Originally published at www.cphrab.ca.

Steve Cutler is a Career Transition Consultant and Manager, Client Services at Cenera, a Calgary-based Human Resources consulting firm. He combines learnings from his own personal downsizing experiences with a passion for career search and advises both individuals and organizations. He loves engaging in thoughtful dialogue about a variety of subjects including career selection, job search and finding peace in the moment.

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically disrupted business throughout the world. Many organizations are having to make workforce adjustments with the majority having to consider temporarily or permanently eliminating positions. This article would like to offer some points to consider when planning to remotely notify employees that their position has been eliminated.

Values First

Now, more than ever, you may want to review your organization’s values and the “whys” of your existing process for conducting in-person notifications. Assess each step and think about how you could match those values in a remote notification setting. If the leader delivers the message and HR goes through the severance package, you may want to replicate that as closely as possible. If outplacement is usually onsite, consider having them join the call or video at the appropriate time. The idea is to provide the same support you have provided exiting employees in the past.

Now to the How

The most common tools for remotely notifying individuals are telephone, Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Try to use a communication tool that people are already using in your organization. For example, if the entire organization is using Teams, then a Teams meeting may be appropriate. If everyone is using mobile phones, then it may be wise to stick with a call. One thing to avoid is introducing new technology to conduct notifications.

If a video conferencing tool is selected, there are a few things to consider. First is the setup of the call. In Zoom, you will want to go into “meeting settings” and confirm your selections. For example, you may want to turn off the participant’s ability to record meetings. Second, who is going to be on the call? For many organizations, this will be the notifying leader and an HR person. If you usually have outplacement onsite, you may want to utilize the “waiting room” feature in Zoom or the “lobby” feature in Teams to bring them into the meeting at the appropriate time. If not, you may want to arrange for a career transition consultant to call the individual soon after the notification meeting.

Another important consideration is the meeting invitation. It is usually best to have the notifying leader send the invitation and email the meeting link to HR and/or outplacement separately. Another etiquette piece is to follow your regular meeting rituals when it comes to video on or off. If it is normal to have video off, then start the meeting that way. The leader can then ask that both parties turn on the video before delivering the message.

Another feature of Zoom and Teams is “Share Screen” and “Share Files” respectively. If HR’s regular practice is to go through the severance document during the notification meeting, these features may be used to replicate that practice. Make sure you get and/or verify personal email addresses and telephone numbers (in case there is an email mix-up) so you can email the severance package as soon as possible after the meeting. Some HR professionals choose to email it while they are still on the call so they can verify receipt. It may also be prudent to password protect documents and send the password under a separate email.

Consider the return process for the signed severance documents. Is a scanned/emailed copy good enough or do you need the original hard copy? Generally, a signed and witnessed scan or photograph should be sufficient. However, if an individual is isolating alone, the requirement for a witness signature may need to be waived. You could also consider using electronic signature solutions such as DocuSign.

Finally, consider doing some practice runs with a trusted colleague. It may be wise to run through the process a few times.

For reasons discussed above, you may choose to conduct notifications via telephone conference call. Most of the above considerations for video conferencing apply to conference calls.

Other Considerations

Company Property: Consider what company equipment is with the employee, its’ value to the organization, whether you need it returned, and when you need it returned. Some organizations are offering individuals the choice to make laptops, tablets and mobile phones part of their severance offer. Other organizations are offering to loan these devices until individuals procure replacement equipment. If equipment is determined to be of value to the organization, you’ll need to arrange to have it returned. Typically, this involves a “return courier”. The courier is dispatched to the individual’s home and brings company property to a designated location. Next consideration is where. Some larger organizations still have operating mailrooms so that is one option. If not, you may need to find a secure and safe location where the packages are not touched for 5 to 7 days.

Personal Property: Most exited employees will already have their immediate needs. A standard practice may be that you will return remaining property when the office reopens. Another consideration is that this does not provide “closure” to both the exited employee and the organization. Some individuals need/want that closure in order to move forward. If you choose to return their personal property right away, it is usually best to have two designated employees do the packing and ship via courier. Individuals may also have personal electronic files and photographs on company equipment. You may want to consider extending an individual’s access to electronic files so they can copy personal files over to personal equipment.

Benefits and EFAP: Consider extending health benefits and/or EFAP. Extending access to EFAP is particularly recommended in our current situation. Health benefits may also be important, especially if individuals are on expensive prescriptions. If not for everyone, then you may want to consider an extension in special circumstances. Note that any benefits extension should not include any disability benefits.

Remaining Employees

It is well-documented that downsizings cause considerable stress to remaining employees. This includes everything from survivor guilt to worry about further downsizings to just plain missing their former co-workers. An immediate and honest communication after a reduction is helpful. Developing, communicating, and executing a cohesive plan for moving forward will assist with getting everyone focused on moving forward.

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