Achieving digital utopia in the workplace

“Ideally, with improved staff spirits and strengthened commitment to the company, in the sanctity frame, employees who are treated as whole human beings will in turn consider the organization’s best interest along with their own, resulting in actions like taking better care of equipment, being frugal with company materials, and treating coworkers with respect” (Katz and Rhodes, 2010, p. 253).

What a utopic vision of the workplace! Truthfully, I think my company has nearly achieved this level of ethical standards with regards to digital technologies, but, for a long time, this was not the case. For several years, we employed outside sales reps who were from the age of old school sales where most client communications were done in-person and notes about the account were kept filed away somewhere in the rep’s home office filing cabinet. The problem with this is that the information is not easily accessible by other members of the sales staff who need it. To counteract this, my company integrated an online customer relationship management (CRM) software that could be accessed anywhere, as long as you had Internet access (and, more recently, available as a mobile phone app).  This CRM program is the one I’ve mentioned in an earlier blog – Salesforce.

Like I was saying, these reps were old school and they fought using Salesforce tooth and nail. Information was rarely entered, phone calls were not logged and there was no accountability. Bringing this back into an ethical framework, was it unethical of these employees to not record their sales activities via the company’s required digital system, or was it unethical of the company to expect these employees, with fewer technological skills, to conform?

At one point in our reading, Katz and Rhodes (2010) said, almost in a disbelieving, joking way, “Imagine hiring an employee who did not know how—or refused—to use email as part of the job!” (p. 245). Yep, that was our company up until a few years ago. All of these old school sales reps are gone now.  The staff we have now is very adept with technology and uses the CRM fully. For a long time, our sales process was very painful, but now it feels like a well-oiled machine.

I think these former employees had a fear of technology. It was something they didn’t understand, and they definitely were not digital natives. Even less so than many of us in this class! Could part of their fear have anything to do with privacy and trust? With Salesforce, whatever information you enter is visible to everyone else who uses the program. With written notes and files, you can pick and choose what you share with the rest of the team (which they did during our weekly sales department calls).

The topic of privacy is an interesting one, not only with regards to something like a CRM program, but also with email and Internet use in the workplace. Most companies have IT departments that closely monitor the email and Internet usage of its employees, which I think is fair. They want to ensure that these tools are used

1) as means to help the company, whether it’s for increasing sales, improving workflows, communicating with vendors and clients, crunching numbers, etc., and

2) in a way that appropriately (ethically) represents the company and preserves its reputation.

So, how much control should a company have over its employees’ technology use? At our company, we have quite a bit of free rein. It makes sense, though, as the majority of our employees work in sales and marketing and we need access to the Internet (including social media sites) to research and learn about clients and competitors. We use email just as much as we use the phone for reaching out to clients and prospects. Our CRM program is online. For the most part, I think the trust that our company places in us makes us want to be more responsible and we rarely have any issues with people abusing this right. According to Schofield and Joinson (2008), this trust comes from the company’s belief in our abilities, integrity and benevolence (p. 19). The company believes that we not only know how to use technology, but that we know how to use it appropriately.

“With great power comes great responsibility.” 
-Uncle Ben, Spiderman

I am grateful for this freedom and trust, especially when I hear about other companies. A coworker of mine was just telling me yesterday that a friend of hers works for a cabinet-making company where there is absolutely no allowance for using email or cell phones for personal reasons at work. In fact, copies of employee email transactions are printed into hard copy each day for review. And, if anyone is caught using their cell phones, it can be grounds for immediate dismissal. Yikes! Is this within the rights of the employer to monitor technology usage in the workplace, or does it transcend those rights and become an invasion of privacy? If someone needs to make a personal call because of a sick child, does the company have any right to interfere? This brings up another interesting question – if the technological device being used belongs to the company vs. the individual, who decides how it can be used?

I don’t necessarily have all the answers to these questions, but I think there might be a final project idea in there somewhere, so ask me again in a few weeks and I might have a few answers! Overall, though, the discussion of ethics is interesting and a rather nice way to put a bow on everything we’ve learned this semester. Now that we have a better understanding of how digital technologies have come about and changed the field of technical communications, how do we use these technologies in a way that is right and good and furthers our field for the better?

With that, I wish everyone the best of luck in pursuing these ideals. It has been a real pleasure getting to know all of you this semester, and, hopefully, our paths will cross again soon!

