How to fire a remote employee
So, you’ve decided to let someone go. The problem is that you’re all working remotely. That person can’t just walk into the office, have a conversation with their manager, and walk back to their desk with an empty box to collect their belongings like a bad 80’s movie.
This person is out in the world somewhere, most likely at home, which means this conversation is going to be virtual. How can you part ways efficiently and amicably in a remote company? (Is that even possible?)
Today, we’re going to show you how we’ve done this in the past here at Close. You’ll discover:
- How to build a best-case scenario
- The 6-step process we use to part ways amicably
- Why it’s essential to build this process around care and kindness
Building a best-case scenario in a difficult situation
First off, remember that firing a remote employee is difficult for both parties.
Obviously, it’s difficult for the person who’s being let go. It can be a traumatic experience, and it has real consequences for that person’s life and livelihood.
But this is also a challenging time for the company: You need to have a plan for both before and after parting ways with this person.
The goal is to make this the best possible scenario even in a difficult time.
Typically when we’re parting ways with someone, it’s not a shock to them, to us, or to the people around them. We’re not a company that makes rash decisions. Before we part ways with someone, we’ve had weeks (if not months) of conversations. Removing the element of surprise makes this a smoother transition for everyone.
We want to treat this situation with the care and attention it needs. We spend a lot of time making sure that we treat the person with respect and give them support.
We don’t want this relationship to end: we just need it to change.
To make this process as painless as possible for everyone involved, we’ve developed a very precise offboarding flow. This checklist ensures that only necessary team members are involved in the process, and helps us maintain the relationship with that person into the future.
How we fire employees at Close: Our 6-step process
While this process may be adjusted or fine-tuned to each specific situation, these are generally the steps we take to respectfully part ways with an employee.
1. The manager speaks 1:1 with the person we’re letting go
To have ‘the conversation’, the direct manager of this person will speak to them one-on-one.
Here’s how we recommend managers handle this conversation:
Use a video call
Under no circumstances should you let someone go via email or Slack. It’s cowardly and unkind.
That’s why we recommend that managers use a 1:1 Zoom call for this conversation. That way, the person can both hear you and see you.
The way you speak to them will mean a lot and will make what you say less open to interpretation. Even a harsh message may arrive much softer when they can look into your eyes and see that this is difficult for you too.
During the coronavirus pandemic, many companies have been forced to fire employees in order to save their business. But some have taken a cowardly, almost inhumane approach to this by firing hundreds of employees at once over a group Zoom call.
One such company, TripActions, set up Zoom calls of around 100 people and told them in a brief message that they were all being let go. All employees were muted, so no one could ask questions or respond. Within minutes, they were locked out of their work computers and no longer had access to their Slack or email accounts.
Another company, Bird, laid off over 400 employees over a mass webinar. Some employees weren’t able to join because the webinar was full, and suddenly found themselves locked out of their computers and accounts without an explanation. They only found out what had happened through a news article published later that day.
"Lots of companies have to lay people off right now," said one employee who was fired in this webinar. "People will recognize the companies who did it well and the ones that didn't. I hope Bird is the one that is remembered as one who did it poorly."
Have an agenda
In difficult conversations like this, it can be easy to go off-course. In sales, you should always have a sales script. You're not obliged to use it, but it'll give you a structure to fall back on in case a conversation goes bad. And the same is true for a conversation where you let someone go: you should have a script because the stakes are much higher than during a sales conversation. You can even practice this script beforehand.
Don’t be the victim of your emotions: If you end up rambling, you could cause unnecessary hurt to that person.
While I don’t recommend having this conversation through email, it is important to send written information to the person after the call. This will help them be prepared for the next steps in their offboarding process.
2. Mary answers their technical questions
After the person has spoken with their manager, Mary Hartberg, our director of people operations, gets on a call with them to talk through the technical questions.
For example, what’s happening to their insurance? When will they get their last paycheck? How much transition pay will they receive?
We try to be mindful during this experience and make this process as painless as possible. For example, if the person is a US employee, we make sure their healthcare goes to the end of the month.
Mary hand-holds the person through this difficult process and continues to support them after.
