Can Workplace Restoration be Achieved Using an Online Format?

By Blaine Donais LLB, LLM, C.Med, Q.Arb, PHSA, WFA

Covid-19 has forced us to reconsider how we mediate and arbitrate.  The use of online format for mediation and arbitration has always been seen as nascent, inadequate and at times frustrating for participants and practitioners.  Up to the point of Covid 19 many practitioners have shied away from the use of online technology as they believed that it depersonalized the experience and thus made the interventions less successful.  Nevertheless, we have all been thrusted into online format for much of our work.  Why? Because the only alternative is to do nothing.

As we have been forced to use online technology like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Jabber, Black Board Collaborate, Go To Meetings (and the list goes on and on), we are all becoming more comfortable with the technology. We are discovering in fact that online mediations and arbitrations have advantages from a practice perspective.  These include:

  • Reduced cost related to meeting rooms, travel and meals
  • Reduced time related to commuting to locations
  • The ability to use share functions to quickly direct attention to particular documents
  • Convenience of scheduling related to calendar invites
  • In some cases the ability to record sessions to have an accurate record (this being quite helpful for arbitrations and investigations and of course quite unnecessary for meditations and restorations

But can the same advantages apply to the use of online technology for Workplace Restoration? 

The demand for Workplace Restorations and Health and Fairness Assessments has skyrocketed in the last couple of years.  Mediators and HR professionals are finding no shortage of demand for their services in these areas.  In fact, some larger workplaces have created Workplace Restoration departments (like the City of Edmonton) to help manage the demand.  Other workplaces (like the City of Calgary) have specifically trained all their HR Business Partners in Workplace Restoration and Assessments so that they are better prepared to deal with their own challenges in a more proactive manner.  And many Federal Government Informal Conflict Management System practitioners have been specifically trained in our models to help them serve their workplaces in crisis.

Workplace restoration is a much more involved process than either arbitration and mediation.  There are five separate phases to consider.  Interactions may be had with dozens of people throughout the restoration process.  Interventions involving one on one coaching require a sense of security and confidentiality.  And group facilitation interventions might involve dozens of people being in the same room together.

So how do we make it work?  At the Workplace Fairness Institute we have been experimenting with distance related restoration for over 10 years.  My first workplace restoration happened primarily over the phone, with only strategic live sessions happening once or twice in the lifetime of the restoration.  Since then about half of our workplace restoration work has been done either over the phone or through the use of online technology. 

And we have found many additional advantages to this approach.  First, some people are actually more comfortable in the assessment phase to tell their story in a non-live format.  This can be accomplished either through the phone or by using the online format with the camera off.   Second, many people are concerned about repercussions for their participation in the individual interviews if their colleagues or managers see them.  We can assuage those concerns by having people speak with us from the comfort of their homes without anyone else watching or knowing.  Third, as practitioners we are more accessible because there is no travel involved.  I have performed restorations for workplaces across the country and find that this is possible through the use of a distance communication strategy involving phone, online technology, email and even chat in some cases.

There are, however, a number of downsides to the use of online technology. 

First and foremost, there is stress related to the extensive use of Zoom and other formats.  Some studies have indicated that spending more than 3.5 hours a day using online meeting technology can cause stress and fatigue related to over concentration, seeing yourself on the screen for extended periods of time and also frustration with technology issues. 

Also, it is important to take care to determine whether all participants have access to computers, good band width and stable technology on their ends.  The frustration associated with dealing with technical glitches can undermine the purpose of the interaction. 

Finally, managing large group facilitated sessions can be challenging.  It is exceedingly difficult to see more than 25 people on a single screen no matter which option you use.  So we have found that we have needed to carefully manage the size of group facilitated sessions.  We make extensive use of the breakout room functions for our facilitations to make the experience more intimate for participants.

In our upcoming seminar on Workplace Restoration and Health and Fairness Assessments we will be addressing many of the concerns related to online technology.  The seminar itself has had to adapt by moving to an online format that will have us working 10 half days rather than 5 full days.  We will use breakout room technology to enhance our experiential learning modality.

And this seminar will help prepare participants to provide restoration and assessment services to workplaces who will desperately need help to reintegrate staff and to manage the conflicts that have arisen from remote working.  This seminar will help you open up your potential client base to potentially include workplaces from across the continent.

Click here to see the full brochure for the workplace restoration and workplace fairness analyst certification program, taking place within last two weeks of July.