Bird lays off 406 people via Zoom. A Ukrainian who worked there tells the story

In late March, an American startup Bird laid off a third of its employees. This happened against the backdrop of a coronacrisis: a startup provides scooters for trips around cities, while people in quarantine means no trips. To optimize spending the company was forced to lay off 406 people out of more than a thousand people.

The story made the headlines, but not so much because of the layoff, but because of the method, the company used to do it. People were seated in front of computers in Zoom, an unknown person gave a two-minute speech, after which they were left without work. Some even claimed that the video was recorded, and the text was not read by that person live. Because of this, the layoff process has become known throughout the world: it was even called an episode from the Black Mirror series, in which a machine fires people in two minutes. 

A Ukrainian Ruslan Nazarenko worked at Bird. The editors of AIN.UA contacted Ruslan and asked him to tell about the layoff process, why he was not offended by the startup, and what he would do next. 

Ruslan Nazarenko

I must say right away that I personally did not attend the conference call: I was on another work-related call. But then I listened to the recording and spoke with my colleagues who were there. Now there is a lot of speculation in social media that it was a pre-recorded video that was simply played back. After receiving the recording, I am 100% sure that this is a lie.

call record

As for me, the biggest miscalculation on the part of Bird in this situation is communications. Firstly, it was not the CEO of the company who addressed the employees, but an unknown person. Secondly, why no one directly informed what was being done to save the company, what steps were being taken. Now it looks like everything is fine for everyone, but 400 people were laid off, although in fact, we, for our part, fought until the last day to cut costs and even out profits, and some of the C-level managers decided to work without salary. Thirdly, not all managers contacted their employees after a call in Zoom because they – suddenly – were also laid off.

On top of that, everyone is actively debating the issue of laying off via Zoom. We have been working from home for four weeks now because of the quarantine, so Zoom is the only option. Next, the company had to lay off 400 people. If the CEO spoke to everyone in person, it would take weeks. Perhaps the managers could talk with their teams, but even then, those would be quite crowded calls: the teams are big. Therefore, for me, there is nothing wrong with that. Zoom it is.

The second aspect is the shutdown of computers [Editor’s note: the computers of the laid-off employees immediately shut off after the Zoom call]. Not everyone knows, but Bird is a very open company in terms of providing employees with access to data. Everyone knew how we earn and what we spend our money on. You could even see projects that would be launched in six months or a year. Therefore, the company decided to close access after people were informed about their dismissal. It’s plain data protection, any company cares about it. You get dismissed, hence you get no more access, I see nothing wrong with that.

But what I want to focus on is the help of the company to employees. Let me tell you by way of example: 

  • I called my manager, his manager, and our CPO. It was the most pleasant communication.
  • Salary for a month in advance and payment for all unused weekends. 
  • Insurance for the entire family for three months in advance.
  • Sign-in / relocation bonus remains in force (according to the contract, I am supposed to refund the money)
  • The company paid for my lawyers who help me with visas. 
  • Officially, I am leaving later so that I have more time on my visa. So they did with everyone who has such an issue.
  • Everyone can enroll in a series of training dedicated to job interviews, get tips on CVs, and how to get a good offer.
  • The company helps to look for work. In the first week, I went through 20 interviews. This week I had another 25 interviews. A huge team of people helps all four hundred employees to find a new job, give references and advises the best startups/companies in the world.

It’s hard for me to imagine such an attitude towards people in other companies, to be honest. I already see how Google says this, “Oh, and you have a visa? Well then come in later.” Therefore, it is extremely weird for me to see critical articles in the mass media, where the Bird leadership is condemned: for their part, they treated people as loyally as possible. 

Another thing is that not everyone understood where they were working. Bird is one of the fastest-growing startups in the world. They have been burning a ton of money by investing in the development. And then at some point, all our markets stop, and their profits drop. Obviously, things are not going very well. We grew very fast and money was our fuel, which is why we attracted the funds constantly. Now the situation has changed. A startup is a risk, and this must be understood. That is why I am sympathetic to the layoff and do not see anything terrible in it.