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Ready. Zoom. Fire.

How does your company handle remote layoffs?

Videos off. Audience muted. Washington Football Team cheerleaders were fired this week, effective immediately, after joining what was thought to be a team meeting. Similar incidences occurred at Uber, WW International (formerly Weight Watchers) and Bird, a California-based electric scooter company that laid off 400 employees in April, 2020, shutting down their computer access after affected employees were told of their fate in a 2-minute Zoom call. Forbes cited several other ‘cold Zoom-call firings’ by companies.

2020 was a very trying year. Businesses that were already struggling took yet another blow, which for some, became the final straw, causing them to have to close their doors. Businesses that were doing fine took a huge hit that they continue to recover from. Business models were forced to change and operations slimmed to respond to the challenging market conditions brought about by the pandemic.

Maintaining Humanity While Using Technology

I don’t attest to know the full context or details of the what, why and how of these layoffs, nor of how these organizations would have addressed mass layoffs in non-Covid times. But, simply at face value, what struck me was the use of the Zoom technology to inform large numbers of employees for the sake of ‘efficiency’.

This video technology has become a large part of everyday work since the pandemic for businesses to continue operating. Organizations are still working through how they can keep their unique cultures alive with a dispersed workforce. Leaders are still learning how to build and maintain high-performing teams with their remote workforce.

However, the technology should not replace the ‘humanity’ of our organizations. The process of laying people off needs to be carefully thought through just as much, if not more now, to find ways to maintain the ‘human’ in our ‘human resources’. Organizations should uphold their values. Respect and empathy for the livelihoods that may be affected should be top of mind. Employee emotions that accompany such news – surprise, confusion, anger, fear, sadness – are likely magnified as employees aren’t given any warning nor any chance to ask questions or grieve with colleagues as they would have otherwise. Caring for your business is one thing. Not caring for your people is another.

An Alternative Approach

Organizations should not underestimate the unintended consequences and future impact that actions like these could have on their business. Airbnb shows us that there is an alternative approach. Same business goal, different employee experience, one which likely results in more favorable short- and longer-term outcomes. Those who were let go by Airbnb were done so with transparency, empathy and compassion. The company demonstrated that they put a tremendous amount of thought into not only what needed to be done, but how it would be done, providing support for their employees during this difficult transition. Not only were employees provided with generous severance and health care benefits, but Airbnb went one step further by making resources accessible to help employees move forward with their careers. Based on this treatment, both impacted and non-impacted employees are more likely to recommend the company to a friend for future employment and when looking for a positive hoteling experience. So, despite the actions Airbnb needed to take from a business perspective, their brand as a great place to work would prevail.

As Maya Angelou wrote, “At the end of the day people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”

For further reading on this topic, read HRB’s Turn Departing Employees-into-Loyal-Alumni.

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