The recent New York Times piece about the chaos arising from terminating remote workers highlights the difficulties employers face when laying off a distributed workforce of digital workers. Few employers are able to deliver the unwelcome news of a layoff in face-to-face meetings with employees, where the details of the termination can be delivered, reviewed and discussed with the employee in an empathetic and informative manner. Given the vast geographic dispersion of the modern workforce, in-person layoffs just may no longer be practical. But with that said, the right planning can make a difficult and awkward process more humane.
First, the digital equivalent of escorting an employee off the premises -- cutting off an employee's email, slack or other business communication -- instantly isolates the worker. While this may be an accepted (even prudent) approach for a variety of reasons (security, morale), a business should have a plan for providing key information - for example, a list of email addresses, cell phone (or other) numbers, and the manner in which an employee can contact the right person with questions.
Next, the digital worker will need to know two things right away: first, how the worker must return (if at all) the employer's equipment, the timeframe for doing so, and second, how the employee may access the employee's contacts or other information (information, which by virtue of its storage on the employer's system, may actually be employer-owned). Another important planning point is where and how a digital dismissal is carried out. Clearly a mass email, slack or text is as inhumane as it is ill-advised. But with a geographically dispersed workforce, company managers should be given assignments for designated virtual meetings or, at the very least phone calls.
Finally, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to notice and severance. While any worker would appreciate generous (and paid) notice of an impending layoff, that option may not be available to a business for a host of valid reasons. Here is where employees too can have a plan - which might include creating a self-severance plan (i.e., cash in the bank).
The digital transformation may have altered the way we work, but it has yet to and hopefully won't impact the very human aspect of the employment relationship. With the right planning, even terminating that relationship should happen with a person-first approach.
Angst rippled across laptop screens this month, with dozens of companies announcing layoffs and finding ways to breed extra chaos in the process.