In a hybrid working world, offboarding is even more important

There are unique operational and emotional complications to managing employee exits remotely that HR needs to consider, says Gary Cookson

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As you’ll know from your own experiences, offboarding – the time between notice being handed in and the end of employment – is an important but often neglected period, and much can be overlooked – particularly when we aren’t face to face with the employee. Important offboarding tasks around transfer of knowledge and handover of tasks can often be left to chance when working remotely because the employee can’t be seen every day – in a face- to-face environment it is difficult to not notice if someone is preparing to leave, but remotely it is easy to forget about this. Scheduling frequent check-ins to talk specifically about handovers and knowledge transfer should be encouraged.

Most remote workers will have inbuilt audit trails of their main work by virtue of completing it online but talking about these audit trails and how to follow them is important. 

You will probably already ask departing employees to document their main tasks so that it is easier for the next person to learn them, but you could now go further and ask the departing employee to specifically think about how a person brand new to the organisation as well a the tasks and potentially to remote working would learn the nuances of the role.

Leaving remotely can feel quite impersonal. Apps like Kudoboards and Padlets can help by creating walls of appreciation and asking colleagues to record short videos can also help, but only go so far. We need to work harder with remote employees who are leaving to ensure we keep engagement as high as possible. But how do we do this?

Regular and short virtual check-ins between line manager and departing employee are crucial, as are those between the people practice team and departing employee. Some of these will cover traditional exit interview ground, but unique to the remote working experience you should be asking for feedback on how this has felt.

On a more social level, it may be appropriate to set up a leaving celebration. This may involve post-work drinks where people share happy memories, or a leaving remote dinner where all are eating similarly themed food. I’ve seen an ex-employer surprise a senior leader leaving with a well-rehearsed virtual ‘flash mob’, which created a very memorable goodbye for the individual in question and tailored to their tastes – everyone may appreciate something unique to them.

Some may not like a fuss being made, but gifts and packages delivered on their day of leaving or a few days later, personalised to the individual, are likely to be well-received and help to maintain the relationship beyond the leaving date. Keeping positive relationships in a remote world is even more important – the leavers are your brand ambassadors and there are things you can do to help maintain positive relationships.

There is often an emotional connection between departing individuals and their employers that remains after they leave. In a remote world this is even more apparent. When people move to a company where they may still be in contact, from a networking perspective, with their ex-employer, it may feel like they have not left at all. Emotional and physical separation is different with remote offboarding. Functionally, the remote offboarding phase can be made very effective and efficient. Emotionally, it doesn’t work.

But is that bad? People leave operationally but if they remain friends with ex-colleagues they don’t leave in any other sense – they become alumni. And this means people professionals take on a different role – we need to become community managers. Alumni management – community management – becomes more critical in a remote world.

Gary Cookson is founder of Epic HR and author of HR for Hybrid Working