Harnessing successful employee relations in the hybrid era

In a remote working environment, the processes for dealing with grievances operate differently, and HR needs to be aware of the extra challenges, explains Gary Cookson

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Some things are still the same whether employees are face-to-face, remote or hybrid. People don’t always get on with each other or the organisation. They can raise grievances against each other or their employer. They don’t always turn up for work. They work with people they may not particularly bond with. These things are natural, but in the face-to-face working environment we have processes that can address these things and restore some harmony. In the remote environment though, things have proved to be a little different in the way these processes operate, and in the experience they create.

Access to tech

If meetings are virtual, all those involved must have access to the right technology – hardware and software and any other equipment. The HR team may have what is needed, but for the employee and any representative, it may not be as easy.  Forward planning will be essential to give all the same experience. A test session, whether individually or as a group, would be advisable unless all have successfully used the technology and equipment previously. If there are people with any kind of disability, then specialist equipment and devices may need to be provided.

Access to information and witnesses

All parties need to be given the right information and evidence to review, and if the evidence is digital, then a secure storage area to be accessed with a password for all parties may be needed, and any evidence that may only be accessible in the office (including witnesses) would need to be made available remotely also (for example arranging video interviews for witnesses).

Large bundles of evidence may need you to break the bundle into smaller files and to ask for acknowledgement of receipt. Careful management of who sends it, to whom and when is also needed to avoid it falling into the wrong hands. To help the participants focus, the chair of the hearing could use the ‘share’ function on remote meeting technology to give focus on the right document and page.

Individual circumstances

Some individual circumstances may make virtual meetings difficult. If an employee is working remotely on the day of the meeting, it could be that that is being done to help with caring responsibilities, and there may be times of the day that are better or worse for them. This is not something you’d have to think about for a face-to-face meeting but a reality for a virtual meeting, and needs careful diary management in advance of scheduling meetings and a greater empathy for individual circumstances.

Recording

The meeting can be recorded if all parties agree, and you could use the video recording function to take the place of notetaking. But if not agreed, then it is worth clarifying to all that any recording that does then happen would be prohibited.

Employees may have someone else in the room (but off camera) giving advice. Could you ask all parties not just to confirm that they are alone in their room (and not receiving covert advice) but to evidence this too.

Remote representation may make it more sensible and logical for employees to be accompanied by someone in their remote workplace – and this is likely to be a family member. Does your policy allow for (and would you want to allow for) this?

Practicalities

It is worth questioning whether the circumstances of the case are right for a virtual meeting and whether, because of the nature of it (sensitive, serious, urgent, etc.) or because of the individual circumstances, it would be better to deal with it face to face?

Some cases may be of a nature where the emotion in the case means that the manager chairing the meeting would find it difficult to deliver the right messages in the right way, and this may again need either a) a face-to-face element or b) more time before, during or after the meeting.

If a meeting is being held virtually then you will need to consider screen time and schedule in breaks – let all parties know in advance when they will be.

Gary Cookson is director of Epic HR and author of HR for Hybrid Working