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10 tips for successful virtual workplace investigations

Workplaces have become virtual in many ways as we navigate the pandemic. Workplace investigations are no exception.

Virtual workplace investigations can create challenges in building rapport with the interviewee, sharing documents, as well as maneuvering IT issues. But there are also advantages. Virtual investigations can present savings in both cost and time since there is no need to travel to an interview location. This results in greater availability and flexibility in meeting times, which means the investigation can likely be completed more quickly.

While in many ways conducting virtual investigations is similar to conducting them in person, there are some different considerations that are key to making them a success.

Here are 10 tips to successful virtual workplace investigations:

  1. Follow your processes and best practices – continue to follow your existing best practices, such as investigating promptly, providing parties and witnesses proper notice of the investigation, providing a brief summary of the allegations in advance to the respondent and keeping the parties informed throughout the investigation.
  2. Maintain professionalism – just because we’re working remotely does not mean we should relax our level of professionalism as investigators. Dress for the occasion and maintain your professional demeanour and style of communication. Ensure that your video background is appropriate for a professional setting.
  3. Use the right technology – ensure your technology is reliable and affords you the features you need as an investigator, such as privacy, sole control over the session and the ability to share documents. Test and familiarize yourself with the platform, including giving it a dry run or two before you use it in an investigation.
  4. Have a back-up plan – technology does not always work as we intend. Exchange telephone numbers in advance so that you can reach each other if IT issues require the virtual interview to be conducted via telephone.
  5. Incorporate privacy and confidentiality safeguards – confidentiality agreements and cautions, as well as passwords and confidentiality features for saving and sharing documents, are essential for safeguarding the information collected and shared in the interview. A private location for both you and the interviewee are also important.
  6. Eliminate distractions – dogs barking, kids yelling, phones ringing and family members strolling by are just some of the distractions that can occur as we conduct our investigations from home. Take steps to eliminate any preventable distractions from occurring during the interview.
  7. Set the expectations – advise the interviewee of what to expect in the interview, including potential work-from-home distractions, your note-taking and review process, and how any IT issues will be handled.
  8. Use verbal listening cues – it’s harder to notice cues in body language when we’re interviewing via video versus in person. To compensate, use verbal listening and prompting cues more often.
  9. Speak more slowly and pause purposefully – we may not process someone’s words as quickly via video as in person. Speak slowly to allow the person time to digest what you’re saying. Allow pauses to account for lags in the technology and to provide the interviewee time to hear you, think and respond.
  10. Be mindful of duration and breaks – virtual interviews take more focus, concentration and energy so keep them shorter than your in person interviews and take more frequent, brief breaks. Conduct two shorter interviews over a day with a sufficient break in between, or two interviews on back-to-back days, rather than one longer interview.

As we continue to follow workplace health and safety measures to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus, social distancing remains the reality and working remotely will continue for many. Virtual workplaces and, by extension, virtual investigations will continue to be necessary, making it a good time to hone your virtual investigation skills. Even after the pandemic, the benefits of virtual investigations make them a sound alternative where there are obstacles, or no compelling need, to conduct the investigation in person.