Banning the BBC


Sometimes things happen in the strangest sequences. Only this morning I was having a conversation with a colleague in the gents about the work internet policy. I know full well that the thought of two blokes having a natter in the toilets may seem a little strange as it’s generally a social no-no, but the call centre presents few opportunities to speak freely (or indeed at all) to anyone so the opportunity is grabbed whenever possible no matter what the surroundings. In fact recounting this reminds me of the scene in the film The Lives of Others where to escape the scrutiny of the Stasi listeners a record player is switched on to provide a smokescreen for a discussion, but back to the subject of said internet policies; I expressed to my colleague how strange it was that we were only allowed to view the BBC website during work time.

It has been the source of continued mystery to me why it is only the BBC website which we are allowed to view; is it because our employers like us to be informed about current affairs? If so then why are we not allowed to access other news sites which free of having to be neutral can offer much more in the way of interesting opinion on the events of the day? Perhaps it is because the BBC is somehow a watchword for quality and non-offensive content, so no danger of a risqué picture of Katie Price suddenly flashing up on a screen whilst a visiting dignitary walks by. Whatever the reasons, it suggests to me that my employers harbour a rather Blue-Peter-esque paternalistic  attitude towards their staff.

Should we be grateful for this small freedom though? After all it’s not just news but recipes, music news and if it’s a very slow day we can explore the various hinterlands of the BBC web-verse areas like  family history or GCSE revision guides. I reasoned to my colleague that we are still a little hard done by, at least compared to other call centres one which I visited belonging to a large outsourcing company, one which monitors their staff to within an inch of their existences, I actually saw staff doing some online shopping via the New Look web site. Maybe other people will have a different view on this, but to me there is something about the nature of call centres. When the calls are not there, there just isn’t much to do. As one of our senior managers recently said on the subject “we don’t like it, I mean obviously it’s not great, but sometimes you can’t make work.”  So ultimately some compromise has to be made with the ebb and flow, the lulls and the rushes, that make the rhythm of the call centre.

But why are our managers so grudging about this? Personally I think it’s a case of philosophy. Our managers seem to adhere to the cultural remnants of the protestant work ethic viewing any second not engaged in productive labour as something which will rot the soul, or maybe it’s because they see us as components of a machine which needs to be continually in motion. Their answer to this is to try to fill the gaps with extra tasks no matter how inane or menial. Usually the first thing which happens in a lull is for mail which needs a response to be handed out, but  in desperation management will set us to work stuffing envelopes and labelling catalogues. If there is none of this we are grudgingly permitted to view the BBC site between calls.

Having complained about this state of affairs in the morning I returned from my afternoon break to find a memo on my desk. Covering a whole page of A4 it said that with immediate effect we were all no longer allowed to use the BBC site. This was because, according to the memo, we were collectively making too many admin errors on accounts and reasoned this was due to people reading website whilst on calls. Two things immediately jumped out. First the fact that I have never seen anyone on the site whilst on a call, it having been made clear previously that this was not allowed. Secondly the same manager who wrote the memo hands us bundles written correspondence to deal with, even during busy periods and we are judged on how much of this we get through and pressured to do as much as possible so we usually end up dealing with the majority of it whilst we are in calls. Surely if errors are caused by lack of concentration then this is a prime candidate, can they really have it both ways?

In any case it’s never a good sign when a regime bans the BBC

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2 thoughts on “Banning the BBC

  1. Yeah, you are lucky to be able to look through at least the BBC webpage. In my current call center we are not allowed to do anything between calls. We cant bring in books (although some people do late at night after the management has left) but really if the wrong person sees that there’ll be trouble. And there’s definetly no web-surfing allowed. I guess if I really wanted to, I could read through our huge database of policies & procedures. Yeah, right, not too exciting. And, as it is, I have to refer to that on practically every call anyway so I already spend a big part of my day reading it.
    I think its highly unrealistic to expect employees to just sit there between calls, especially several minutes between calls. Obviously we do talk to one another but I work til midnights & there just arent that many people working til then. Last night I was in a whole row all by myself because everyone else’s shift finished earlier than mine.
    You need something to help you destress & take your mind of a bad call. Or even just something to cheer you up & make you feel better. Call centers can be depressing places.
    The last center I was in was very lenient & we could play computer games, even games on our phones between calls. You could read if you chose to–there were books around. What a huge difference!! It definetly contributes to employee satisfaction.

    • I agree. I remember too times where because of shift patterns I’ve been left on my own on a whole row for several hours. Definitely some of my most miserable moments in the call centre.

      I think smartphones have restored the balance a little bit as it’s harder for employers to monitor them. Whereas with internet access via a PC they can get a log of what you’ve viewed with smartphones they have to physically catch you. The last place I worked everyone had their phone in their booth and you could just see their fingers swishing over the screens as they cast furtive glances around!

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