A global pandemic is just one of the reasons why working from home has become the new normal. But adding physical distancing to the mix creates some major challenges for investigators. Without the ability to conduct in-person interviews, collect evidence on-site and collaborate with colleagues in-person, investigating has become more complicated.
Cybersecurity, confidentiality and data collection need to be approached differently. Luckily, the right tools can make conducting remote investigations less of a struggle.
Conducting and managing investigations remotely can be frustrating.
A web-based solution with centralized case files makes it easy to collaborate and track workflow, even when team members work from home. Learn more about case management software’s benefits in our free guide.Get the Guide
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Staying compliant, ensuring a high-quality conclusion to your investigation and keeping employees safe all become more difficult when you’re investigating remotely. Ask yourself these questions as you develop your remote investigations process.
Collecting evidence and data is one of the most challenging yet important aspects of remote investigations. You have to ensure integrity, stay compliant with legal requirements and protect your investigators’ health and safety.
According to a panel of experts in a webcast by Ethisphere, preserving evidence should be your primary focus. Obtaining physical evidence, such as devices, might not be possible for investigators. Instead, consider using couriers or other delivery services to collect the evidence and use gloves or sanitizing measures when working with it.
Collecting data is easier, but still requires more care than when you’re working at the office. To ensure the integrity of financial or accounting data, use screenshots to record and authenticate your steps
Investigators should also collect data simultaneously from multiple people, if they can. As they spend more time on their devices at home, subjects may notice your collection efforts and tip off another person, or may see you collecting from someone else and delete their own files. Coordinate your timing and streamline your process to make remote data collection as fast and undetectable as possible.
Solid online research skills can make your investigations more thorough and efficient. Watch this free webinar to learn helpful techniques and tools for gathering information you need online.
Working from home can pose a risk to the information you’re handling. This includes confidential company information, personally identifiable information and financial data.
Weaker confidentiality and privacy practices increase the risk of:
- Revealing trade secrets to third parties
- Requiring information to be disclosed in litigation
- Misconduct allegations leaking to the public and, in turn, disclosure of these
- Physical evidence being intercepted during transport between team members
Similarly, maintaining privilege becomes more challenging when you’re working from home. For example, you risk exposing privileged information when you take privileged documents or company devices off-site. If you conduct remote interviews over video call on an unsecured network, you also risk disclosing privileged information.
To reduce these risks, the panel explains, review policies regarding bring your own device and information security for your organization or those you’re working with. In addition, refresh yourself on applicable privacy laws in your country and/or state.
Conducting remote investigations on personal devices, unsecured networks and even just in an unsecured environment increases cybersecurity risks. At best, you may lose a client. At worst, you could face fines, lawsuits and reputation damage.
Using robust cybersecurity controls minimizes the risk of data breaches as well as leaked information about allegations, evidence and/or disciplinary actions. To prevent attacks and hacks, take these steps:
- Conform with your (or your clients’) cybersecurity best practices
- Use company devices for work rather than personal devices
- Connect to secure WiFi or wired internet
- Use a VPN to conduct work tasks
The panel of experts stressed that in addition to collecting evidence, stopping misconduct should be your other primary focus when investigating remotely. However, not being able to see the subject in person makes it much more difficult to discipline them.
Because many regular disciplinary actions are impossible when the offender is working remotely, you’ll need to get creative. The panel suggests a few possible courses of action you could take, depending on the severity of the misconduct:
- Revoked privileges or access: removing the offender’s access to sensitive data or not allowing them to work on certain tasks (i.e. no access to financial data in a fraud case)
- Paid suspension: the employee may not come into the office or complete work tasks for a set amount of time, but still remains on the payroll
- Suspension without pay: the employee must take an unpaid leave of absence from the workplace but keeps their position
- Dismissal: if you find enough evidence to prove a severe policy violation, you may suggest dismissing the accused from their position
To streamline the disciplinary process:
- Update policies to reflect remote investigation and discipline procedures (e.g. how to inform involved persons about updates to and outcome of investigation)
- Train investigators on these changes
- Use a program to obtain digital signatures on investigation documents (e.g. statements, complaints, etc.)
