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Charter Communications Called Out For Its COVID19 Work From Home Policy

Dwight Burdette

Many in the U.S. have unified in the mission to stay home during the early period of the COVID19 crisis. Businesses have praised this stay-at-home mission in advertisement campaigns, as well as articles trumpeting how they also are keeping their workers safe and at home.

But that mood could sour as time goes on, especially with the desire to find villains and scapegoats during times of crisis. The shift in public perception might quickly turn from “we’re all in this together” to “who didn’t keep up their end of the deal”. Should that happen, a company might be subject to a lot of pent-up public anger at a time of extreme economic turbulence.

Charter Communications, also known as Spectrum, might be the first company to land in the crosshairs for how it has handled its work from home policy during the early days of the COVID19 crisis. According to a New York Times investigation, more than 230 employees of the communications company have been diagnosed with COVID19; roughly half of those diagnosed were still working in a contact center office or other office role for the company. The company is based in Connecticut, but has locations throughout the U.S.

The report then goes on to do the kind of retrospective analysis of the company’s handling of the health crisis that all companies should fear. On the day that President Trump declared a national emergency, an engineer in Denver sent an email questioning why the company was still having so many employees working in offices; his resignation was later accepted. Other memos were uncovered around that time from company officials who said that 60 percent of the office and call center workforce would be required to continue to come into the office.

The detailed report also includes measures the company has taken to protect its workforce, but that information comes several paragraphs into the story - a location in the article that many stop reading, or at least reading carefully.

This isn’t the only article on the web about the subject. A Google search turns up a similar article from TechCrunch, an anonymous account from a Charter Communications call center employee in Slate, and a Change.org petition of more than 8,000 signatures voicing displeasure about the work from home policy. Also, The New York Attorney General’s office said it has opened an inquiry into the policy, according to the Times report.

The COVID19 pandemic is a rolling crisis, and has not yet hit all parts of the country with the same force as it has in New England. If your contact center has not fully prepared to shift rapidly to a work from home policy, such reports suggest that it is past time to do so. It is better to be over-prepared than under-prepared. Doing everything possible to keep workers safe might not just be the right thing to do, but also the best long-term investment in brand protection.

Further, communications teams should prep for such a public perception crisis as has faced Charter Communications. Company crisis teams may want to evaluate whatever internal communications and policies may have been written about the health crisis to be ready should their COVID19 policies be called into question. No one wants to become a focal point of public anger during a pandemic, and it would be even worse to be unprepared should such anger arise.