The Power of Unity During COVID-19 Layoffs

- Leadership

The inspiring story of how a team, that had worked together for a decade, stuck together after being fired

by Management 3.0 Facilitator, Erez Morabia

My name is Erez Morabia and I’m a software engineering manager, located in Israel. To make a long story short, my teams and I got laid off just before the new year, after working together for more than a decade. COVID-19 was out there with lockdowns and health issues, while the economy was in a bad shape.

I decided we would go through the layoff process as a team. The fact that I was no longer their manager, didn’t mean I had stopped being a meaningful person in their lives and vice versa

But I was in a bad shape, as were they, and people around me told me to first take care of myself. However, it didn’t feel right. Simon Sinek’s book was bouncing in my head: “Leaders eat last”. For me, this was the true meaning of leadership. When things get rough, this is when your leadership gets tested.

I decided to follow my heart and instead of each person taking this layoff journey alone, I decided we should do it as a team, even at the expense of my progress. Here is the full story.

The Layoff Call

It was Wednesday, November 18, when I got the phone call from my manager: The layoff call. I remember that day as it was my wife’s birthday and we had a long weekend vacation starting the next day. My manager told me that he would gather me and my teams the next day to start the process.

On Thursday, my wife and I were on our way to the vacation resort. At 10 am, I pulled over and participated in the layoff talk that my manager arranged. Right after my manager’s call, I talked with my teams about what would come next. Some empathy, some encouragement, some practical information, I could sense the mental stress that everyone felt. Everyone realized we were about to lose our jobs within 5 weeks, by the end of 2020. COVID-19, health issues, bad economy, it was not an ideal situation to be in when you are looking for your next workplace.

Vacat
Vacation resort in northern Israel, photo by Erez Morabia

I used the weekend vacation to clear my mind and think about how I wanted to approach this. I thought there is no reason why we can’t continue to work as a team through this layoff process. This is where I knew we should define a ‘layoff release’! First, we had to find our new amazing workplace. Monday morning, I gathered the teams and we all agreed we were going to do this together. But what did it mean?

The Layoff Release Plan

We gathered together and thought about the things we would need to achieve in order to find our next workplace: Build a resume, update our LinkedIn profiles, find people that could connect us to new workplaces, find good employment agencies, take care of our finances (pension and layoff compensations), refresh our knowledge about technology, prepare for interviews and so on.

Daily

Everything listed above was part of our backlog of requirements and we prioritized them and started to meet daily to tackle them one by one. Each morning at 10am, we met virtually in a “war room” to move our layoff release forward. In addition to moving our release plan forward, these daily meetings were building our mental strength. We were there to support each other. People talked about their struggles, about bad interviews they went through, and so forth. I can’t stress enough how important mental health is during this process.

Resume

We all had to create a resume. We opened a shared Google drive folder and started to build our resumes together. We came up with a few templates, so people could pick and choose. Moreover, we listed and detailed all the products we worked on over the years, so people could pick up the relevant products and integrate them into their resume files. We entered each other’s resume files, reviewed them, and provided suggestions and comments for improvement. Within a few review rounds, the quality of our resume files increased dramatically.

LinkedIn Profile

Some people on the team didn’t have a LinkedIn profile and most had a profile that was not up to date. Once the resume files were good, people started to update their LinkedIn profiles. People connected through LinkedIn and started to provide recommendations for each other (genuine recommendations). After a while, our LinkedIn profiles were up and running. We all marked ourselves on LinkedIn as ‘open for work’.

Connections

When I say ‘connections’, I mean connections to people that can look at our resume and give a personal recommendation, for the organization they work for. Based on the experience we recently had, the best approach to find a new workplace was through connections. 90% of my teams were hired by their next workplace through connections. Not employment agencies, not recruitment agencies, and not headhunters. When you are on your own, you might have a few connections gathered throughout the years. But think about the power that a team of people has when it comes to connections. If each one of us had 3-7 connections, together we had together 60 connections. That is a real power for finding your next workplace. Moreover, we found some amazing people along the way that helped us in this journey. We used this huge pool of connections to push our resumes to the right places.

Pension and Compensation

Pension programs and layoff compensation procedures are sometimes complicated. Each country has its own rules and practices (which changes all the time). Along with those rules, there are a lot of options and variations. We brainstormed those options together to understand them better, so each person could make a better decision.

Getting Ready for Interviews

We worked together for over a decade and during those years we worked on quite a few projects and products. When you arrive at an interview, you need to be able to describe what you did, in a clear way. However, we didn’t remember the details about each of the products and we had to refresh our minds. Therefore, we started to schedule meetings, where we drilled into the technical aspects of those products. We recorded the meetings, so people could watch them after, we also brought people outside of the team that could contribute to these discussions.

Working in Iterations

I created a Trello board and managed our layoff backlog. We operated in iterations of one week.

Iteration #1: Mourning about the layoffs and building the ‘layoff release’ plan. Scheduling a recurring daily meeting at 10am. The layoff hearing process started (as part of the regulations in Israel).

Iteration #2: Creating a Google Drive folder and starting to mutually build a resume. Starting to update LinkedIn profiles and connect. The final decision about the layoff was delivered to all people (as part of the regulations in Israel) with 30 days’ notice.

Iteration #3: Most people had their resume ready after a few reviews. Starting to send LinkedIn recommendations to each other. Scheduling meetings to review technical aspects of products we worked on, as preparation for coming interviews. A few people started to go to interviews.

Iteration #4: Continue with the technical review meetings. Starting to send resumes to new workplaces through our connections. Although a few connections were triggered earlier, this is when we triggered most of our connections.

Iteration #5: Continue with the technical review meetings. Most people were in the interview process, sharing their experience with the team. A few people found their new workplace. Brainstorming the pension program options.

Iteration #6: Last day of work at the office. People arrived to collect their stuff and return their equipment. We are all scheduled to arrive together at 9am and help each other during this process.

Iteration #7: 50% of the team found their new workplace. At the point of writing this post, we were in iteration #7. Although some of the people found their new workplace, we are still operating as a team, meeting daily to help each other.

For all the managers out there, be leaders, not just managers. Being a leader is about being able to engage, empower, and influence people regardless of any organizational hierarchy or authority. It is about winning the hearts and minds of people. Your true leadership is tested when things get rough. Remember that and act upon it.

Photo credit, Chloe Nacasch


4 thoughts on "The Power of Unity During COVID-19 Layoffs"

  • Yafit levi says:

    Erez. I think you just got it perfectly. What you managed to do is magic.
    As one of the team I can share that it meant a lot for me. The option to continue as a team. That I had a place to share my thoughs.my fers. My success.my knowladhe.
    Thank you for being a leader!!!

  • Guy Gadnir says:

    Erez, this is inspiring. Leadership, friendship, loyalty and commitment one to each other. Thanks for sharing.

  • Tejas Pawar says:

    Erez, this is very inspiring.

  • Zachi Bashan says:

    Leadership in action!
    The power of the community you built is awesome.

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