3 Ways to Create a Culture of Ethics Remotely

In March, companies had no choice but to transfer in-person operations to a remote work environment. With the rapid shift, accountability for ethical and compliant behavior may have been lost.

Many organizations have turned to remote surveillance technology to monitor employee behavior. Ultimately, however, such surveillance can erode trust.

“When working remotely, companies need to be even more deliberate about how they’re sharing their organizational ethics,” says business ethics adviser and consultant Ashlee Foltz

Here’s how to instill and maintain workplace ethics and compliance in a distributed work environment.

Provide Secure Technology Guidelines

The blending of home and work can potentially compromise your company’s ethical obligation to client privacy. Safeguarding company privacy requires more than providing secure technology. Compliance with the handling of sensitive information requires providing specific technology guidelines for use outside of the office. For example, a worker may not realize that logging into their work email account on a public server could compromise your company’s security.

Specific technology guidelines could include directions for creating a strong password, using a virtual private network (VPN), or backing up data to the company’s secure cloud-based storage, suggests Salvatore Falletta, professor of HR development and research, evaluation and analytics at Drexel University. Help your workforce understand what measures to take and why they’re important.

Train the Workforce on Remote Compliance

Training is essential when any organizational shift takes place, but especially when your workers are blending their work with their personal lives. “Train your workers to be aware of ethical red flags in a virtual environment,” says Beverly Kracher, founder and senior ethicist at the Business Ethics Alliance and chairholder and professor of business ethics and society at Creighton University. These include potential conflicts of interest, danger to company property and assets, or breach of proprietary information and confidential data, Falletta says. 

Provide training to direct managers on what to do if an employee comes to them with concerns surrounding ethics and compliance. These conversations can be made even more difficult when in-person meetings aren’t an option. Good listening and communication skills will help managers address any potential ethics issues before they can escalate. 

Communicate Evolving Expectations

To prevent misuse of company time or resources, create and communicate policies that are specific to remote work. “Consider areas like expectations of working hours, how often to check-in with supervisors, deadlines and extended breaks,” Foltz says. “Be thoughtful about it — and communicate that plan.”

While ethical messages should flow from the top, direct managers are the gatekeepers of ethics at your organization. “When direct managers communicate with workers on a regular basis, you see an increase in ethical behavior,” Kracher points out. Use words that are coded as “moral,” like accountability, loyalty and respect. Direct managers should frequently refer to core values to emphasize how they should be practiced in a remote work environment.