer loves both species, but it can be difficult to hear when they participate in beneficiary claims. And, mark this well, your call is extended when pets and babies are around and awake.
4. The calls drop at high rates, and you will be back in the same queue working through the same prompts to reach your final designation listening to, “Due to COVID-19 call volume is unusually high” and on and on. And you will be reminded again that your call could be monitored.
5. Not all of your employees are truly on the job.

The Barometer has had to call Computershare, a company that handles address and name changes and share transfers for some of the country’s largest companies. Yesterday, after about 22 minutes on hold in the queue, there was the usual ring and an answer, which means we should have actual human contact. No voice sounded from the other end — the Barometer offered several, “Hellos” and “Is anybody there?” The Barometer then listened for 5 -7 minutes (the company can check the recording) as the employee who was supposed to be answering phones was having a good time chatting it up with someone on another phone. There was laughter and general good times for the employee. At one point, a dog barked, and the Barometer yelled, “Hey!” a few times, hoping that the employee might take the call. No luck. Worse, the phone call could not be terminated — the phone was stuck in listening mode. As much as the Barometer hoped that the employee would return to “work” and pick up the phone, the wait was too much. So, the Barometer shut down her phone, turned it back on again and went straight back the queue. Another 30 minutes on hold. Upon reaching a human for a second time with this employee realizing that there was indeed a call, the Barometer listened to off-and-on static for the first five minutes of the call, requiring the employee to repeat much of the conversation. AT the end of the call, during which nothing was resolved, the Barometer asked for an opportunity to speak, since the call was recorded or monitored. The Barometer then relayed the experiences of that morning with the hope that someone ini training or monitoring would pick up the issues and attempt to resolve the, One quick way to do so? Get the employees back in the office working. Better technology. Access to files. Communication to supervisors when employees are stumped. And the peaceful quiet of an office sans Fido.

While millennials and some CEOs would have us believe that working from home is the greatest thing since Post Toasties, they have obviously not assumed the role of one of their customers. The waits are long, the information needed is not available, the resolution of issues is is missing, delayed, or simply abandoned, and the dogs and babies are not getting enough attention. Please, assume that every office has the same need for employee presence as the factories and plants with employees engaged in production. Because, with employees working from home, one cannot assume that they are producing anything or near as much as they could. Human nature — when the cat’s away and all. Please, everyone, get back to work.

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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2 Responses to Ethics and Working From Home

  1. John Corrigan says:

    I once worked for a large telecom, and was involved in developing customer facing systems, Part of the job was to listen in on calls from customers to get a sense of what they could include. Someone should write a book. But, as you suggest in your excellent commentary, too few (are there any?) CEOs call the company to get a “customer’s ear view” of how the people paying the bill get treated. In my case, the agents were outstanding, due in part to the fact that they were under constant surveillance and a harsh word to a customer could end up in a luncheon free farewell at call’s end.

  2. mmjdiary says:

    That phrase “luncheon-free farewell” is one I must remember and use. I am relieved to know that there are some companies that do give a listen to these calls. They should do it for the sheer entertainment of it all. As they saying goes, you can’t make this stuff up. However, the response should be, “But we can fix it.” Thanks for the reassurance that there are some who do care and work at this customer interaction.

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