Teaching Remote Employees Ethics for Online Communication
The Challenges and Opportunities
From time to time I post a guest blog when it contains important information. Today's blog is by Charlie Fletcher. You can contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org. This blog was first posted in October but got caught off so I am reposting it.
There’s an adage that says that ethics are what we do when no one is watching. This axiom has perhaps never been more relevant to the business world than today, as millions of employees around the globe find themselves working remotely at least some of the time.
When we think of business ethics, though, the first thing that comes to mind is likely money, assuring ethical behavior regarding financial dealings and accounting.
Online communications, conversely, may seem to have relatively little to do with business ethics. The reality, however, is that ethics are, or should be, deeply rooted in both a company’s practice of and standards for online communication by remote employees. This article explores key strategies for teaching remote employees ethics for online communications.
The Question of Microaggression
We have all experienced the strange, exhilarating, and dangerous sense of power that comes from the seeming anonymity of a computer keyboard.
Even when we’re communicating with colleagues, clients, and partners who know exactly who we are, the insularity of remote work and of communications that take place primarily online can easily lead to recklessness.
We may be more apt to say or write things when we’re working remotely that we would never verbalize in the physical office. This might include off-color jokes or biased comments.
These are examples of microaggressions, behaviors or language that contribute to the marginalization, stereotyping, or emotional or psychological harm of another.
Teaching your remote employees ethics in online communications, then, must begin with training in how to recognize and avoid microaggressions. Moreover, it’s essential to emphasize the particular risk that online communications present regarding verbal microaggressions.
Not only may the remote environment lead employees to become reckless and complacent in their communications unless they take precautions against this, but written communications are also more liable to be misinterpreted. Without the benefit of non-verbal cues, such as body language or tone of voice, written text may present as far more critical, harsher, or simply unkinder than the writer intends or even realizes.
Thus, it’s imperative that your teaching of communication ethics to remote employees underscores the role of compassion and empathy, as The Ethics Sage has blogged about previously. This means, for example, that when an employee is uncertain how a written communication will be received, it is always best to err on the side of kindness. The writer may soften or pare back the message or, perhaps, communicate sensitive information in person or by phone.
Because a key aspect of ethics is exercising compassion and understanding toward others, it’s also vital to teach employees the importance of being judicious with one’s online communications. Your workers, for example, should not expect their colleagues to be working on their digital devices at all times, nor should your staff try to maintain such an unrealistic and harmful pace themselves.
When your remote workers spend too much time on their digital devices, for example, they are far more likely to experience anxiety, stress, and even burnout. Therefore, it’s imperative to teach employees the ethics of creating and respecting boundaries when it comes both to the quantity and quality of online communications. Employees must learn to honor another’s time and space, just as their time and space must be honored.
Thus, online communications should be relevant, appropriate, actionable, and time-bound, occurring during working hours and requiring a response or action only within a reasonable timeframe during the designated workday.
Confidentiality and Security
As we’ve already seen, though the work-from-home environment can offer innumerable perks for employees, working from the comfort of home can also invite careless behavior. This may not only lead to microaggressions or communication overload, but it also can put the company, staff, and clients at risk of confidentiality breaches.
A central part of your efforts to teach remote employees ethics in their online communications, then, must involve the issues of confidentiality and security. For instance, employees must be trained to use online communication platforms responsibly. They must understand, for example, which platforms are secure and which are not. Further, they must have precise knowledge of exactly who can or even may see what is communicated on each platform.
Thus, company policies may require that any confidential information be communicated only through a secure VPN and not through text messaging or internal chats, or message boards.
Ethics are fundamental to success both in life and in work. However, teaching your remote employees ethics in online communication may not be exactly easy. After all, the remote environment seems to be made for free and easy interactions in which ethical considerations may seem to hold little relevance. The truth, though, is that ethics in online communications are essential, if too often overlooked, aspect of business ethics. Training your employees to communicate ethically online can help to prevent microaggressions, communication overload, and breaches of confidentiality and security.
Blog by Charlie Fletcher posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on April, 14, 2022. Steve is the author of an accounting ethics textbook, Ethical and Professional Obligations and Decision Making in Accounting: Text and Cases, 6th edition. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.
From time to time I post guest blogs when they contribute to the dialogue about ethics in the workplace. Today's guest blog is by Charlie Fletcher. Here is a link to her online portfolio: Stories by Charlie Fletcher : Contently.