- Consult with an employment lawyer to ensure the disciplinary measures follow relevant laws and regulations
Keeping your team safe and healthy (especially in situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic) should take precedence over all your investigative tasks. Failure to do so not only hurts the investigator and their family, but could also land you in legal trouble if they get hurt or sick on the job.
If there is an immediate threat to an investigator’s physical well-being (e.g. illness risk, combative subject), find alternate ways to perform the task. For instance:
- Conduct phone or video interviews to eliminate illness risk
- Require investigators to wear gloves when handling physical evidence
- Don’t allow investigators to go off-site alone
- Encourage investigators to carry a firearm (if your state allows it)
Don’t forget to look out for investigators’ mental wellness, too. Working remotely can be isolating and lonely. Team members might also have a tough time staying motivated, seeing how their work fits into the big picture or work too much.
Support their mental health by scheduling weekly video calls with your team. Not only will this keep everyone on track when they can’t be in the office together, but also gives you a chance to connect, combatting loneliness.
Case management software streamlines the investigation process, whether your team works in the same office or in different countries. Look for a system with the following features to maximize the efficiency of your remote investigations.
Security is one of the biggest concerns for investigators working remotely. Choose software that is password-protected and encrypted to protect the sensitive data you’ll be working with. When you work on a secure platform, you can focus more on your tasks, without worrying about privacy.
For added security, look for a platform with role-based access. This feature gives team members different viewing and editing capabilities on parts of case files based on their position (manager vs. investigator) and/or their role in the investigation.
Collaborating with team members when you’re working remotely (especially when you must stay home) can be complicated. One of the toughest aspects is seeing the big picture of the investigation when the team is separated.
For more effective collaboration, use case management software with smart workflow features. For instance, task reminders alert team members when they have work coming due. A chronological timeline shows all activities that were performed on the file, including completed tasks and uploaded documents, plus who did them and when.
Working from home also makes information retrieval harder. If you’re using multiple spreadsheets or data repositories, accessing information can be time consuming and tedious.
Look for case management software with a centralized database. When audio and video files, supporting documents, notes and contact information are all stored in one place, finding what you need is quick and easy. No matter how far-flung team members are, they can share information fast for more efficient remote investigations.
Conducting remote investigations using spreadsheets and email is inefficient, unsecure and frustrating. A web-based platform makes working and sharing information easier.
When your system is web-based, you can access it from anywhere you have an internet connection. Unlike paper or spreadsheet systems, you don’t have to worry about not being able to access files when you’re working from home.
Choose software that’s mobile-friendly, too. If investigators must venture out to conduct interviews or collect evidence, they can add notes and media files to the case file right away. This reduces the risk of details falling through the cracks before they can log them back at their home office.
When team members aren’t all in the office together, it’s harder to keep the investigation on track. Case management software can help managers provide real-time oversight of cases and timely case review.
Task tracking lets managers see who completed which tasks and how long they spent on them. This feature provides insight into which employees are on-task and which need a motivation boost. It also acts as a virtual timesheet for easy billing.
Your case management software should also build your case review cycles into the workflow. Even when you’re not in the office, you’ll ensure cases are reviewed and approved according to organizational procedures and regulatory requirements.
A plan ensures investigations stay on track and follow a logical process, especially when team members are working remotely. Download our free investigation plan template to start drafting yours.
When you’re investigating remotely, compliance is more important than ever. Adhering to laws, regulations and best practices not only gives team members a sense of normalcy, but also ensures everyone acts ethically, even when they aren’t in the office.
Case management software with auditable case history lessens your liability. Each case file contains a timestamped activity history of every action, including who completed them and when. Should you be questioned about an investigation, you can easily retrieve this information from the case file.
In addition, case history documentation shows managers areas to improve when they can’t monitor their team in-person. For instance, did one investigator do all the work when they were working in a pair? Did a certain step take too long to complete?
Managing and conducting remote investigations can be challenging. Use case management software to ensure yours are timely, thorough and compliant even when your team is working from home.