In part one of this series, “Best Practices for Conducting Remote Interviews in Today’s Restrictive Climate,” we discussed the increased need for investigators to conduct remote interviews. As travel restrictions continue to escalate and government mandates force more employees to work remotely, the need for remote capability has never been more immediate. As we have already discussed, many interviewers that are still tasked with closing cases and having conversations with employees have been leveraging technology to accomplish that mission.
We also talked extensively about the application of telephone interviews including the disadvantages, preliminary steps to take, and structure of the actual conversation. Now, we want to dive into technology that is becoming increasingly more popular for remote workers—the use of video conferencing platforms to communicate.
Many of the same considerations should be made for video conferencing interviews that we discussed relative to telephone interviewing. Please refer to our previous article for those tips. However, there are additional obstacles and advantages to consider when relying on video conferencing as a solution for your next investigative interview.
When to Use a Remote Interview
The same guidelines that apply to remote interviewing using the telephone should also relate to video interviews. However, there may be some additional considerations in deciding when a video interview may or may not be the appropriate solution:
- Similar to the standard phone interview, investigators need to determine if they have a reliable platform to conduct these conversations; signal strength, video quality, and ease of use should be considered.
- Will the environment of either the interviewer or subject create additional visual distractions that can’t be minimized? We will discuss the environment later in this article, but if there are obstacles that create an unprofessional or distracting environment, a phone interview may be better suited.
- Organizational guidelines may disallow any type of video broadcast that does not meet jurisdictional mandates or creates a privacy concern for the information that may be discussed during the conversation.
- Relative to the culture of the organization, video meetings and conversations may be commonplace, which would normalize this method of communication. If employees are comfortable with this type of delivery, they are less likely to have resistance on a video call than a more impersonal phone interview.
Disadvantages of the Video Interview
Similar to the phone interview, there are many common disadvantages to conducting these conversations remotely. Standard obstacles such as control of the environment and handling the disposition of the case should still be considered. Additionally, there are some other potential disadvantages to the video interview:
- Poor video quality, signal strength, or other technological disruptions could impact the flow of the interview. Like a poor Wi-Fi signal during a FaceTime call, the subject or the interviewer may become pixelated or their image freezes on the screen creating an awkward and distracting interruption to the conversation.
- If the interviewer is unfamiliar with the video conference platform, there is a possibility for the accidental sharing of a screen, evidence disclosure, or other mistakes that could be the result of clicking the wrong button.
- For interviewers who are not comfortable with video conferencing, they may appear nervous or uncomfortable and create a further barrier with the subject.
- Contrary to the advantage of a phone interview, the subject can now see the interviewer, which creates an additional set of considerations that will be discussed in the “Environment of the Video Interview.” Issues such as the interviewers’ apparel, background images, and visible distractions now play a larger role in the conversation.
- Also, in contradiction to the phone interview, investigators may not have easy access to a structure of questions, additional notes, or referral to evidence without the subject observing them do so.
Advantages of the Video Interview
Conducting remote interviews of any kind has a variety of benefits as discussed in the prior article, including cost savings and the ability for organizations to be socially responsible while implementing precautionary health measures. In addition to the standard benefits of a telephone interview, the video solution provides some additional advantages:
- Communication is no longer limited to just the verbal channel as it may have been over the phone. Investigators can now interact in a more dynamic fashion with the subject as they use illustrators, gestures, and facial reactions to further emphasize or express the meaning behind their words.
- Rapport is easier to develop and maintain with the addition of video in these conversations. The ability to increase engagement and humanize the conversation could increase cooperation from the subject.
- Collecting the statement or additional evidence during a video interview increases the transparency of this process. Investigators will be able to visually observe the statement in real time, versus having to rely on an auditory recap of what was written.
- Dependent on the video platform that is used, interviewers could utilize a “share screen” feature and actually discuss specific facts or pieces of evidence as both subject and interviewer can view the item, as opposed to relying on a witness in a phone interview to produce these documents.
- If permitted by the organization and following jurisdictional laws, video interviews can be easily recorded. Recording interviews has several benefits, including ease of report writing, further investigation, preservation of statements, and training.
- Visual observation of the subject allows the interviewer to have more context regarding their state of mind. An interviewer may be able to better understand if a subject is resistant, disengaged, or distracted versus a standard phone interview.
Environment of the Video Interview
The physical environment of the interview is a topic that spans across both in-person and remote interview methods. Minimizing distractions, the need for privacy, and the subject’s freedom to leave are paramount to success in these conversations. For the video interview specifically, here are some additional thoughts to consider:
- The interviewer’s physical location is now visible to the subject. Investigators need to view their own webcam and the scope of the camera before conferencing with the subject. Removing distracting items such as pictures, awards, and other objects are essential to allow for a productive conversation.
- Additionally, interviewers should be aware of any objects, such as a ceiling fan or television in the background, that would have movement distracting to the subject.
- The “virtual” room setting should be considered as well, including the layout of the video platform and the view of the subject. Depending on the software solution being used, interviewers should minimize any distractions on their computer, such as email, that may pop up during the conversation creating a distraction or potentially sharing confidential information.
- Predict any distractions that could arise during the video interview. For those working out of their homes, pets, spouses, and children tend to need attention at the most inopportune times. These simple interruptions could cause the subject to become resistant and feeling disconnected from the private nature of the conversation.
