If you live in the world of remote work, you know it has unique challenges. Everything from socializing to management takes on a different hue when one coworker is here and another is there.
Millions of jobs shift to remote work, and entire industries grapple with the transition. That’s why you’ll find a gajillion results for remote working tips. There are articles on:
- Hiring remote employees—and onboarding them,
- Managing projects across distributed teams,
- Helping remote employees engage with company culture…
- You name it.
One thing you won’t find as much literature on? Offboarding remote employees (I checked!)
What is offboarding?
When an employee leaves the company, offboarding is the process they go through to officially sever the employment relationship. It includes things like signing any termination paperwork, conducting an exit interview, and turning off badge access to the office.
Offboarding often falls by the wayside for many companies. That’s a mistake. Job-hopping is on the rise and our professional spheres grow more connected by the day. Toss in data security concerns, and it’s more important than ever to leave working relationships on good terms.
Why is offboarding different for remote employees?
You might be thinking, “Okay, offboarding is important. But isn’t it the same no matter where the employee’s located?”
Hard no. Like everything that goes into creating a good working relationship, bidding remote employees farewell carries its own bundle of challenges. But don’t take my word for it, here are a few of the concrete problems with remote offboarding:
- The lack of face-to-face time means you need to be extra deliberate about communication. This applies to any remote relationship, but it’s even more important when emotions run high—including when an employee leaves or is asked to leave.
- Departures aren’t the end of the road. If you have a good working relationship, you want to keep it—something that’s more difficult when you have fewer opportunities for casual social interaction á la the office water cooler.
- Crucial offboarding tasks and checkpoints can fall by the wayside simply because out of sight is out of mind. Lame as it might seem, we all fall victim to this sometimes.
There are two sides to every employment relationship, and there are two sides to offboarding. We’ll dive into
- Best practices for managers and HR professionals first.
- Then we’ll look at how remote employees can do their part to make the offboarding process a smooth one.
1. Best practices for managers and HR
The bulk of responsibility for offboarding rests on the shoulders of managers and human resources staff. Let’s chat about some best practices for remote offboarding.
Don’t let remote employees fade away
When someone who works in the office gives their notice, you still see them every day for the next two weeks. That provides a lot of opportunity to wrap things up, both work and personal wise. Without it, that time can slip away. The employee is done and gone before you know it, and they fade away into the night.
This isn’t ideal for you or the employee.
Every time someone leaves the company, you have an opportunity to get valuable feedback about your performance as a manager. That goes double when you’re managing remote employees—triple if you’re new to remote management.
Plan regular check-ins
Regular check-ins during an employee’s final days or weeks help you keep track of projects that need wrapping and transition materials that need preparing. In the office, it’s simple—you drop by their desk and ask how it’s going.
When you don’t have that option, it’s important to be proactive about checking in. Schedule regular check-ins. You’ll flip for how effectively a quick 10-minute catch-up can keep both of you on track through the final sprint.
Schedule an exit interview
Make it a priority to schedule an exit interview—then take the time to prepare for it. Have specific questions in mind to get the most helpful feedback. Remember, employees don’t always know what kind of feedback you’re looking for, so it’s good to provide a framework. Here are a few other tips to get the most out of the exit interview:
- Any feedback they offer is only as beneficial as it is candid. Go out of your way to make employees feel comfortable. Make sure they understand how valuable their insights are, and be open and receptive to criticism.
- Ask for feedback on your performance managing from afar. It’s always good to ask, but it’s vital if you’re new to managing remote employees. The millions of how-to’s and tips available online are no substitute for candid feedback from real live direct reports.
Be deliberate about maintaining a positive relationship
Parting ways on good terms is only becoming more crucial as our professional networks grow ever more connected. Emotions run high during the final weeks of employment, even if they’re leaving by choice.
When people are leaving, you shouldn’t just stop with an exit interview and a pat on the back. You should be thinking of them as a contact you can tap in the future.
– Ravi S. Gajendran, researcher and professor for the University of Illinois
Throughout the offboarding process, focus on keeping things positive. A few ways to make that happen:
- Offer to help in any way you can. Be willing to write a LinkedIn recommendation or connect the employee with your network. This is a big deal if they’re being laid off or let go for reasons other than performance.
- Show your appreciation. Your employee has given you a chunk of their life and contributed to your success as a manager and a company. Go out of your way to show how much you appreciate their time and work—something as simple as a handwritten note or small parting gift can go a long way.
Make arrangements to recover any company assets
This step seems self-explanatory, but I left a job 48 days ago and (as of this writing) the company-owned laptop’s still sitting next to me. As a manager or human resources team, it’s your job to make arrangements to get back company assets.
Part of that means sending remote employees a box or label to send back physical hardware. Cutting off access to intangibles like software and files, changing logins and passwords, and recovering financial stuff (like company credit cards) are also important to remember.
Take notes for next time
Like every aspect of remote management, you learn as you go. That’s why it’s key to document what works and what doesn’t. Then combine your list with feedback from departing employees to define a process for offboarding remotes.
That way, next time a remote worker leaves, you’ll be ready to help them through a streamlined and graceful exit.
2. Best practices for remote employees
When it comes to leaving things on a positive note, you have as much at stake as the company does. After all, there’s a good chance you’ll need a reference or introduction at some point in your professional future.
A lot of the offboarding responsibility falls to your manager or the company’s HR department. Still, there several things you can do to hold up your end of the bargain.
Schedule a video meeting to give your notice
The going etiquette says to give your notice in person. Since that isn’t an option when you work remotely, a video meeting is the next best thing. Limit the potential for miscommunication and be sensitive to the emotional side of leaving. That’s why a venue that can convey tone of voice and facial expressions is the best option.
During the meeting, you want it to be clear that you’re definitely leaving, but also that you value both your manager and the company’s time. Be sure to:
- Give as much notice as possible,
- Explain your reason for leaving,
- Offer candid and constructive feedback, and
- Keep it positive.
Be accountable for transition projects
It’s tempting to slack off during your final days—especially when no one’s around to call you on it. You’re checked out of this role, you’re excited for the next thing. Resist that temptation. Make the transition from you to your replacement easy for the company. It’s one of the best ways to leave them with fond memories.
Your manager probably has a list of projects they want wrapped up in a neat little bow before you go, but they don’t do your job for eight hours every day. Things will fall through the cracks. Put a little extra effort into making sure everything’s in order, including:
- Wrapping up projects
- Creating detailed transition documents so the next person can pick right up where you leave off
- Training anyone who will take on your projects or tasks
Show your appreciation
No matter why you’re leaving, this job has been a step on your professional ladder, and it’s gotten you to where you are now. Not to mention the boundless flexibility of working remote.
Make a point to showcase your appreciation for the company, your manager, and your team. Offer help or advice or friendship to team members. Send a farewell gift to your direct manager, even if it’s only a handwritten note.
Concerns about data security, identifying reasons for turnover and employee roadblocks, maintaining professional connections… there are a lot of reasons to craft a workable offboarding process.
Departures happen. Even with the flexibility and benefits of remote work, there comes a time when employees move on. Despite this, only 29% of companies have laid out a formal offboarding process.
Take advantage of the built in opportunities when a remote employee leaves. You’ll gain insights that reduce turnover and make you a better manager.
And that’s worth investing in!