Moving to remote work presented a lot of hurdles for organisations trying to recreate the office experience. Technology for the most part has allowed many workplaces to effectively move those experiences into the virtual spaces, but unfortunately, some of the insidious aspects of work have also followed the move online. We are still seeing bullying, harassment, discrimination and fraud.
Remote workplaces present two main issues for identifying misconduct. Firstly, a lack of visibility can make it easier for misconduct to go undetected. Secondly, the removal of incidental or informal conversations between leaders and employees can reduce the likelihood of an employee feeling comfortable enough to make a complaint.
Spotting the symptoms
You might start to see things like lack of engagement, increased absenteeism or you might even start to hear a little bit of grumbling around minor disputes and some increased tension.
When it comes to inter-colleague misconduct like harassment or bullying, the reliance on online communications can make it easier for perpetrators to connect with a victim. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic technology-facilitated sexual harassment was an issue.
Leaders need to dial-in to their employee’s emotions and reactions. You can feel it when you’ve got someone on the phone that there’s something that they want to tell you but they just don’t know how to broach. Or if you’ve got a zoom meeting going on and there’s a little bit of tension there’s not a free flow to the conversation, that’s when managers need to think ‘maybe there is something going on here’.
When an employee comes forward with a complaint of misconduct, it’s important to act quickly.
Try to do the investigations as quickly as you possibly can. The first step in an investigation is to organise a meeting with the person making the complaint. Use this meeting to collect as much information as possible because that will inform you whether an official investigation should proceed. For this meeting, the complainant should be given the opportunity to bring a support person along. This process is vital and can’t be ignored, even in a remote setting.
The next step is to follow your misconduct policy. Even if your policy doesn’t explicitly refer to remote work, the bones of the policy should be applicable.
Most investigations will have three stages: engaging with the complainant, collating evidence (including speaking to witnesses), and finally engaging the respondent (the person the complaint is about).
It is important all participants are given the same treatment. If you conduct a Zoom call with the complainant then you should do the same with the respondent.
Once an investigation is over you will need to consider the steps needed to prevent recurrences. Not every misconduct investigation ends in a termination of employment. So, if the involved parties will still be working together then there needs to be a proper resolution to the issue.