The disappearance of office chit-chat

Something I’d like to tell my future self about how we dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic is…

An overlooked compliance consequence of working from home.

There is no doubt that the global pandemic has wrought unexpected changes and challenges to the workplace, many of which seemed to happen almost overnight. One of the biggest such changes, is a large workforce that is suddenly working from home.

Don’t get me wrong. Working from home is great and certainly has many advantages. For example, I can take my dog out for a mid-afternoon walk, go for a run during lunch, or simply toss in a load of laundry between Zoom meetings, eliminating one less chore to do after work. But one critical piece that is missing when working from home is the ability to stop by a colleague’s desk and simply chat. This also includes things such as the opportunity to get to know a new employee in the lunchroom while waiting for our food to heat up, or the chance to stop after a meeting to speak with a colleague from another department.

Humans are social creatures by nature, and we need personal interaction. Studies show that there are quantifiable benefits to conversations with coworkers – these seemingly inconsequential interactions promote a sense of well-being, build office comradery, and actually make us more productive. Perhaps this information isn’t all that earth-shattering. But there is another, overlooked aspect to this which is particularly important for compliance leaders – these small, unplanned interactions ultimately promote a healthy corporate culture.

By slowly building relationships with employees, including those in other departments, compliance officers are able to foster a sense of trust. Employees that have gotten to know you personally will ultimately feel more comfortable confiding in you and seeking advice about potential compliance issues or other ethical dilemmas. It also helps to build bridges between departments, an important aspect particularly for the compliance function, which tends to be siloed.

Critically, such small talk often leads to larger conversations. It provides an opportunity for the compliance officer to share information, teach, and influence, all things that are much more challenging in a remote setting. Employees are simply not as likely to pick up the phone and call the compliance officer out of the blue. But if that same employee happens to casually run into the compliance officer in the break room while getting coffee, they’re more likely to bring up whatever concern may be on their minds or some other issue they just encountered.

Face-to-face contact and office interaction also allows the compliance officer to remain visible, a subtle yet important reminder that the company not only has a compliance presence but that compliance is a valued function. This is especially useful and beneficial for those departments or lines of business that may not have regular interaction with compliance.

Working remotely, at least on some level, is here to stay. Therefore, compliance officers will need to think of new and creative ways to influence corporate culture and engage with employees. Some suggestions include things such as scheduling periodic check-ins with various departments, holding more frequent mini-training sessions, hosting company-wide online compliance challenges, starting a digital compliance newsletter, or incorporating an interactive element when sending out reminders and updates about compliance-related policies and procedures.

Ola M. Tucker, JD, CAMS

Founder, Compliance Writer, Compliance Training Consultant
Compliance Notes
[email protected]


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