man leaving the office holding a box of his belongings after being fired

The Dos and Don'ts of Remote Firing

May 05, 2021 Employee Experience
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

Remote work has been an ongoing topic of discussion as companies continue to adjust to having employees no longer together in the office. There have been benefits: more focused meetings and no more commute time are a couple that come to mind. But what happens when things aren’t going so well? When an employee's performance is lagging?

Having to fire an employee is a difficult task for any leader, no matter how many times they’ve done it before. When that employee is working remotely, it creates an even more unique challenge. 

With remote work, organizations rarely have the option to bring an employee into an office, and releasing them over Slack or email is impersonal and can lead to more significant challenges in the future. So what are the options? HR leaders and CEOs shared with us some ideas on the right and wrong ways to handle job terminations remotely.

What to Know Beforehand

Before choosing to terminate an employee, it’s essential to get the lay of the land. Employees may be struggling for several reasons, and it’s important to get to the bottom of the problem. 

Tushar Bhatia, founder and CEO of Hauppauge, New York-based Empxtrack said it's important to ask questions such as, “Who recommended the separation? Were there any prior interpersonal issues? Why is the separation being recommended? Is it performance related, discipline, capability or any other issue?”

Sometimes this means taking an honest look at the organization to determine if the employee had enough time to address the problem or if there is an area where the person might fit better. Adjusting to environmental changes should not be overlooked as a potential issue either, Bhatia said, as remote work has not necessarily been smooth sailing for everyone involved.

“The work-from-home scenario has created many additional complications for employees including timely communication, 24x7 work expectations, connectivity, training, infrastructure, knowledge transfer, clarity of goals and so on,” he said.

After that review, if steps to terminate an employee still need to be taken, there is a right way to go about doing it. 

Related Article: 8 Ways Remote and Traditional Management Meet in Today's Workplace

How and Where to Do It

The first thing to decide is how the message will be communicated. Just like calling an employee into an office to meet face to face is important, setting up a video meeting is the way to go in the digital workplace.

“Setting up a video interview shows the employee the most respect, and gives them the dignity of looking management in the eyes to say their piece, too,” said Devin Johnson, CEO of Indianapolis, Indiana-based Kennected.

Just because the meeting is done digitally doesn’t mean that managers should go about it any differently than they would in person. The process and tone should remain empathetic.

“Complete the meeting just as you would if this were face to face," said Sian Field, head of people at Swansea, Wales-based Veeqo. "Keep it professional but human as much as you can and be mindful that the employee will be experiencing a range of emotions.”

Timing Is Everything

Knowing you will fire an employee via a video call is one thing, but the timing of when this should be done still needs to be considered. In some situations, the writing may be on the wall and a call to terminate the employee may be a formality.

“The best scenario would be in the case of an employee that’s ready to move on already," Johnson said. "It’s much easier to say goodbye when the sentiment is mutual and both parties know it’s not a great fit.”

When the timing does matter, consider environmental or location factors. “Picking the time their kids get back from school or you know they have commitments is not a great idea," Field said. "Keep it focused and clear, just as you would in a face-to-face situation.”

Also, follow standard procedures such as making sure only those that need to be present, such as a manager who oversees the person, are involved in the call. Never terminate an employee publicly during a team meeting and make sure to follow up with an email message so everything is documented in writing.

You'll also have to consider how to collect any company-owned equipment and remove their access to company-owned systems. Coordinate with the IT department to ensure those details are considered.

How to Avoid Firing Remote Employees

Terminating a remote employee can be a complex undertaking. However, there are steps manager can take to ensure that they don’t end up in such a situation too often.

  • Analyze Company Culture: Take a look at company culture to determine if other employees may be feeling stressed or wondering if they’re next on the firing block. If necessary, reach out to them and set up additional meetings to alleviate their fears.
  • Communicate with Employees: Disillusioned employees may need someone to talk to before things get out of hand. “Sometimes people just need to be heard, or a few quick wins can be enough to turn people around," Field said. "However, if there is significant disillusionment, then digging into the details and finding out the root cause is critical.”

The key to addressing employee discontent and avoiding performance issues that would lead to the need to let workers go is by reaching out to them regularly, letting them know how valued they are and trying to solve problems before things get out of hand. 


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