Global HR 15 min

The ultimate offboarding guide for HR managers

Written by Barbara Matthews
January 16, 2024
Barbara Matthews


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While employee onboarding is often seen as the “positive” side of HR, offboarding is just as critical a process.

A poor offboarding process puts pressure and scrutiny on other team members, creating an administrative mess and affecting productivity. It can also negatively impact your company’s client relationships.

In this guide, we’ll help you avoid this. We’ll cover some of the best practices for offboarding employees, ensuring the transition goes smoothly. We’ll also outline an offboarding checklist to provide clarity and structure — for all parties.

So let’s jump straight in.

What is offboarding?

Offboarding is the formal process of managing an employee’s departure from a company. Its goal is to ensure that the transition is smooth for both the company and the leaving employee, regardless of why the employee is leaving.

A successful offboarding process should cover the transfer of knowledge, the handing over of tasks, and the resolution of paperwork.

Why is offboarding important?

In even the best workplaces, people come and go. Sometimes, this is the employer’s decision, and sometimes it’s the employee’s.

Regardless, it’s crucial to have a robust offboarding process in place. For your company, it:

  • Minimizes productivity disruptions. A structured offboarding process makes the transition of certain roles, tasks, and responsibilities go more smoothly. This minimizes potential gaps or stalls in ongoing work or projects. 

  • Reveals pain points. Exit interviews and other reflective processes can shed light on areas for improvement, or highlight organizational challenges that may have otherwise been overlooked. This is especially true if multiple people are leaving your company.

  • Protects your employer brand. Your employees, both past and current, are brand ambassadors. A poorly-handled exit may reflect badly on your reputation, especially if it's publicized on channels like Glassdoor and LinkedIn. Your existing employees may also feel that an ex-colleague has been treated unfairly, potentially affecting morale.

  • Leaves the door open. Just because an employee is leaving, it doesn’t mean they won’t be a valuable asset in the future. A positive offboarding experience keeps the door open for a potential return or other collaboration opportunities, such as contracting or freelancing.

Key considerations of offboarding

In general, your offboarding process should be clearly defined (see the checklist in the next section). However, each case will still have its own nuances that need to be taken into consideration before any boxes can be ticked.

For example, in some cases, the departure may be on highly amicable terms, with a long notice period. In others, there may have been a serious breach of contract, and it’s imperative to conduct the offboarding process as quickly as possible.  

As a result, it’s a good idea to pause and reflect, and first consider the following questions: 

How easy will it be to transfer the employee’s workload?

In some cases, the answer to this question will be fairly straightforward, whereas in others it may cause a real headache. Depending on the importance and seniority of the role, critical projects may be delayed, client relationships may suffer, and the company’s reputation could even be at risk. 

The extra workload might also put undue pressure on your other employees, potentially leading to burnout, poor morale, or even resignations if not handled properly. 

As a result, it’s important to understand the breadth and depth of the role, anticipate the challenges you might face, and consider how the offboarding process is likely to affect things.

How much time do you have?

The timeframe of your employee’s departure can make a significant difference in how you deal with it. If you or your employee are looking for a swift exit, for instance, you’ll need to make rapid adjustments to fill the position. This might mean quickly identifying an internal candidate who could temporarily take on the role, or reallocating various tasks to existing team members so that workflow isn’t disrupted.

Conversely, if the employee gives (or must serve) a longer notice, you’ll have the opportunity to oversee a more gradual, thorough handover.

Always double-check the terms of the employment agreement to prevent any breaches of contract and make sure all contractual terms regarding the notice period, end-of-service benefits, or any other exit clauses are being followed. This is especially true if the employee is based overseas.

Is there potential for the employee to return in the future?

This is always a good thing to keep in mind, especially if the employee is leaving for personal reasons, to further their education, or to pursue a different opportunity. 

If it’s possible that the employee will return, you can factor that into future leadership or role considerations. You can incorporate them into your broader talent network and leverage their expertise in numerous ways.

How will clients or external stakeholders be affected?

If your employee has developed important relationships with clients, their departure can potentially disrupt ongoing projects and business relationships. Therefore, it’s crucial to assess who or what might be affected, and how to prepare for any potential ripple effects. 

This is usually an issue when the departing employee is in a key account management or client-facing role, such as customer success. In such cases, stakeholders need to be assured that the transition will be smooth and that their needs will continue to be met.

Determining the best communication channels and approaches helps you strengthen your trust and bond with external stakeholders. Use this transition as an opportunity to cement your relationships and showcase the company’s commitment to transparency and consistency.

Employee offboarding checklist

As mentioned, every employee termination has its own nuances, and will have a different level of impact on your business. That’s why it’s important to consider the questions listed above.