- All the same issues mentioned above could also be relevant at the subject’s location. Preferably the subject is in a business setting allowing for more control of the situation. If the employee is working remotely, it may be beneficial to schedule a time for the discussion that they can be prepared with minimal distractions.
- As we will discuss next, the witness to the video interview may also join remotely. This creates a third level of potential distractions at their location. The same precautions as mentioned above should be discussed with the witness prior to the interview.
Witnesses to the Video Interview
As in most interviews, a witness is an important asset in minimizing liability, capturing essential details of the conversation, and providing an impartial account of the conversation. In addition to the common guidelines that should be followed in the selection and instruction given to a witness, here are some supplemental thoughts relative to video interviewing:
- If the witness is present with the subject, investigators should insure they are following appropriate social distancing guidelines or other organizational policies for the health and well-being of the team.
- Additionally, if the witness is present with the subject, they should be positioned in a way to ensure the subject is still free to physically leave the room and conversation at any time for non-custodial interviews.
- For video interviews, it is possible for the witness to also be in a remote location and dial into the chat. This is a distinct advantage with video, as the witness can now observe both visually and verbally the entire conversation without having to be present.
- If the witness is joining the video chat from their own location, it may be considered that they turn their camera off completely to minimize the distraction of a third person on the conversation. In this situation, the interviewer should still introduce the witness into the conversation, but then they will have minimal impact throughout.
- Don’t forget to mute the witness. Test the audio features of the video platform before the subject joins in, and ensure the witness has their microphone muted but understands the functionality if they need to enter the conversation.
- For witnesses that choose to leave their video on during the conversation, they will need to take measurements to ensure their room setting is clear of distractions. Beyond static distractions as mentioned earlier, witnesses should avoid expressions that are reactionary to the conversation.
- In the witness’s location, they should be prepared for potential distractions of other people walking by or engaging in conversation with them. A witness that appears to be talking to somebody in the background will immediately create a gap in the private and confidential nature of the conversation.
- The witness should also consider appropriate dress code for the interview if they are not in a business setting.
Conducting the Video Interview
As with all the topics already discussed, the structure and execution of the interview will be similar to an in-person or phone interview. Video interviewing allows for increased engagement, which could also include additional obstacles or awkward moments.
Areas discussed in the prior article included the importance of developing rapport, engagement, delivery of the message, and overall timeliness of the conversation. These areas are all still significant during the video interview along with a few other considerations.
Self-consciousness. The initial uneasiness of a video interview comes with unfamiliarity with the platform and a self-consciousness of how we appear on a webcam. In effort to minimize this discomfort, the interviewer can discuss them with transparency and remove the hurdles that may exist. A quick tutorial for the subject on how to use the software, if they are unfamiliar, can assist in “breaking the ice” and also allow for them to feel more comfortable using this solution. With the uncertainty as a result of the global pandemic, employees may also be feeling panicked or stressed. Interviewers should be aware of these mental health concerns and utilize the introduction of the video call as a platform to relate to the subject and express the support of the organization consistent with company protocols.
Conversation Starters. Often on a video call, the host will refer to a picture hanging on their wall of their favorite sports team or the weather at their base location. These simple conversation starters can assist in humanizing the interviewer and also give all parties time to feel more comfortable in the setting of a video interview.
Physical Expressions. Regarding delivery of the message, interviewers should be aware of their physical expressions. It is relatively easy to identify if somebody is reading or referring to notes when focused on a camera. Interviewers should conduct the conversation as naturally as possible, coming across with genuine sincerity. The interviewer should also be aware if they normally talk with their hands or use gestures when describing something. These same behaviors are crucial in communicating normally for the speaker, but they should be cognizant of the scope of the camera. Hand gestures or illustrators that exceed the size of the picture frame may be distracting to the subject.
Eye Contact. Lastly, the level of eye contact can be a difficult measurement on a video call. Too much or not enough? The more comfortable the interviewer can get using video calls, the easier this will become. Interviewers should aim for normal eye contact as an in-person conversation, naturally looking away when recalling information. A steady stare and consistent eye contact will come across intimidating and adversarial to the subject, the opposite intent of a non-confrontational method.
Don’t let your first experience using video conferencing occur during an investigative interview. Get familiar with the software and get comfortable with being on video. Take some practice calls with friends or coworkers where you can familiarize yourself with looking into a webcam and managing a conversation remotely. Once you are able to maneuver through the software and are comfortable staring at yourself on a tiny screen, the interview becomes much easier.
As many organizations are using video conferencing for meetings and other remote functions, force yourself to use these features as much as possible. The consistent use will assist you in identifying distractions as well as keys to success on this platform. With any new obstacle, reach out to peers and colleagues in the industry that have been implementing video solutions in the past. Learn from each other’s mistakes and “borrow” their successes.
Make sure to partner with your human resources and legal teams before making a decision to implement video interviews as there may be other issues to consider. First and foremost, we want to ensure our teams feel comfortable, secure, and understand that our priority is their well-being. Being able to still execute an important task, such as interviewing, in a unique environment will only continue to add value to you and your teams’ impact on the organization and its culture.
As always, Wicklander-Zulawski is here to support you if additional training is needed for your team. Please visit us at www.w-z.com or reach out directly at 800-222-7789.