We frequently write about hiring remotely (surprise), but today, we are venturing over to the flip side. The “F” word – the art of letting someone go. It can be challenging to fire someone when you work from an office, but even more so when you’re working remotely. So, how to let someone go over the phone, when you can’t meet face to face? Here’s some advice to get you started.
I remember the only time I got fired – I worked remotely for a marketing agency from the USA. The CEO called me on the phone as soon as I started working on a Thursday. He told me that they no longer need me and that I can stop working as soon as the call is done. I felt pretty horrible – sort of like someone breaking up with you over a text message. But I learned there are ways to soften the blow.
1. Cut to the chase
Even though it was hard news to process, I was grateful my boss didn’t beat around the bush. This leads us straight to our first tip on how to let someone go over the phone when you work remotely – get straight to the point. If an employee gets an unannounced call from you or another manager, they know that you didn’t call just to talk about the weather.
2. Don’t waste your time
On a similar note, once you made the decision to let someone go, rip the bandaid off.
Let them go the day after you make the decision. Don’t wait until Friday and definitely don’t wait until the end of the workday to tell them they’re being fired. Imagine working for a full day for a company that just fired you – it just adds salt to the wound.
The employee may notice a change in your behavior and they’ll start suspecting that something is wrong. The longer it goes on, the worse you’ll feel for putting it off. So get it over with as soon as you’re certain of your decision.
Also, don’t send a Google Calendar invite or something similar, especially a few days in advance. Just ask them to hop on a phone or video call with you and tell them on the spot.
The only delay you should make is some time to let the HR prepare the documentation before you officially announce that the person is being let go.
3. If possible, do it over video call
In normal circumstances, we’d encourage you to always fire someone in person, even a remote worker (distance permitting of course). However, if this isn’t possible, always opt for a video call over a phone call. It’s just basic decency when you’re letting someone go, to be honest.
Plus, on video, the employee will be able to see your body language and facial expressions. This gives them a better grasp of the situation, and will allow them to interpret your tone more accurately, which is hugely reassuring, and will save them replaying “what did he/she mean by that” scenarios as they try to get to sleep. It’s the most humane approach you can take. Needless to say, letting someone go over Slack or email is not an option.
4. Don’t say “it’s not personal”
Speaking of personal, don’t even think about saying “This is not personal”. In that situation, they most likely will not care, because, for them, it’s definitely personal. Plus, it might rouse suspicion that it is more personal than you’re letting on. If at all possible, provide a reason for why you’re letting them go. If the company is in bad shape financially, it’s much different than being let go because of poor performance.
This transparency will give them some closure, but also help them in future job interviews to explain the situation clearly and confidently. It is worth noting that there are certain things that should not be disclosed when you’re approaching how to let someone go. For example, if you’re firing someone for poor performance, don’t say it unless you have documented proof. Likewise, if you’re firing someone for breaking the company handbook rules, make sure to have documented proof of that as well.
If you want to avoid legal issues down the road, consult with HR first to make sure you’re familiar with them.
5. Keep it one-on-one
In the office setting, it’s not unusual to have a third party present when firing someone. In remote settings, it can be just the manager and the person being fired. The situation could demand that you have to let go of more than just one employee. In that case, have a separate call with each employee. It might seem like an obvious point to make, but you’d be surprised.
For example, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the company Bird fired 406 people in one day. While shocking in itself, the real kicker is this – they were all fired in two minutes as they were watching a webinar. You just can’t make that stuff up.
Many surveys (such as this one from Statista) indicate that massive layoffs may become a trend in the times to come.
Needless to say, this is an example of how not to do things. Treat your employees with respect and dignity if you want to part ways on good terms and not damage your employer brand.
6. Have a plan for their departure
Think of all the apps your employee has access to – your website, social media accounts, and various other tools. Have a plan in advance to remove access to all of these tools right after you make the call – with one exception.
Let them stay in Slack, or in your alternative communication app, for the day. That way, they can say goodbye to the rest of the team, especially those who may not work in the same time zone as them.
If your remote employee has some equipment which you provided (such as a laptop or other tech), you can arrange for a courier to pick it up, or have the employee send in the equipment themselves. The procedure for what is considered company property and how it is to be recuperated will vary from company to company. It usually depends on how long the employee has been a part of the team. For example, some companies allow employees to buy tech off them. Some consider a laptop the employee’s property after 2 or 3 years. Check with HR or Operations what your company policy is before making the call.
Depending on where the company and the employee are located, there will be different laws that you need to pay attention to surrounding letting someone go. Talk to your HR team to discuss details about severance pay, notice period, and other relevant details.
7. Tell the team immediately
You just had a video call with someone telling them you’re letting them go. Don’t waste any time telling the rest of the team because the person who just got fired will almost certainly ping their coworkers about such important news if you spend too much time waiting to announce it.
Instead, be quick about it and make an official announcement instantly. That way, the entire team knows what’s going on.
You can make an announcement in Slack, host a web meeting, or send an email to everyone just to keep them in the loop. It is crucial to be transparent about what happened, but don’t feel you need to discuss too many details. Cover the basic details in your next all-hands meeting, and your team will appreciate the honesty. This is important to keep morale high and avoid other employees fearing for their own position as well.
Although unpleasant for both parties, learning how to let someone go is a valuable skill to have. It is truly an art, and if done right, doesn’t have to end on a bitter note. It’s a natural part of running a company and as a business owner or HR manager, it’s something you should be prepared to do. Hopefully, these tips will give you the confidence to do what you gotta do, and make it a little less painful for all involved.