However, in term of the actual offboarding process itself, there are several key steps you need to follow, as detailed below: 

1. Document the resignation 

If the employee hasn’t already given you one, you will first need to acquire a written letter of resignation that includes their reasons for leaving and their last working day. Note that a conversation or a phone call is not enough; a written document serves as an official notice for both parties, and helps to avoid any misunderstandings.

Conversely, if you are terminating the agreement, you must provide written notice detailing the reason and the last working day. 

During this step, you should also update any internal systems and databases to reflect the personnel change. This alerts HR, management, and other departments of the employee’s departure so they can make any necessary adjustments in their teams or workflows. 

Remote’s free HRIS software makes it quick and easy for HR managers to do this, ensuring accurate documentation and record-keeping.

2. Finalize payroll and benefits

Using the employee’s proposed last day as a reference, you need to start calculating their final payslip. This can be a complex process as, as well as the base salary, you need to consider unused leave days, severance pay (if applicable), bonuses, and any other form of compensation that is potentially due.

You also need to consider how this affects the employee’s benefits, such as insurance plans, pension contributions, and company stock option plans. You may need to inform partner providers, and consult on the steps you’ll need to take.

If your employee is working remotely, this can be particularly tricky, as employment laws differ by country or even region. In some US states, for instance, employers must pay accrued but unused vacation time by law, whereas in others, this is not a requirement. An automated payroll system — like Remote’s — can simplify this often complex process, and ensure that everything is correct and compliant.

3. Notify teams and clients 

Informing relevant teams and clients about an employee’s departure should be handled with sensitivity and transparency. Failure to do so may lead to confusion, derailed projects, and strained client relationships.

For internal teams: 

  1. Make a formal announcement. Gather the team for a short call or meeting to announce the employee’s departure, instead of letting the team hear the news through the grapevine. Answer any questions the team may have (within reason and without breaching the departing employee’s privacy).

  2. Clarify actions. If someone will be taking over the departing employee’s tasks, make this clear. If not, outline the temporary plan until a replacement is found.

  3. Offer and provide support. Some team members might be worried about the departure. Listen to their concerns, assure them that they have support, and provide resources or training to help them navigate the transition. 

For external clients: 

  1. Communicate directly. Reach out to key clients directly through interactive channels so they can ask questions and voice concerns.

  2. Give them updates. Let them know who’ll be their new point of contact, and assure them that the quality and timeline of work will remain unchanged. If the project will be delayed as a result of the departure, be upfront about it and propose a revised timeline or mitigation plan.

  3. Ask for feedback. Get feedback on how the client feels about their working relationship and listen to any suggestions they might have.

4. Plan the handoff

A smooth and structured handoff saves time, minimizes disruptions, keeps projects on track, and prevents knowledge gaps. To plan a successful transition, you’ll need to:

  • Determine who’ll fill the position. This could be someone from within the team, a combination of people, or a new hire. 

  • Identify training needs. Recognize where any successor might need training or extra support, whether in an interim or full-time capacity.

  • Prepare information for the handoff. Make sure all essential data, from contacts to project updates, is available and accessible.

A good way to plan for a changeover is to create a to-do list of final projects and deliverables. This will help you prioritize important tasks, maintain the momentum of projects, and provide direction for the employee’s replacement.

5. Conduct the exit interview

For both parties, this is one of the most important steps of the offboarding process. An exit interview offers a window into the employee’s experience during their time with the company, and can generate invaluable insights into how to improve your employee experience.

Consider asking these three questions during the exit interview:

What factors led you to consider and pursue a new opportunity?

This question helps identify any underlying issues within the company, be they related to culture, management styles, or job satisfaction.

Were there resources or training opportunities you felt were lacking during your time with us?

The departing employee’s response to this can help the organization understand gaps in their training programs or resource allocation. 

How would you describe the company culture? What would you change about it?

Company culture is often a big factor in job satisfaction and retention. This question allows the departing employee to provide a candid view of the existing culture and recommend changes for improving the workplace. 

6. Return assets and revoke access 

The last step in the offboarding process is to ensure that the employee returns important company assets such as laptops, and that their access to any company systems, accounts, and data (including email accounts, social media accounts, and company software) is removed.  

If the termination is not amicable, this is a particularly important step. A large proportion of insider threats come from disgruntled ex-employees with access to company data, and your business must be meticulous and efficient during this process. 

What about remote offboarding?

If you have remote employees, the offboarding process can present additional challenges, such as: 

Communication delays

Since remote team members are often spread across different locations and may be working asynchronously, coordinating meetings and decisions can become difficult. Missed messages, delayed responses, and scheduling conflicts can all disrupt the remote offboarding process. 

