The coronavirus crisis has caused huge difficulties for many companies. Revenue has slowed and profits have stalled, forcing a lot of businesses to lay off staff to cut costs.
Airlines have taken a big hit due to the closure of borders and collapse of the travel industry, but even companies like Uber are struggling.
The ride-hailing firm lost $2.9bn (£2.3bn) in the first quarter of 2020 and in May, it announced it would lay off 3,500 employees, around 14% of its workforce. Employees were informed they were being let go in a Zoom call.
The Daily Mail, who broke the story, obtained a video of the head of Uber’s customer service office, Ruffin Chaveleau, telling people that it was their last day at the company.
Chevaleau told staff: “Our rides business is down by more than half. There is not enough work for many frontline customer support employees. [As a result] we are eliminating 3,500 frontline customer support roles.
“Your role is impacted and today will be your last working day with Uber. You will remain on payroll until the date noted in your severance package.”
There is no easy way to announce redundancies, but under the current circumstances, it is particularly hard. Ordinarily, employees may be asked to come into a one-to-one meeting in the office, where they would have the opportunity to talk to their managers, ask questions and get a full explanation.
But in this challenging COVID-19 climate, many people are working from home, travel is difficult and offices are closed. So should businesses lay off employees over Zoom — and if so, how should they do it?
“Given the current circumstances, it is morally alright to lay someone off virtually,” says Chris Vennitti, mid-atlantic president of the US-based recruitment firm Addison Group. “The global pandemic is quickly changing business operations and company needs, forcing layoffs to occur out of fiscal responsibility.
“While face to face would be preferable, given stay-at-home or curfew orders, virtual layoffs are what’s safe and necessary,” he adds. “Waiting until you return to the office may be irresponsible depending on your company’s situation, especially considering the uncertainty around when we will be returning.”
That being said, there is a right and a wrong way to inform staff of redundancies via video call.
Earlier this year, the electric-scooter firm Bird axed around 400 jobs and told staff in a short Zoom call. Although the app can connect up to 1,000 users in one call, many were reportedly unable to log on — and found out about the redundancies via social media posts afterwards. Bird CEO Travis Vanderzanden also had his video turned off, which he later said in a tweet was to make the call “more humane”.
“When laying someone off via video, you should approach it as you would if in person,” Vennitti says. “In each situation, you should be well prepared to deliver the exit in a professional and organised way.”
It’s also crucial to thank the individual for their performance and be empathetic to the situation. It might take a long time to speak to each member of staff individually via a Zoom call, but it shows respect for the work they have done.
“While empathy may be easier to convey in-person, giving the appropriate facial cues, offering appreciation for their time at the company and providing the space to process with you, can be effective tactics to utilise virtually,” says Vennitti.
“Starting the discussion with, ‘I really wanted to have this conversation in person with you, but our current circumstances prevent it and I regret that,’ conveys to the exiting employee your respect for them as a person.”
It is also important to be as communicative and transparent as possible. “Provide a roadmap as to what the employee can expect from the company in regards to the process, documentation, benefit carryover, the return of company resources and anything else involved,” he adds.
“Many of these situations are out of our control, but what is in our control is how we let the individual go, how we deliver the message and how we can be an asset to the person moving forward.”