Enlarge /. A charter spectrum vehicle.
Charter has partially withdrawn from its strict rules against working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, allowing up to 40 percent of call center employees to work remotely.
Cliff Hagan, executive vice president of charter, sent a memo to employees today saying that employees must meet certain conditions before they can work at home:
A balance between "In Center" and "Remote Work" is maintained. We'll start offering remote work opportunities for those who are at higher health risk, and then open the option to additional employees who take into account performance, home infrastructure to support remote work, and agree to the terms of a job Telework order. We assume that up to 40 percent of the call center employees can work remotely during this time. These measures will promote our ability to achieve greater physical separation and reduce the overall workforce in our call centers.
The memo was shared with Ars by charter staff. A charter spokesman told Ars that the memo "was sent to our customer operations organization, which includes our customer service call centers and related activities, but not the entire company." The spokesman for the charter did not tell us how many call center employees there are or how many non-call center employees are allowed to work remotely.
As the memo shows, Charter does not trust all employees to do their work remotely. Although Charter will prioritize employees with health problems, the cable company will also evaluate employee performance before healthy workers are given the green light for their work at home.
Call center is "breeding ground for germs"
As we reported in previous articles, Charter has resisted requests to have employees work at home during the pandemic, although Comcast has switched thousands of call center employees to remote work. Tom Rutledge, CEO of Charter, told employees in a memo last week that they should continue to come to the office, even if their work can be done from home because the employees are "more effective from the office". Charter employs 95,000 people and is the second largest cable company and Internet service provider in the United States.
A charter engineer stepped down instead of being forced to continue working in the office, saying that his work at home could be just as easy. We spoke to several other charter staff who complained that they should be able to work at home instead of in call centers. One employee described a call center as "an absolute nightmare breeding ground for germs".
The media's attention and the pressure from employees seem to have prompted the Charter's leaders to rethink their position. Today's memo explained:
In response to the exceptional circumstances we are in, we will be activating remote work options for some of our front-line agents over the next few weeks and maybe months. This is done to enable greater social distancing in our centers. We take these steps to further ensure the safety of our employees while at the same time reconciling Charter's commitment to connecting our customers.
The memo said the process will take several weeks. "We'll work through the details of the mission over the next few days, with the first wave of remote workers scheduled for next week and continuing until we get the number we want," the memo said, adding that "more Details will follow ".
While at least 60 percent of call center employees have to stay in the office, by thinning out the numbers, employees can work in less cramped conditions. Charter employees who spoke to Ars described working in rooms with hundreds of people. Some charter staff have reportedly tested positive for COVID-19, and at least two charter facilities have already undergone "thorough cleaning and disinfection" after staff have reported symptoms. These facilities are located in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Austin, Texas.
A Charter call agent in the Orlando, Florida region disagrees with Charter's decision to determine each employee's work-from-home status based in part on their performance.
"If I am one of the 40 percent selected based on my score, I will decline on the grounds that I will not put any of the other 60 percent at risk of illness and death just because I happen to be good at my job." "the employee told us.
Disclosure: The Advance / Newhouse partnership, which owns 13 percent of the charter, is part of Advance Publications. Advance Publications owns Condé Nast, which Ars Technica owns.