How to Terminate a Remote Employee

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Prior to COVID-19, the remote workforce had grown by 159% from 2005 to 2017, and in 2019 consisted of nearly 5 million people. It was estimated that 50% of the workforce would be remote in 2020, and that remote work was the way of the future. No one expected a global health crisis that would abruptly force millions of Americans to transition to remote work — then COVID-19 happened. As businesses moved to telework due to the pandemic, Microsoft Teams, the chat and conferencing app, gained more than 12 million daily users in one week. Even as stay-at-home orders lift and the federal and local governments give the go ahead for businesses to begin reopening, remote work is still encouraged, especially for vulnerable workers. 

Beyond the pandemic

While the coronavirus pandemic will end, remote work is here to stay. In fact, an April 2020 IBM survey of 25,000 U.S. adults found the shift to remote work has led to nearly 40% of respondents to indicate they feel strongly their employer should provide employee opt-in remote work options when reopening the physical workplace, more than 75% said they would like to continue to work remotely at least occasionally and 54% would like remote work to be their primary way of working. 

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Effective management and discipline

Suddenly moving a team to remote work isn’t without challenges. For instance, how do managers ensure productivity, handle performance issues, resolve conflicts among team members and/or keep the team aligned with the organization’s culture? 

While some challenges can be overcome by setting clear expectations from the start and then following up with regularly scheduled one-on-one telephone calls or video chats, regular updates and consistent feedback, sometimes managers will need to take further action to guide remote employees onto a higher performing path and better align them with company visions and goals. When embarking down the employee discipline path, the initial goal should be to salvage the employment relationship through training, coaching and counseling, not to expeditiously move through the process to terminate the employee as quickly as possible. That said, sometimes termination is inevitable. To find out six keys to effective employee discipline, read this blog post.

Six Keys to Effective Employee Discipline

When termination is inevitable

Even when it becomes clear that the best decision is to stop investing in the individual and let him or her go, terminations are tough for both the manager and the employee. While you may know how your organization handles terminations in-person, firing an employee remotely requires its own set of guidelines.

Related Reading: Time to Say Goodbye - 15 Tips for Effective Terminations

Here are six tips:

  1. Go with video. When the news can’t be delivered in-person, video is the next best option to allow the employee to see your facial expressions and read your body language. If you’re not already familiar with apps like Facetime, Zoom or Microsoft Teams, you’ll want to gain experience with one before the termination. 
  2. Don’t schedule the meeting in advance. When terminating a remote worker, there’s no reason to wait until Friday or the end of a day, and scheduling a video chat with a worker days before the termination will only cause anxiety to build up. When you know termination is inevitable, simply email the worker and ask them if they are free for a quick video chat.
  3. Have a witness present. To diminish the risk of legal action down the road, always have another leader from your organization on the video conference at the same time. Oftentimes, it can be helpful to have an HR representative present to explain what the employee can expect in terms of final pay and benefits.
  4. Don’t make small talk. Be clear and straightforward from the start of the video chat and keep the conversation brief. Remember that your objective is to advise the employee of the company’s conclusion, not to debate it or cover ground you’ve discussed with the employee previously. Discuss details on severance (if applicable), benefits, the return of company assets and confidentiality agreements. Provide documents via email to be signed and sent back. After you’ve provided all of the details, remain on the video conference to field any questions the worker may have, but remember to stay brief.
  5. Revoke systems access. Once the employee has been terminated, IT should work immediately to remove the employee’s access to company hardware and software. Shared passwords should be changed, email accounts removed and calls forwarded. Be sure to maintain a security checklist for offboarding employees to ensure all company account access has been removed, especially external service accounts that are not part of the internal infrastructure. 
  6. Inform the team. Occasionally, when an employee leaves a company, colleagues heave a sigh of relief. More often, though, it may leave peers feeling confused and sad. To prevent worry or gossip among employees, move quickly to inform the staff of the employee’s departure via a face-to-face meeting or video conference.

Terminating an employee is never fun. Knowing how you’ll handle the situation, should it arise, ensures the best possible outcome for the organization and the departing employee.  

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Trevor Burns

Written by Trevor Burns