The COVID-19 pandemic has sent shock waves rippling through the world economy. Almost immediately, we shifted to a work-from-home environment across virtually every industry sector. Many organizations are now facing the very real possibility of furloughing employees, implementing layoffs or eliminating jobs completely. These actions might be critical for the sustainability of the organization, but they will be more challenging to implement while unprecedented numbers of employees are temporarily working from home.
Given current economic conditions and widespread disruptions to business and personal life, the impact on those displaced, those remaining, and the organization as a whole will be significantly greater than normal. It is therefore critical to recognize and respond to the unique dynamics of displacing workers in the midst of the COVID-19 situation.
Planning and preparation for action is challenging because of the dynamic nature and unknown duration of the situation. While the near-term business impact of COVID-19 is clear for many organizations, the full magnitude and duration of the impact is not yet known. While this makes planning a challenge, employee-related expenses are typically amongst the biggest costs for any organization, which means they may need to be addressed.
Many organizations have opted for an 80% work week at 80% pay since this creates a 20% reduction in expenses while maintaining and protecting organizational capacity for recovery. Other organizations have determined that their drop in business has been too steep and/or will last too long to avoid layoffs. In these situations, immediate action is required and the shift to work from home requires alternatives to in-person separation meetings.
Video conferencing or phone is the most realistic and appropriate alternative for giving notification of the layoff or job elimination. While not ideal, these tools provide a much better avenue for sharing the message in an empathetic way and verifying the message was received than notification by email or other messaging platforms.
Group notifications via video or phone conferencing makes sense for large layoffs as these channels provide consistency and timeliness of message. They are an effective way to announce what is happening and why, but they are not effective as a forum for providing individual information, discussing the logistics of handing off work, or addressing employee-specific concerns. Individual video or phone conferences are preferred when the number of people being notified make this a possibility.
Regardless of the forum, it is critical to have a script to make sure the message is clear and consistent. As with in-person separation meetings, it is important to have a second organization representative present on individual notification calls to act as a witness to what was said.
Logistics to consider:
Layoffs and position elimination cause angst and disruption for the entire organization. Clear communication and a focus on business continuity helps ease the trauma and provides focus for remaining employees.
As quickly as possible, let the broader organization know what steps have been taken, why, and what will happen next in terms logistics and redistribution of work. A similar communication plan needs to be implemented for clients, vendors, or other key constituents to ensure continuity. Whatever the situation, proactive communication is always better than letting the rumor mill define and circulate the message. These are difficult times which may require difficult actions. Organizations that focus on handling these actions as best they can, practicing good communication, and maintaining an appropriate degree of business continuity will weather this storm better than those that are rash in how they slash their people costs.