- Virtual layoffs might become more standard in the remote and hybrid world of work.
- Perhaps one of the worst things a company can do is blindside their workers and conduct layoffs through an email or mass Zoom meeting.
- If it must be done, there are some best practices leaders can employ when laying off their staff virtually.
While remote and hybrid ways of working have brought immense benefits to the world of work, one unfortunate downside is being laid off virtually.
The Better.com CEO laid off 900 employees over Zoom last Christmas, and Carvana let 2,500 workers go during group Zoom calls and some via email six months later. Other leaders are following suit, which may make workers ask — is this really the future of a remote workforce?
“My heart just sank. I haven’t been a part of something like that before. It was very callous,” one Better.com employee told the BBC in December.
When being laid off through a screen, workers may feel as though it lacks empathy, even if that is unintended. If it must be done, there are some best practices leaders can employ when laying off their staff virtually.
Notifying employees of their termination is one of the most difficult tasks in business; delivering this sometimes life-changing news creates anxiety and sometimes animosity. But the difference between a good layoff and bad layoff is all about how they’re conducted.
Perhaps one of the worst things a company can do is blindside their workers and conduct layoffs through an email or mass Zoom meeting.
Here’s what workplace leaders think about laying off employees over Zoom:
“Unfortunately, we anticipate that zoom layoffs in bulk will continue to be part of the new work landscape moving forward, regardless of lessons learned,” Walter Foster, a labor and employment attorney with Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, told Allwork.Space. “From a CEO perspective, it is fast, efficient and blunts the burden and time it takes to conduct layoffs live. Despite its impact on remaining worker’s morale and those laid off, the unity of messaging, rip the band-aid off approach, appears to remain attractive for some companies.”
Sid Upadhyay, CEO and Co-Founder of WizeHire believes that as more companies become fully remote, having difficult conversations over Zoom and over the phone may be unavoidable.
“The ‘zoom layoffs’ we’re hearing about are typically happening at larger, distributed, or remote-first organizations. These are a modern version of layoff conversations we’ve seen or heard about in the past; except thanks to technology, they are recorded,” he said. “These conversations have always been hard, and how thoughtfully they’re executed makes all the difference to the team that’s impacted and the team who stays with the business.”
Employers may find it in their best interest to act thoughtfully when laying off their workers; if employees are treated badly during this process, they’re more likely to speak poorly about their experience to their colleagues/networks, as well as post online reviews.
“Smaller, typically locally-based companies have more control over such scenarios. Whenever possible, sensitive conversations around performance, job security, and milestone celebrations should happen face to face — ideally in person, but over Zoom is fine as well,” Upadhyay told Allwork.Space.
Remote layoff ettiquette
When firing must be done remotely, Upadhyay recommends these best practices:
- Create ongoing transparent communications around the health of the business. In the event there is a layoff, it will reduce the shock factor.
- If laying off multiple employees, be sure each person impacted is able to have a thoughtful and personal discussion with their manager.
- Lead with empathy and authentic care for your employee during the conversation.
- Invest the time to make sure they feel valued upon exit. Their feelings of disappointment and upset are natural. Make time to hear their feelings and reassure them that the layoff is not a reflection of their work ethic, performance, or value to the business.
- Offer resources to help them in their transition, such as letters of recommendation or connecting them to colleagues in your space.
In the future of work, who will do the firing?
Workers are increasingly wondering what the future of the workplace will begin to look like — especially as technology advances and integrates itself further into the workplace. Will people get hired or fired by a bot that uses a search and performance algorithm tied to social media?
Imagine this not-so-far-off scenario: A bot tracks your productivity level, and if you are underperforming, the bot sends you an email with a termination of contract.
In actuality, Amazon just does that already. The algorithms tracking its delivery drivers can decide if they aren’t doing their job correctly, and then send an automated layoff email.
“At Amazon, machines are often the boss — hiring, rating and firing millions of people with little or no human oversight,” according to Bloomberg.
Amazon is increasingly using software to manage workers in its warehouses, oversee contract drivers and independent delivery companies, as well as the performance of its office workers. Some say Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos believes machines make quicker and more accurate decisions, which reduces costs.
It’s hard to know the extent and role that machines/bots will play in the future of how layoffs are conducted, but for now, workplace leaders should give greater consideration for how they fire workers via email or Zoom.