These delays can lead to misunderstandings, unanswered concerns, and an inefficient process. As such, you’ll need to identify a flexible communication method to share information and updates effectively.

Physical asset retrieval 

When employees aren’t physically present in an office, collecting company-owned items like laptops, mobile devices, and access cards is more complex. 

Making sure these assets are returned — and in good condition — can present an administrative headache. Delivery arrangements, time zone differences, and potential shipping issues all add layers of complexity to this stage.

Work transition dynamics 

Work handovers are already one of the hardest parts of the offboarding process, but with remote employees, the process is even trickier.

In traditional offices, colleagues can easily pass on tasks or address questions. However, in a remote environment, your employees will need to rely on digital communication tools and strong documentation to complete the transition, especially if there are time zone differences.

Data security concerns  

As mentioned, data security is a genuine concern when offboarding, and remote work can make monitoring and controlling access to company systems more difficult.

If a former employee can still log in to work apps or systems, they don’t need physical access to an office to create a problem. As a result, the risk of security breaches and data loss increases.

There may also be country- or region-specific data laws that you must adhere to, and which can create potential issues during the offboarding process. Remote can help ensure your data is properly protected.

How to ensure a smooth remote offboarding process

Despite these challenges, there are a number of effective ways to ensure a smooth offboarding for your remote employees, as follows:

Communicate clearly

At every stage of the process, clear and consistent communication is absolutely crucial. This means sharing essential details about the offboarding process, setting clear timelines, and effectively managing expectations. 

All stakeholders should have access to the same information and updates to ensure a productive transition, with regular check-ins, emails, and meetings. Documented procedures can also help maintain transparency throughout the entire offboarding journey. 

Leverage technology

To simplify the offboarding process and make your job easier, use all the tools at your disposal. Use video technology for exit interviews and asset management systems to collect company property from departing employees.

HRIS solutions — like the one offered by Remote — allow you to consolidate all your HR needs in one place, including centralized employee data, payroll, and communication. This makes the offboarding process more efficient and organized, saving you time and resources. 

Establish handover protocols 

Creating robust protocols for remote handovers helps ensure that work can continue without disruption, and that the successor has everything they need. It’s a good idea to draw up a detailed transition plan that can be used as a template whenever a remote employee leaves. 

It’s important to also establish a communication plan for clients and team members and include checkpoints to track progress and provide support throughout the handover process.

Establish data security protocols

In the same vein, it’s a good idea to have a standard checklist for revoking access to company systems, applications, and accounts.

As part of this plan, allowance should be made to clearly communicate any continuing obligations to the departing employee. This might include non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), non-compete clauses, post-employment cooperation requirements, or intellectual property agreements. 

Making sure the departing employee understands and adheres to these obligations is necessary for maintaining legal and security compliance, protecting your company’s interests, and preventing potential disputes or breaches.

Coordinate with other departments

When IT, HR, and administration departments work in sync, the departing employee has a positive offboarding experience, and your company gets a secure and efficient one.  

A collaborative effort can streamline critical processes, such as asset retrieval, data clearance, and the revocation of access to company platforms. For example, while HR communicates the departure details, IT ensures the safe retrieval of company equipment and data clearance, and admin oversees the physical return of your company’s property.

Acknowledge your employee’s contributions

Unless there are extreme reasons for the employee’s departure, it’s important to recognize and thank them for their contributions. This reinforces a positive company culture and demonstrates a positive human element.

Whether through a personal message, a farewell gathering, or a small token of gratitude, ensure that you express your gratitude sincerely. This simple act can help the departing employee leave on a positive note and maintain a sense of goodwill, even after they’ve moved on.

Offer future support 

A graceful offboarding process isn’t just about the present — it’s also about creating paths for future interactions. If the departing employee has contributed positively to the company, offer them references, networking opportunities, or even the potential for future collaborations. 

Extend a hand and maintain a connection that could benefit both parties down the road. Doing so demonstrates that the company values its relationships beyond any immediate transactions. 

Action feedback

As mentioned, exit interviews can offer a treasure trove of insights. However, it’s important to assess your feedback with an open mind, refrain from being overly defensive, and carefully consider what can be actioned. 

This feedback can help your company:

  • Recognize areas for improvement

  • Discover strategies for retaining top talent

  • Refine your policies and practices to enhance the employee experience

Offboarding with Remote

Effective offboarding is an essential part of HR management, regardless of whether your team works in a traditional office or is remote-first. 

Remote can help make this process smoother by centralizing all the relevant data and information, managing the relevant payroll processes, and helping ensure you stay compliant with employment laws — wherever your employee is based.

Learn more about how Remote's HRIS can help your business — or try it now for free!

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