Some companies have laid off workers via group video calls. As remote work proliferates, workers may need to get used to the idea they could be fired virtually.

Several high-profile cases of large groups of employees being terminated via video calls or other virtual communications have taken place in recent months. fired 900 workers over the course of 12 months. “If you’re on this call, you’re part of the unlucky group being laid off,” CEO Vishal Garg said. Your employment has been terminated. It was effective immediately. Carvana, a used-car company in the US, let 2,500 workers go six months later in a similar way. In May, the CEO of Klarna announced 700 job cuts in a pre-recorded message, which workers had to wait up to 48 hours for an email telling them if they were part of the affected group.

Group calls are an effective way to deliver bad news to large numbers of affected workers, and companies may have had particular reasons for using the processes that they did. Collective, virtual layoffs generated bad publicity and left staff angry.

“My heart stopped.” The employee said in December that he hadn’t been a part of that before. It was really callous.

There have been large-scale job cuts. In the new remote-work world, where we increasingly use technology to communicate, it makes sense that those who are hired might also get fired. Mass firings make headlines, yet devastated workers feel like the news is blind. There is no one-to-one chat in a side-office, no way to ask questions, and no way to process what happened in the way there is with an individual.

Virtual layoffs may become standard in the remote and hybrid world, because of the new ways we work. Experts say cutting jobs and the people who do them can be done in a way that helps the workers.

No one has a personal touch to it.

The reason mass firings feel so egregious is because they represent a combination of two bad practises that shouldn’t be done in the first place, according to a professor.

Losing your job is already devastating and even more miserable because both of those practices are perceived as lacking procedural justice. A specific explanation from their boss, a period of time to wrap up any affairs, and a chance to ask questions are some of the processes workers may expect when terminated. None of these are guaranteed with the mass ‘Zoom firings’.

Many workers who've experienced mass virtual layoffs have described the event as callous; the practise has recently made headlines (Credit:  Images)

mass virtual layoffs have been described as callous by many workers who’ve experienced them.

Johnny C Taylor, CEO of the US-based Society for Human Resource Management says that group firings rob affected workers of the individual touch. He thinks remote firings lack a certain dignity since you don’t have the advantage of the human dynamic, where you can grab the person a tissue box if you see them tear up.

Being shown the door in this way can make workers feel worse, even though getting laid off in any circumstance can be a huge blow.

Firms are still figuring out best practices for navigating layoffs in workforces that increasingly operate remotely or on a hybrid schedule, and that communicate with asynchronous technology, despite all the changes the Pandemic has brought to companies.

Fewer workers are spending time in their offices or having in-person contact with their managers. It would make sense for the boss to let the worker go remotely if the time comes. It doesn’t make sense to force workers to fight traffic for 90 minutes and then be fired in a five-minute conversation, says Taylor.

In a world where employees are recruited, trained and working mainly or fully online, it’s reasonable to lay off employees. It wouldn’t make sense for a remote job to fire you if you met your manager. Mass layoffs affecting hundreds of employees, either online or in-person, iscruel and absurd, and this isn’t a blanket feeling.

The only reason companies might lay off employees in a single call is for short-run efficiency, according to the associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Berkeley.

She says that a quick Zoom call attended by all the people a company is targeting to lay off takes five or 10 minutes, compared to other approaches that involve more individualised meetings and in-person. Firms don’t have a lot of HR staff. The key here is short run. This approach is problematic in many ways, and companies might see it as an advantage.

The conversation that followed.

Execution is important in cases where firms opt for a group announcement. “Virtual isn’t the problem; instead, it’s the way the termination is conducted remotely that can cause issues,” he said. If layoffs happen over email, the same technology can be used to make it less painful.

“With people working from all over, I don’t see how a meeting can’t be set up to follow an email about the firing and give people the chance to respond,” he says. It is crucial to follow a group announcement by senior management with individual conversations with affected employees to answer questions and discuss the next steps.

“Bringing groups of people onto a call to experience something that is so unnerving is not good form,” says Taylor. It’s important to have individualised conversations with impacted employees so that they can experience, respond to and digest a separation discussion one-on-one, while he believes it’s ok to bring an organisation together to announce redundancies or restructuring.

In depersonalised settings like hybrid or remote work, where workers may spend all day alone in their home office, these conversations are important. Even if the numbers of affected employees are very high, it is crucial that direct supervisors make themselves available. If you’re doing it remotely, we have to train our managers to be more compassionate.

Companies can try to help workers find new opportunities by helping them identify them. Taylor says employers can say, “‘Companies A, B, C and D in the area are looking for talent, and we can make that introduction for you’.”‘ It’s good business for the company because it shows prospective hires and those who survived the layoffs that the company cares about its people, potentially alleviating the hit layoffs can bring.

It can leave companies with questions to answer. The CEO of apologized for the way he had messed up the layoffs. He took a brief break from the company, which has since laid off more people. In regards to the layoffs, Carvana told CBS MoneyWatch it had as many conversations as we could in person, and where in-person was not possible, we spoke to our team members over the phone. 48 hours was an acceptable time for employees to wait for bad news, according to the CEO.

Virtual layoffs are likely to become a normal part of our working lives because remote and hybrid work are not going away. Taylor says working from home has changed every stage of having a job.

Recent cases show that companies will need to develop processes that make workers feel good about their job security. “The example was a good warning to other firms, and so I expect that most will try to use a little more common sense,” he says. There are always outliers, so workers shouldn’t get too comfortable.

The way companies will proceed comes from management and their priorities. “Hiring, training and working with people is always personal – we never have mass hirings,” says Bloom. Firing and layoffs should not be different.