Rent the Runway laid off all of its brick-and-mortar staff. With stores shut and parties canceled, layoffs make complete sense. But they reportedly did it via Zoom. Is that acceptable?
In the pre-social distancing rules, the answer to that would be a resounding no. Layoffs should be done face to face, and the employee's direct manager should be the person to deliver the bad news. Meetings should be held one-on-one unless the company is laying off an entire group, as done here.
But Rent the Runway staff had already been sent home, stores were already shuttered. It made no sense to call everyone in for a face-to-face meeting--and an increased chance of spreading Covid-19. Notifying people via Zoom is better than sending a message via FedEx.
How do you layoff when employees are already home? Here's what you should do.
Direct managers should still give the word
The temptation to terminate everyone at the same moment is high. It's best for people to hear directly, and not through the grapevine. Therefore, Rent the Runway's group Zoom meeting makes sense. But losing your job (even when you expect it, as people undoubtedly saw this coming) is an emotional and stressful experience. You don't want to share those emotions with everyone.
Instead, go down the corporate hierarchy. Direct managers can deliver the news in a group, but only to their team members. The manager's manager should inform the managers before. No one should lay people off and then turn around and find out that their own position was also eliminated.
Give people a chance to respond
Layoffs are not the time for discussion. The meetings should be short. But people should have the opportunity to share their feelings quickly. Some people will cry. (Crying is OK and should not be held against the person.) You can and should still offer a time to respond. Without this opportunity, they have no place to direct their feelings. I am not saying you sit for three hours, allowing them to scream at you, but let them say that it is unfair, a bad business decision, or fret about how they will pay their rent.
This isn't a free-for-all, but people want this chance to respond, and they can't do it on a large group call or video conference. Most likely, the organizer muted everyone (as they should in a large call). People need a chance to speak with people they know.
Send hard copy documents
I hate paper and strongly prefer everything done electronically. But there are good reasons to shut down email once you notify someone. Make sure paper copies arrive at their house via return signature the day after the notification. Why the day after? Because the last thing you want is for the package to arrive before you've met with the employee.
Provide a resource for information
In this case, there are a lot of questions that no one can answer. "When will the stores reopen?" No one is quite sure. "Will the stores reopen?" Someone may have an answer to that. "Will former employees be the first hired if and when the stores reopen?" Write up a frequently asked questions document and provide it to managers before they notify their employees.
Give the employees an actual human they can call to ask questions. You'd be surprised at the number of things that come up after a termination. With their bosses and also losing their jobs, many won't know where to turn. They should have a phone number and an email address for questions.
Remember that remote terminations are only temporary.
When the government lifts the rules on social distancing, terminations should resume face-to-face. The exceptions to this are few and far between. (If an employee is always a remote employee, then a remote termination is OK; otherwise, move heaven and earth to speak face-to-face. You owe your employees that.)
Do I condemn Rent the Runway for termination via Zoom? No, but it shouldn't have been one group call. It's too impersonal. Remember, these are people who are going through a challenging time. They--we--all deserve as much respect as possible.