Posted on November 16, 2013, in Trust, Workplace and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Hi Lori:

    I wonder how much of your old sales force was also struggling with the increased transparency that the new system created? In my husband’s company, a lot of staff inititally resisted the new way just as you describe, but for many of them it was because they were on the road and not usually accounting very well for their time. The new travel log and sales notes (not sure what the program name actually was) forced them to account for their time, so they couldn’t say “called on X” in some vague way for a personal file. They actually had to log times, dates, notes of the conversation, and many found it “taxing.” And, yes, I think many of them were also afraid of technology.

    I enjoyed your Family Guy goodbye, but it is premature, since Prof. Pignetti sent an email today and asked us to write one more blog. Also, I’ll be seeing you around in Visual Rhet — still mulling over my final project. You?

  2. I like your point about freedom and trust in the workplace. I think everyone needs a little freedom and technology shouldn’t be used to put employees on a leash. I have friends that have similar stories to yours, where they can’t use their cell phones at all during work and have no access to the Internet. I agree that an employee shouldn’t be on their phone for their whole work day, but we are people and things happen, like you mentioned a sick child that can interfere with your workday. But let me guess, the people that implemented those rules probably don’t follow them. That’s a huge problem I’ve seen at companies, where some of the staff was held to strict guidelines and others could do what they wanted. That’s not a good way to manage, as this creates hostility within the workplace. I also feel that most jobs aren’t the traditional come to work at 9 and leave at 5 to have dinner, that there needs to be more freedom during work hours.

    For your question about devices that are company owned, I’d say it’s their call how they allow you to use them. I have a company cell phone, but still keep my personal one. I was told I could use the company phone if I’d like, but I know they have access to it whenever they want. Not that I’m hiding anything, but I’d just prefer to keep things separate. Also, being the ringtones are different, if one of them rings on the weekend I know if I’m in for a convo with a friend or something for work that came up over the weekend.

  3. Yes, I think most companies have policies that if you’re using THEIR property (i.e. cell phone, computer and so on), whatever you do ON it is their business. So, even if you’re checking your personal email, if you’re checking it on your work computer, they have the right to look at whatever you’re doing. I think a lot of people forget that. That’s why I try to use my personal phone to check emails, surf the Internet for unrelated work stuff, etc. Even if it’s something harmless, I don’t think the company should be privy to it. And I don’t want them to think I’m fooling around all day by looking at my Internet history! I only fool around half the day. 🙂

  4. I think your former sales reps had a combination of restance to change and an anxiety over the loss of control. Then they controlled the information, they had the power. By sharing the information on the system, maybe it made them feel like they were replaceable.

    Last year my team made the switch from Microsoft Word based documentation to HTML based documentation. This was a significant switch for many of the writers because they had no experience with HTML coding. One of our staff created some helpful tools, and significant one to one traing occured for each writer. They were eased into it gradually, and shown small portions so they could get used to the concepts. Wel also selected a simplified HTML editor to make coding and updating documents easier. The end result was very successful, and we have a whole team with basic HTML coding skills.

    Our office also has internet, email, and cell phone use policies. While they can request access to internet and email records, I’ve only hear of one instance in 6 year where it has happenend. The cell phone use policy restricts employees from using their phones at their desks. It is in place because many of the employees have access to sensetive information. It is probably the most violated policy in the building.

  5. “For the most part, I think the trust that our company places in us makes us want to be more responsible and we rarely have any issues with people abusing this right.”
    That’s great that you work in this type of environment and it makes perfect sense that the sales & marketing folks would need constant access to the web.

    Our on-campus undergrads are all issued laptops [as part of their fees] and it can be difficult to compete with “the machine,” especially when I see students fixated on their screens and I’m asking questions they could easily Google instead of eventually looking up with blank stares. As an English department we created a laptop policy [http://www.uwstout.edu/english/laptop.cfm] but there are times when I just resign myself to the opinion, if they want to abuse the policy or challenge me with the idea that they are successful multitaskers, that’s fine because if they aren’t it will eventually show up in their writing/overall grade. There are only so many times I can repeat information. Sigh…can you tell it’s been a long semester? 😉

    • LOL, hang in there, Professor! The semester is almost over. 🙂

      My comment about rarely having any issues is pretty accurate, but I totally forgot about one problem employee…I commented about it under Sarah’s blog…this employee was caught streaming videos and plays a lot of Facebook games…other than that, though, we nearly have a digital utopia!

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