Over the past few years, we have seen a significant shift in the ways that companies operate. Perhaps most notably, countless organizations responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by moving to hybrid and fully remote work models. Now, more than three out of four full-time workers in the United States are working remotely at least some of the time.
This new dynamic has changed how compliance practitioners are communicating with employees and relevant third parties. Common compliance-related concerns are proving to be more challenging in the new work environment. Moreover, the shift to hybrid and remote work has introduced new risks and challenges. In turn, many organizations’ existing compliance programs may no longer fit the bill.
In light of these new challenges and risk factors, companies must be prepared to demonstrate that their compliance programs are well designed and still working effectively. New guidelines for compliance practitioners highlight the importance of effective communication, and the practical approaches below can help strengthen this critical skill set, especially in hybrid or remote work environments.
Three Questions for Compliance Practitioners
On June 1, 2020, the Department of Justice (DOJ) Criminal Division published an updated version of its Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs (ECCP). The revised ECCP clarifies, reorganizes and supplements previous guidance, focusing on three fundamental questions that a prosecutor should ask at distinct points in time: the time of misconduct, the time of a charging decision and the time of resolution. The DOJ recommends that prosecutors ask the following during these stages:
- Is the corporation’s compliance program well designed?
- Is the program being applied earnestly and in good faith? (In other words, is the program being adequately resourced and empowered to function effectively?)
- Does the corporation’s compliance program work in practice?
This update makes clear that the DOJ expects organizations to implement programs that proactively reduce risk and prevent misconduct through measures such as assessment, monitoring, training, policies and communications. In fact, the DOJ uses the word “communicate” about 20 times in the latest ECCP, underscoring that the DOJ expects companies to be distilling all types of guidance to employees so they can do their jobs the right way. This type of communication is especially vital in a newly hybrid or fully virtual work environment.
Strategies for Effective Communication
While the 2020 ECCP emphasizes the importance of effective communications and the role compliance plays, figuring out how to achieve this goal is up to compliance professionals. The following practical approaches can help you better communicate with your employees.
1. Communicate like a marketer. How many of you have simply skimmed an agreement or agreed to a policy without a clear idea of what it entailed? In a world where information overload is all too familiar, it is not surprising that skimming is often the norm for readers today. While it is important that employees know how to do their jobs the right way, how you deliver relevant policy and reinforcement information can be much more impactful and engaging.
The question is, what does impactful, engaging information look like—especially in a hybrid or remote work environment where employees may have more distractions or may be less concerned with organizational values, policies and procedures? Putting your marketing hat on is a great way to improve engagement and readership. For example:
- Keep it short and to the point. Try including policy or other relevant updates in at-a-glance one-pagers containing three to four bullet points. Focus on highlighting “what it means for me,” explaining how the specific guidance applies to each individual’s role.
- Leverage multiple channels. With countless communication channels regularly in use, email is no longer the only tried-and-true option. Leverage channels such as your intranet, Slack and Zoom to engage employees where they are.
- Take a storytelling approach. When you need to send longer communications, take a storytelling approach by appealing to employees’ emotional, human sides.
- Share helpful employee resources. Connect the dots for your employees
- with helpful checklists and job aids. Additionally, always give them an option to report actual or perceived noncompliance issues to an internal contact or via a confidential employee reporting line.
- Engage in two-way communication. Communication is a two-way street—or at least, it should be. Embrace transparency and two-way communication to engage your employees and give them a voice.
- Optimize based on what works. Do not just quit while you are ahead; learn from what is working and make changes based on what you have learned.
2. Assess the mood in the middle. The mood among managers and supervisors has the greatest impact at an organization. Employees are often disconnected from senior leadership and the C-suite, leaving managers to set the tone for their immediate departments and direct reports. This can be especially true in hybrid or remote working environments where employee interactions are either less frequent than or different from the way they once were.
Manager engagement is especially influential in cultivating and maintaining a culture of compliance. According to a report by Ethisphere, employees whose managers frequently discuss ethics and compliance topics are 90% more likely to have faith in their manager’s commitment to non-retaliation. On the other hand, employees whose managers never discuss these topics are 89% less likely to have faith in their company’s commitment to its non-retaliation policy.
Delivering engaging communications through managers is key. Approach it like a change-management exercise and get buy-in from them first. From there, you can set expectations and provide ready-to-use tools and job aids for managers to share with their employees during two-way discussions about ethics and compliance.
3. Use data-driven communications. Communications can be general for most employees and more targeted for higher-risk groups. The DOJ recommends focusing on higher-risk employees and managers, specifically process gatekeepers and those with approval authority.
Avoid one-size-fits-all messaging, which is typically hard for employees to digest and apply. Organizational risk scorecards can be used to assess targets and then drive tailored communications to high-risk groups. When assessing these microcultures, communication should always come from that group’s respective leadership chain.
Mitigating Virtual Workplace Risks to Maintain Compliance
Hybrid and virtual work environments have certainly introduced new compliance risks and challenges. However, these new ways of working have also introduced new opportunities for compliance practitioners, particularly when it comes to what and how we are communicating with employees.
To maintain compliance in hybrid and virtual work environments, companies must take steps to mitigate risk and ensure employees are properly trained, equipped and supported. With the right approach, you can engage members of your organization while ensuring they are prepared to comply with company standards and policies.