3. A company-wide announcement is made
We normally send an email to the team to announce what’s happened. More information is given during the all-hands meeting, but team members are invited to reach out to the manager, to Mary, or to that person directly if they have immediate concerns.
Before the all-hands meeting, the manager will write down what they’re going to say about what happened with this employee. Then, they’ll share that message with the person we’re parting ways with. It’s important to make sure they’re okay with this message, and there’s nothing in it that would make them uncomfortable.
At the all-hands meeting, the announcement is made and explained. Afterward, we will often ask for permission from that member to share their personal contact information with the company. That way, anyone in the company can reach out to them later on.
We don’t block this channel of communication: we encourage it. This allows our team to trust us because they can ask that person questions directly to find out if they were treated well or if what was said in the all-hands meeting is true.
4. Logistical and technical offboarding is handled
There are some parts of this process that seem mechanical and heartless, but you can’t avoid them.
For example, you can’t be vague about how long they have access to their company email. You need to be clear about these things, including:
- What happens to their laptop?
- How long is their healthcare covered?
- When do they get their last paycheck?
- When do they lose access to your company Slack channels?
It’s painful to turn off all these things for this person, so you need to prepare them by talking them through it. This is part of the hygiene of changing the relationship and allowing you both to move on. We have a process in place with a list of all the things that need to be returned or access that has to be removed. That way, nothing is left up in the air.
5. An exit interview is conducted
While we don’t always conduct an exit interview with employees we’ve fired, we will always do an exit interview with employees who have made the decision to part ways.
Mary normally handles this right around their last day at the company. Generally, these four topics are covered:
- What’s the main reason for your decision to leave?
- How was your relationship with your manager?
- Were there outside factors that influenced this decision?
- Is there anything we could’ve done differently?
These and similar questions help you to understand the reasons behind their decision to leave and help you improve how you treat other employees.
6. After parting ways, we continue to offer support
Again, the main goal is, not to end the relationship, but to change it. That’s why we continue to offer support to people even after they’ve left our company.
A week or two after we part ways, we set up an hour-long meeting between the person and their manager.
At this point, they’ve had some time to think about what they want to do and where they want to go from here. Do they want to get a similar job at another company? Do they want to adjust or change their career? Are they thinking about starting their own business?
In this meeting, we make ourselves a resource to help them accomplish their next steps. We offer whatever help we can, including:
- Reviewing their resume and LinkedIn profile with them
- Helping them get interviews
- Giving recommendations for jobs
- Brainstorming ideas to help them get what they want
- Connecting them with people in our network where they might be a better fit
Although we’re not legally required to do this, it’s a way to continue our relationship with that person. This is something that people always appreciate.
While taking this time to help someone who isn’t part of the company anymore might seem excessive to some, there are good reasons to do so.
Why it’s essential to part ways kindly and respectfully
The reason we want to be mindful of how we part ways is because we really do care about these people.
Many times when we part ways, it’s because we can’t offer this person the ability to grow in their career. We recognize that, even though it’s hard, parting ways will be better for their career. In light of this, we try to be as supportive as possible.
But there’s another important reason to treat these people with respect: The way you part ways with someone doesn’t just affect your relationship with that person.
This becomes a strong signal to everyone else on your team. You can tout the company motto all you want, but your actions will ultimately determine what your company stands for.
Don’t reason that, since the rest of your team still has their job, they don’t care how you part ways with someone. If you treat someone badly when you let them go, the rest of the team will wonder how you’ll treat them if things go badly. It will affect them, their view of the company, and their work drastically.
Parting ways in a remote company: Not the end of the relationship
We strive to have a high level of care in each part of this process. That’s probably why, months later, these people often write to tell us where they are now, and how they’re so happy where they’ve ended up.
A lot of people that we’ve had to part ways with are now customers of Close. They’ve recommended our product to others. They share our content. With some, we still meet up for drinks or coffee.
These people are still part of the fabric and culture at Close. Even if it was painful to part ways, the way we did it stood out to them and allowed them to feel good about the time they spent with us. It also motivates them to stay in touch, meaning we can maintain a relationship (not end it).
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