The end of a remote job
Saying goodbye without being face-to-face
Every day when I log into LinkedIn, I see another layoff announcement. Sometimes people talk about how much they enjoyed their roles/teams; sometimes they’re bewildered by what happened. Sometimes they’re downright angry — especially if the layoff was handled poorly.
I read one post last week that really struck me. The woman talked about her experience immediately after a layoff in a remote environment. She was still at home, in her home office. The environment had not changed. She was still at her desk, with her dog at her feet. But she no longer had access to her colleagues to say goodbye (at least, not through work channels). There was no packing up or “leaving” that would happen in an office environment.
It got me thinking about The Ends of Jobs in a remote environment. And, like almost everything I’ve written about remote work, it’s not better or worse than parting ways in an office environment — just different.
The last day at a remote job
If I were in an office on the last day of a job that I was voluntarily leaving, there might have been a party. Or, at a minimum, some congratulatory well-wishes on the next phase of my journey. The last time I had this experience was in 2006, and I remember very little about my last day. I probably packed up my stuff, made sure I’d wrapped up everything I was working on, and said goodbye.
In 2021, I left remote jobs — twice. The first was a job I’d been at for 15 years, and I ended up staying four weeks after giving notice. I didn’t have another job lined up and was willing to help with the transition. (In hindsight, I don’t think the extended exit time benefitted anyone since I’d mentally checked out). The second time, I gave a standard two weeks’ notice.
The last days were unceremonious at best. I checked in with my bosses. And by noon, I let the appropriate people know that I was done working and could be effectively “locked out” of all company systems.
Some people took the time to exchange personal email addresses and contact information ahead of those final hours. Some were noticeably absent. Nobody had to put on a face and pretend on the last day — we could simply be done with each other. After all, I was leaving for a reason. The last day (and really, the final weeks) could have been very awkward if face-to-face interactions were required.
Compassionate vs. transactional layoffs
I pay attention when I see a new layoff announcement on LinkedIn. Particularly, I look for clues about how the layoff was handled and if the company’s leadership says anything.
Some employees learn that they were laid off when they try to log in to their work laptops only to find that they were locked out. I can only imagine the bewilderment until an email arrived from HR (to a personal email account), informing the employee that they no longer had a job. Such a cowardly approach. And one that treats employees like widgets, not humans.
I’ve seen companies refer to layoffs as “trimming the fat.” Again, we’re talking about people.
How should the news be delivered in a remote environment, particularly with mass layoffs — where there may not be enough HR people or managers to hold 1:1 meetings with every impacted employee?
I’ve worked at a company that went through two rounds of layoffs. Everyone knew the layoffs were coming; the company had made the announcement in advance that it was necessary in order to survive.
The impacted employees (five in each round), were gathered together in one room and informed concurrently. Even though they knew that losing their jobs was a possibility, I’m sure it didn’t take the sting out of the news.
The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t give the employees space to react privately. Any emotions are on full display. The employee may be devastated or angry, but feel the need to remain contained. Or, a visceral reaction becomes a further source of embarrassment and agony.
Remote work provides a unique opportunity to handle layoffs differently. It can be a combination of giving an employee space to receive the news privately, with a follow-up 1:1 later. Perhaps that’s a recorded video, with a message from the CEO or manager — something that maintains the human connection.
Giving the employee space is not a substitute for treating the employee with compassion. It shouldn’t be used as a tactic to maintain distance from the situation.
Any layoff is awful, but how layoffs are handled can make the situation suck less.
In the News: Changing jobs, changing industries
A July report by McKinsey & Company found that 48 percent of people surveyed not only quit their jobs, but went to employers in different industries. The report also noted that “some industries are disproportionately losing talent, others are struggling to attract talent, and some are grappling with both.”
Layoffs are following a similar pattern. Some companies — particularly those that had astronomical growth during the pandemic — are laying off in large numbers. Yet other companies are still hiring at a rapid pace. And a third group, still stubbornly opposed to workplace flexibility, struggles to hire.
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