"Like A Black Mirror Episode": Company Laid Off 406 People In 2-Minute Zoom Call

A California-based startup that's seen recent success as a popular electric scooter rental service in cities across the nation appears to have set a record in terms of number of employees laid off on the spot in the least amount of time.

Bird, which is headquartered in Santa Monica, but maintains clusters of employees nationwide that must service and oversee its fleet of 'Bird scooters' including app developers  invited 406 employees to attend what the company called a "COVID-19 Update" Zoom meeting on March 27. And then a massacre ensued... a two-minute massacre. 

"Once employees logged onto the one-way meeting, a woman’s voice began reading a script, informing the attendees that they had all been laid off in a 2-minute speech," SF Gate describes.

Illustrative Zoom conferencing app

To add insult to injury it was the chief communications officer, Rebecca Hahn, apparently forced to fire over 400 employees on the spot seemingly while fighting back tears - in a "choked monotone" as one staff member put it - instead of Bird's founder and CEO, Travis VanderZanden. This was some 40% of the company's total employees.

A prior detailed account was related by dot.LA as follows

The woman began by acknowledging "this is a suboptimal way to deliver this message." Then she cut to the chase: "COVID-19 has also had a massive impact on our business, one that has forced our leadership team and our board of directors to make extremely difficult and painful decisions. One of those decisions is to eliminate a number of roles at the company. Unfortunately your role is impacted by this decision."

The meeting was scheduled to last half an hour but ended up going for only two minutes

Immediately upon the news being delivered all now ex-employees on the other end of the call promptly had their email and Slack accounts instantly deactivated. The Zoom webinar had allowed no participation, push-back, or question and answer. 

A recording to the mass firings via Zoom was subsequently posted online:

"It should go down as a poster child of how not to lay people off, especially at a time like this," one employee previously said. And a Bird manager later noted that "It was a cowardly move," given that "Travis did not want to deliver the news" - in reference to the CEO.

"It felt like a Black Mirror episode," another employee interviewed said. "This ominous voice came over and told us we were losing our jobs."

Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden, AFP/Getty.

Meanwhile, The Verge on Thursday published a deep-dive into other similar questionable and disturbing practices at the company, which has seen an unusually high turnover rate among employees.

In one 2019 example dubbed “The Pizza Party Firings” the company laid off between 4 and 5 percent of its staff in one fell swoop during an office pizza party

The Verge recounts of that episode that while everyone partied in a relaxed atmosphere, a group of staff were "corralled into a conference room where they received a brief speech, not unlike the one given on this year’s Zoom call, before being escorted out of the building by security with no opportunity to retrieve their belongings from their desks."

Given the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, more such stories like this are to soon emerge, but hopefully companies have enough sense, and humanity for that matter, to handle lay-offs better than doing it through some dystopian looking gray screen and robotic monotone voice.