How to Lay Off Employees Gracefully: Special Considerations for Remote Teams

With more people than ever working from home, layoffs require even more care and planning

As businesses face increased financial stress, leaders are being forced to layoff employees at unprecedented rates. With social distancing orders in effect, though, the majority of these layoffs are now taking place virtually. Though our work environments have changed, the principles of humane layoffs shouldn’t go out the window; they need to be adapted, not ignored.

  • Be transparent about cutting back. Via a virtual Town Hall, align everyone on the financial reality your organization is facing. (Given our current economy, your team is likely already wondering about your company’s fate. It’s better for them to hear the truth from leadership than to continue speculating.) Make it clear that budget cuts must happen, and—as transparently as possible within your culture—share how you plan to prioritize expenses. This also means getting clear on where you’ll be cutting back.
    • If your team is too big to gather at once, share the information through a cascade via managers on an agreed-upon timeline. Either way, send a follow-up email reiterating what was communicated. 
  • Set up 1:1s. As quickly as possible following budgetary alignment, set up virtual 1:1 meetings (or 2:1 if you need an additional HR team member in attendance) to deliver the news to employees who are being laid off.
    • Never do layoffs on group video calls or by mass email. Not only is it painful for employees and bad for your overall culture, but it signals to team members that their contributions to the team over the years haven’t been valuable enough to warrant a direct conversation. 
    • Give people a chance to respond—it shouldn’t be a one-way conversation. Allow individuals to ask (appropriate) questions and express their reaction to the decision.
    • Express gratitude and find a way to celebrate your team members for all that they’ve done. Thank people for their contributions to the organization, and make it clear that this is a business decision, and not reflective of the individual’s performance. 
  • Make space for emotions. Even though you don’t have to deal with the immediate aftermath of someone’s emotions in the same way as an in-person layoff—there’s no box for the employee to pack up or office to leave—the feelings will still be there. Allow space in your virtual 1:1 for employees to process what they’re feeling. Following the meeting, share out options for continued support.
    • Dedicate someone on the HR team as a go-to resource for departing employees to speak to.
    • If possible, provide access to counseling through third-party resources to help your laid-off employees continue processing once they’ve departed. Keep in mind that—layoffs aside—this is already a difficult time, so going this extra mile may make a huge difference for people.
  • Set clear next steps. Have digital files teed up and ready to send out immediately after each 1:1 meeting, and identify clear points of contact for any necessary follow up conversations. 
  • Support departing employees: Not everyone will take you up on the offer, there are several ways to provide ongoing support to departing employee:
    • Use your organization’s professional network to help them find new jobs 
    • Write referrals for folks to have on file for future job applications and to use on LinkedIn
    • Assist in filing for unemployment benefits 
    • Extend health insurance coverage through the COVID-19 crisis by covering upcoming COBRA premium payments
    • If employees have equity, be flexible with their vesting schedules 
  • Set up a process to return employee and company property. It’s possible that your employees have company equipment for use in their home office, or that they have personal items still on their desks at headquarters. 
    • Create a plan to get company property returned as soon as safely possible. In the meantime, provide notice on when you’ll disconnect former employee accounts on shared tools such as Slack and G-Suite.
    • Have personal items delivered to individuals homes to avoid forcing them to come back into the office once it reopens (which may be weeks or months after they were laid off). Again, do this on a timeline that prioritizes individual well-being.

As a business leader, it’s also important to think about how you want your organization to emerge from this period. It’s too soon to say when, but there will be a time when offices reopen and team members get to congregate around the same table again. The sense of loss that individuals feel won’t be confined to this period of remote work. Think about how you’ll reset your organization to allow for a fresh start once you’re back in-person.

Want to learn more? Don’t miss our conversation about humane layoffs in a remote world, featuring NOBL’s CEO and Managing Director of LA, as well as the President of Career Transition Services at CareerArc.

Published April 19, 2020

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