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How Open Offices Affect Workplace Investigations

Dec 13, 2016
Deb Muller

Are you part of the 70 percent of U.S. offices with no or low partitions?

The open-office wave has undoubtedly soaked offices around the country. In the shuffle to appeal to millennial talent, however, organizations are finding difficulty maintaining daily office procedures. A result of open-office spaces, The Washington Post reports erosion of “workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction.”


But open-offices affect more than productivity; they make workplace investigations difficult to navigate—and budgetary benefits of modern floor plans can be lost to ineffective investigations.

How Do I Perform a Workplace Investigation in an Open Office?

Like the creativity involved with the open-office aesthetic, some ingenuity will be needed to keep information and interviews confidential and employees safe.

Consider Implementing a System to Report Concerns Anonymously

It might be difficult for employees to find a time and/or place to address concerns in an open office. Employees might feel uncomfortable approaching HR with a concern. Organizations can provide an opportunity for employee relations issues to be reported in a variety of ways, including:

  • Webforms
  • Anonymous Hotline
  • Complaint Forms

Offering the ability for employees to voice concerns from a private space, either by phone or electronically, may provide crucial insight otherwise gone unheard.

Establish a Private Location for Interviews

Even before an allegation is made, organizations with an open office setup should determine locations where workplace investigation interviews are to be held. Provide a location or dedicated room where employees can comfortably voice her/his concern(s).

Consider these questions when developing a strategy for creating an appropriate interview space:

  • Is there a private location in the office that is not a fishbowl?
  • Is there a private location within the building where the interview can be conducted?
  • Is there a convenient location outside the office that could be used when available?
  • Are witnesses willing to speak off-site?
  • Are witnesses willing to speak outside of work hours?

Note: If interviews are conducted outside work hours, make sure to determine whether you are required to compensate the employee for this time. Ensure compliance is preserved by reviewing and following state/federal laws and regulations.

Store Confidential Documents in a Secure and Safe Location

Confidential workplace investigation documents and evidence must be limited to viewing by leadership and the HR professional in role of Investigator.

Our own 2016 Employee Relations Benchmark Study found risky trends for storing sensitive employee relations documentation in over 50% of participating organizations.

Ensure HR investigators have a confidential and secure location to store documentation related to on-going or historical investigations. Consider digital storage of documents and evidence to minimize exposed or lost confidential documents.

Draw a Conclusion and Take Action

Use the established safe location to conduct interviews when discussing employee complaints or concerns, next-steps, and other actions drawn from the conclusion of the investigation.

Deb Muller
Deb Muller is the CEO of HR Acuity, employee relations case management and investigations software that combines documentation, process, and human expertise so organizations can meet the challenge of managing employee relations in the modern world.

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