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Workplace investigators working remotely part 1: Some humbling lessons we learned this week

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Last week, our colleague Dana Campbell wrote a terrific blog entitled Four Tips for Conducting Workplace Investigations Amidst the COVID-19 Crisis. It contained some excellent advice including the use of technology to replace face-to-face interviews that are part of our investigation process.

We have all had a chance to put Dana’s advice into use this week as we are all investigating and working remotely. For the most part, this way of working has been successful. However, we have had some unanticipated mishaps, which we share with you below. And, in the spirit of working in new ways, this is the first RT blog written collaboratively, so you will hear the voices of different members of our team.

I’ll start off:

Janice Rubin: Pay attention to ambient noise!  There are two issues here for me: An antique clock that loudly chimes every 15 minutes, and an overanxious dog who barks and scratches at the door to be let in what I have been using as my  home office and then 5 minutes later, barks and scratches at the door to be let out!  Before working at home exclusively this week, I was aware of this noise, and would often apologize for it at the beginning of any business-related call I would make from home. However, this week, it has become unacceptably distracting while interviewing parties and witnesses, and so now I have need to find another space in which to work. With other people in the house, plus the aforementioned clock and dog, that is a challenge.

So for all the investigators out there, think not only about having your usual tools at hand – your notes, key documents, paper, pens, recorder (if you use one) and operational technology – but also about the overall environment, and whether it is sufficiently quiet to conduct an interview or talk to a client.

Next week I think I am going to try my garage. Which brings us to….

Liliane Gingras: Luckily, I do have a home office. Given its proximity to the laundry room, however, it also doubles as the place where I hang some of the laundry to dry (picture it neatly hanging on a drying rack rather than strewn all over the room). Like Janice’s noisy situation with the clock and the dog, I never gave much thought about my laundry until I decided to test the video function on our new collaboration platform to dial my colleague, Veronica Howard. After I had dialed her, I quickly scrambled to pull the laundry from the rack and threw it in a corner (very clever to throw clean laundry on the floor, I know). When I got on the line with Veronica, I had to tell her about my mad dash to hide the laundry and she informed me that there is a feature on the platform that allows you to blur your background so that you can hide what you do not want others to see (kids, old holiday decorations, etc.) Who knew?!

Michelle Bird: This week I also learned the “blurred background” trick that Liliane mentioned.  While it’s great for blurring out the visual chaos of my house, it cannot mask my four-year-old loudly belting out Taylor Swift’s greatest hits behind me while I’m on the phone. With school on an indefinite hiatus, I’m discovering the challenges of working with two small energetic people running around the house. There is no perfect solution to this, and realizing that, is half the battle. I have conducted interviews from my bathroom, because it has a lock on the door. I have bribed the children with Smarties to get 20 minutes of quiet for a conference call. I have broken all of my usual rules around how much screen time is allowed. We are all in survival mode right now, and thankfully I am finding that everyone – from clients, to co-workers, to managers – are very understanding of that fact. And when things go wrong, we just need to (in the immortal words of Taylor Swift) shake it off, shake it off.

Christine Thomlinson: And that is exactly why I have told my university-aged children that it’s far safer for them to stay put at school right now.  I mean, it is safer, but truth be told, it’s just way easier for me to work for now without them at home.  Which brings me to what I learned this week…since all meetings are now taking place remotely, three of us held a conference call to discuss a file earlier this week.  I was the “leader” and was sure I heard the others join the call when I initiated it.  However, after two of us had talked at length for a half an hour, we went to check in with our third caller, only to realize that she never joined the call (she was busy working away and just lost track of time*).  So, some valuable lessons there for me: make a clear point of checking at the start that everyone who is supposed to be on the call is, and maybe allow for more check-in’s throughout, so that you know if anyone has dropped off by accident.  And, we soon after got our video-conferencing up and running – which makes navigating these hurdles much easier!

So as you can see, we’re having to be a lot more flexible in how we do things in this new business world we’re living in. If you’re having to get used to new technologies, it’s worth taking the necessary time to make sure that you know what you’re doing.  It’s also a great opportunity to expand the tools that we have available to us as workplace investigators and trainers.

*Note from Liliane: This was me. I was the person who failed to attend the meeting. An oldie but a goodie: make sure your sound is turned on so that you can hear your meeting notifications amidst the chaos of your household.


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