If you’re an HR professional during COVID, you’re going to have to have tough conversations – and you’re going to have to have them remotely. How do you deliver bad news compassionately and professionally through a screen?
When you can’t talk face-to-face, video is the next best option, so you can talk in real-time and give a simulacrum of eye contact by gazing into your webcam. But there are pitfalls.
For a start, video calls tend not to be private. Families may be listening in to home workers’ calls. It can also feel impersonal to get bad news on Zoom, even though it’s still better than by phone or email.
Here are five tips on how to get the best outcomes from the toughest video calls, such as layoffs, firings, performance reviews and policy changes.
1. Treat it Like a Face-to-Face Meeting
It’ll feel more personal if you treat it like an in-person meeting. Open the conversation in a way that lets the other person participate and ensures understanding. Make sure any paperwork you need is ready ahead of time, such as furlough notices, termination acknowledgements, details of severance pay and benefits, or copies of performance reviews or policy changes.
2. Consider Time and Place
If you’re working with people in different time zones, be aware of how early it is for them. Give them a chance to have their coffee and get stuck into their workday before you make that awkward call.
Conversely, don’t leave calls like this for late on Friday. Don’t let your people – or yourself – end the week on a depressing note at a time when mental health is so important. Make sure there’s time for follow-up questions, both during the call and afterwards.
If you need to communicate something to a whole team, do it all at once; if you try to do it individually, they’ll talk.
Also, be aware of your employee’s whereabouts. If they’re somewhere public where they may be distracted (or if you think you’re about to make them cry), consider putting the call off until they can take it in private.
3. Bring a Witness
Just as with in-person HR meetings, having a third-party present as a witness encourages transparency and is helpful to both you and the employee. Just make sure your employee knows that the witness will be there!
4. Encourage Two-Way Communication
Your employee will probably have questions. That’s part of why you’re not doing this over email or text. If they don’t have questions in the moment, they’re likely to come back with some after the meeting is over. Encourage them to ask, either during the meeting or afterwards. If your news affects a whole team, schedule a whole-team Q&A session to follow up.
5. Remember the Human
Technology distances us from each other, even on video calls. Remember you’re dealing with a real person, with real feelings, whose family may be listening. Keep it professional, be honest, listen attentively, show empathy, and offer solutions.