(Staff and Wire Reports) After multiple branches around the country have shut down after employees tested positive for the coronavirus, Wells Fargo's massive call center in the banking haven of Charlotte is now infected.
Workers in Charlotte and now Raleigh have now tested positive for COVID-19, the bank said. Another employee tested positive for the disease at a much smaller call center in Iowa and then there are several branches that have also shut down.
Losing the call centers is serious business. The bank relies on remote relationship management at a moment when more than half of the U.S. population is trapped at home.
These employees have been classified "essential," with some complaining on social media that initiatives to let them work from home have stalled, endangering their health in the process.
Wells Fargo has known about the sick workers for over a week now, shutting down the facilities floor by floor and enforcing "social distancing" to thin out the work force elsewhere by clearing two seats out of three in locations like the one in Charlotte.
With attendance down 65%, each worker now needs to become three times as efficient to handle normal loads. Crisis loads are undoubtedly much worse, which is why big banks are warning of "extremely" long phone wait times.
As front line staff, these workers are getting the equivalent of a $100 weekly bonus to go in and risk infection.
The new work-at-home systems exist elsewhere but have apparently yet to be implemented at institutions like Wells Fargo. They might start rolling out in the next few weeks, the bank says.
Once they do, there's no reason to maintain these sprawling open-plan office spaces. People can work from home by the thousands. Costs are no longer shared and overhead becomes unnecessary.
As these leases expire, the buildings will ultimately be let go. The banks fought that process for years for compliance and data security reasons, but now that circumstances have blown through those considerations, there's no reason to let precedent stand after life gets back to normal.
There aren't going to be any call centers five years from now. The only thing really keeping them going was institutional inertia. Medical logic argues against keeping them open right now. Financial logic will argue against reopening them once people are working from home.
Institutional structures are changing. The virus was the mother of invention here, forcing management to finally deploy systems that already exist.
Let's just hope the process happens without too many people getting sick.