In the United States, the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way many businesses operate by forcing them to transition to a virtual workforce. Many experts believe that this temporary shift will become a permanent one, even after the economy re-opens. Having to manage a predominantly virtual workforce comes with benefits and challenges, and figuring out how to conduct “virtual” workplace investigations, without making serious mistakes, is one of those challenges.

Workplace Investigations

Given the numerous and complex state and federal laws coupled with internal company policies, the need to conduct workplace investigations should come as no surprise. The Covid-19 pandemic, however, has moved a significant portion of the U.S. workforce out of a traditional brick and mortar job and into a virtual position working from home. That does not mean that the need to conduct workplace investigations has changed; however, it does mean that the methods and practices used to conduct an investigation may need to change.

Mistakes to Avoid When Conducting a Virtual Workplace Investigation

For an HR professional, employer, or legal professional faced with conducting a virtual workplace investigation, avoiding the following common mistakes will help ensure a successful outcome:

  1. Failing to adequately prepare. Conducting an investigation virtually requires additional planning and preparation. Not only must you prepare to question the witness, but you must also devote sufficient time to preparing the technology necessary to facilitate the interview.

  2. Choosing the wrong technology/platform. An investigator has several platform options for conducting a virtual meeting; however, they do not all offer the same privacy guarantee nor the same connection quality. Take the time to investigate the technology that is available before deciding which platform to use.

  3. Assuming you understand the technology. Always conduct a dry run when counting on technology to conduct a virtual interview, even if you have used the technology in the past. Keep in mind, using phone audio rather than computer audio can improve sound quality.

  4. Lacking an alternate plan. Technology can fail at the most inopportune time – such as when you are in the middle of a virtual interview. Make sure you have a “Plan B” that will allow you to continue the interview if your original plan runs into a glitch.

  5. Failing to prepare the witness. For a virtual investigation to be successful, the technology utilized must work on both ends. Never assume that the witness/interviewee is familiar with the technology and/or platform you are using. Sending detailed written directions well ahead of the interview is one way to decrease the likelihood of problems on the day of the interview.

  6. Forgetting to prepare documents ahead of time. In a virtual interview, you cannot hand a witness a document for reference. If you plan to rely on documents during the interview, make sure you know how to share them virtually during the interview and consider creating a document reference system.

  7. Not allowing sufficient time. Because you will be relying on technology, add extra time to the length of the interview to allow for issues with that technology.

  8. Not being mindful of breaks. Make sure to ask people if they need a break to use the bathroom or get a drink, sitting in front of the computer for long periods can be taxing and it may be more difficult to notice the non-verbal cues that someone is in need of a break.

  9. Not being prepared for distractions. If you are distracted by looking at yourself when using a virtual platform, see if the platform you are using can let you hide your face from your personal view.

  10. Failing to inform the witness. If you need to look away from the camera in order to take notes let the witness know that you are still listening even if you are not looking directly at them.

  11. Ignoring non-verbal cues. When conducting virtual interviews it may be more difficult to pick up on non-verbal cues, a witness may however exhibit more non-verbal cues because he/she feels less threatened given the virtual nature of the interview. 

If you have additional questions or concerns regarding virtual workplace investigations, contact Albin Law by filling out our online contact form or by calling 312.288.2012.

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