Saturday, February 13. 2010
If you read my review of Up In The Air you'll have noticed I thought replacing f2f meetings with video conferencing to fire people was wrong. I would go so far that I reacted to it as a gut level and thought it was morally indefensible.
And then I had to wonder why. I was trying to work out how to write a piece called "Sacking people over the internet is wrong" and I couldn't; I don't believe that sacking people over the internet, via video conferencing etc. is automatically wrong. It's not fun, nor easy, but sacking people rarely is. It's the sacking of strangers in that fashion that is wrong as far as I am concerned.
I fervently believe that "the internet" - Second Life, Facebook, Skype, Twitter, blogging and so on - allow you to create new relationships, develop new or existing ones and maintain relationships that started online or in the flesh. I have a number of friends that I have only met virtually who are close to me, know about as much about me as my close atomic space friends - a small number in both groups that I basically don't distinguish internally. I have a wider range of acquaintances, work contacts and the like, again some in atomic space and some in virtual space. They're relationships that I have created and do develop and maintain that way.
With a work contact, particularly a work contact from an online setting, being fired online seems eminently morally OK (well still very undesirable). It's the stranger part that makes it an outrage for me.
And that, I think, is because whilst relationships can be developed and maintained online, we are still set up to react to face-to-face meetings - we've got a few hundred thousand years of evolution and social expectations to help us there. The person that you've never met on the other side of the table telling you that you are fired might be a complete stranger but you are set up to react to them as if they are someone you have met, someone you know. In particular as you go through the process, which is pretty crappy after all, there is something in there that will help you believe that you are in a situation where someone can help you, can react to your pain and the like. Over the internet, over a video conference, that is not there UNLESS you have an existing relationship. And that's why it's morally wrong to sack a stranger that way - you have to cause them pain by sacking them (assuming you must sack them) so you owe it to them to make the process as painless and supported as possible.
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