Microsoft Teams Pilot Project 2022
28 October 2022
Review of the Proposed Approach
In the 10 December 2021 communique entitled ‘Review of the Proposed approach to managing Return to Work Act 2014 cases at hearing and determination’, it was advised that SAET would be conducting the MS Teams Conciliation Pilot Project in 2022. It was also advised that MS Teams would be trialled for selected directions hearings by the President.
The MS Teams Conciliation Pilot Project was conducted from April to September 2022. The Pilot Project was aimed at increasing the capability and confidence of Commissioners, and conference participants, in audio-visual (AV) conferencing.
The Commissioners who participated in the Pilot Project have reported that they gained an excellent understanding of the MS Teams technology and functionality. The Commissioners have advised that whilst they found the MS Teams platform easy to use, and that technical difficulties rarely arose for them, representatives on occasions were challenged in that regard. The Commissioners have also noted that self-represented litigants have been willing and able to participate in AV conferences.
AV technology has also been extensively used by Commissioners for public sector review hearings and also for certain expedited decision hearings.
The Commissioners report that the benefits of AV conferences and hearings, compared to those conducted via telephone, include:
- Increased investment and engagement by the participants in the conciliation process – they can see justice being done.
- Increased accountability of behaviour and demeanour of the participants – they all can be seen.
- Increased ability to monitor the conversation between the participants – less talking over each other.
- Greater connectivity with participants located in regional areas, or interstate – active, not passive, participation.
Some of the challenges that the Commissioners have identified include:
- Limited enthusiasm by Adelaide based representatives who appear to generally prefer telephone conferencing, where face to face conferencing is not possible.
- Technical issues and difficulties for representatives, particularly those working from home.
The President’s experience with AV technology for directions hearings has been trialled, although not extensively. This being as the telephone format for directions hearings has, and continues, to prove to be a most efficacious way to conduct short procedural hearings. The President’s experience has been that whilst AV directions hearings are suitable and appropriate, telephone directions hearings provide more flexibility to participants, particularly for busy representatives.
- The applicant resided in Western Australia during that State’s Covid-19 lock down period. Telephone conferences had proved to be difficult, as the applicant would become angry, frustrated, and would talk over other participants. Accordingly, an AV conference was arranged for the applicant to appear by MS Teams, with all other participants, including the Commissioner, present at SAET. After a further similar AV conference, the case resolved by agreement. The applicant’s behaviour was markedly different during the AV conferencing, where calm and reasonable discussions took place. The applicant’s behavioural change was attributed to the visual aspect of the conferencing.
- Another case involved an applicant with profound hearing loss. All of the participants involved in the AV conference where in their own offices. The applicant effectively participated in the discussions with the assistance of an Auslan interpreter. In a break-out period, the Commissioner located the applicant, the interpreter and the representative in their own virtual room to enable private discussions and for instructions to be taken, before returning them to the conference.
- In further case, a self-represented applicant attended an AV conference from their mobile device, whilst at their workplace. The subject matter of the dispute was how the applicant’s average weekly earnings had been calculated. During the conference the parties viewed and shared wages documents electronically, before the case resolved by agreement.
AV technology is suitable and appropriate to assist with the business of SAET. However, there will be no one-size-fits-all approach, with SAET being flexible in the way it conducts its business and adapting its procedures to best fit the circumstances of any particular case. In that regard, AV technology will continue to be used by SAET where appropriate and necessary.