Video Chats

The following question was posed to me by a reporter: “If an employer has a geographically disbursed team can they conduct performance appraisals or disciplinary conversations over a video chat and record the conversation for documentation purposes?”

Video chat is an excellent tool to reach a geographically disbursed team. However, I found the notion of recording the conversation for documentation purposes both interesting yet somewhat troubling from an employee relations perspective. Most employers would not consider recording (either audio taping or a video taping) a face-to-face discussion as a way of creating a record of the meeting. What makes a video chat any different?

Putting any legal considerations aside – I’ll leave that to the attorneys – I think asking an employee if they will consent to the recording would immediately make the employee uneasy and defensive. If the nature of the conversation is to discuss strategies for improving employee performance (or conduct), then the goal of the meeting should be to have a positive and productive dialogue. As an HR leader, I would be concerned about starting a discussion on what could be perceived as a negative note, namely that you want the conversation to be recorded and asking the employee for his/her consent. My fear – it could cause the employee to shut down, become defensive, and not be a willing participant in the dialogue. If the intent were really to provide feedback and have a two-way discussion about strategies for improvement, I don’t see this approach being effective.

Further, by recording the conversation, the employer could increase its risk if in fact the recording were used as evidence in a legal challenge (Court case, EEOC complaint, etc). Consider the manager who may not be as skilled at having these critical conversations, loses his/her composure, and makes statements that would have better remained unsaid. Now an electronic record of a discussion gone awry exists to the detriment of the employer.

Managers should always maintain documentation of meetings with employees. Keep in mind every meeting is not going to be a video chat. Notes should be made of the key points and issues that were discussed and next steps agreed upon. If some team members are geographically disbursed and others are in the same location as the manager and different approaches for creating documentation are used (video recordings for those in other locations and written records for those in the same location), this two-tier method could be perceived as unfair, causing another type of employee relations concern. The Big Book of HR, Guidelines for Documenting Workplace Issues (written documentation) and a Sample Disciplinary Notice. There are also chapters on Critical Conversations and Performance Management, with appendices devoted to documentation of performance issues.

When considering the use of video chats, especially to create a record, ask yourself if this aligns with your organizational culture. My concern is that by creating recordings of video chats, you are sending a message that it’s okay for anyone to record things that go on in the workplace. Is this the type of culture an employer wants to create?
So, are there situations where situations where a face-to-face conversation (even if it’s just over video chat) is better than a phone conversation?

As I said earlier, video chat is an excellent tool to reach a geographically disbursed team. With tools like Skype and Face Time, the technology has become much more affordable and I would encourage employers to use it frequently if it is feasible. It helps to make the discussion more personal. Using video chats for all performance appraisal discussions is an excellent example. A discussion about disciplinary issues is also another opportunity to use video chat. However, be wary of recording them especially if you have not sought legal counsel.

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