Few people would dispute the importance of onboarding new members of a team. Getting to know the other people you’ll be working with is vital to becoming part of a team. This is often done a number of ways, but at the very least involves introductions and informal get-to-know-you icebreakers. Depending on the position, it can also involve training sessions, one-on-one conversations, happy hour meetups or other social events. Even when the stated topic is about “work” stuff, good managers allow and even encourage informal chatting.

If a team is a machine, then socializing is the grease that keeps it moving fluidly.

I’ve remotely for 8 years, for 5 different companies. The kind of social onboarding that I mention above has been a part of each position, even when it happens organically. Given how important socializing is to team health, it should not come as a surprise that the places that have emphasized social onboarding have also been the ones that I started contributing to most quickly.

Bringing a new person into a team changes that team fundamentally, and the healthiest teams I’ve been a part of seem to understand that, emphasizing this social onboarding in ways both subtle and overt.

When a person leaves a company, be it because of downsizing, accepting an offer at another company, or even just an internal reorganization, the same priority to the social is not always given. Indeed, even as projects are handed off, and any HR offboarding procedure is executed carefully, few teams give adequate attention the social offboarding.

One the most helpful traditions that I’ve come to embrace when someone leaves a team has been a “social offboarding” call with the team. Given that I’ve been on remote teams, this has looked like an informal Zoom call and has been a great way to say goodbye, talk about “what’s next”, and gain some sense of closure. And when I’ve been the one leaving, it has served as a nice palette cleanser amid all of the HR paperwork and other formalized processes necessary when one leaves a company.

How does this get set up? Link to heading

Depending on the circumstances that a person is leaving, it might just be a normal Zoom (or whatever) meeting that you make and invite all the teammates to. But if access to internal tools has been revoked, this may involve treating the leaving employee like an external entity, and invite them to a meeting as such. At the very least, ensuring that you have personal contact information makes this a possibility.

Who should come? Link to heading

This has usually involved anyone that I worked with every day. If you are involved in a daily standup meeting, for example, that might be a good place to start with the “guest list”. Not everyone feels comfortable being candid with higher-ups, so use your discretion on who the team and employee would feel comfortable with.

Of course, you can always as the person leaving who they would like to have on the call.

What do we say? Link to heading

Given that this is usually an informal conversation, the folks on the call can discuss whatever makes sense. However, as a guideline, I’d caution against discussing the terms of the end of the employment or other topics that could get you in hot water. If the person leaving is going to another position, they might give some details about what drew them to the new place, but steer clear of why they are leaving this team.

This might be a time to reminisce about projects people worked on together, accomplishments you are proud of, or just re-tell funny stories. Again, this should be an informal call.

If, however, you are hoping for more structure, here’s an approach I’ve taken at several places when I’ve left: I offer positive affirmations about the specific people on the call. I’ll address each person individually, naming the things I appreciate about them as coworkers or what I may miss about not being on their team anymore.

Here’s an illustration using completely made up people and positions:

Alice, I've learned so much from your deep knowledge of Bells, and
your work with Whistles has been inspiring. The team is so lucky
to have you, and I'll miss learning from you.

Bob, you were the first person that reached out to me when I was
new here, and you've never ceased encouraging me even while I
learned the ropes. You've been a great teammate, and I'll miss
having you in my corner.

Charlotte, thank you for trusting me enough to experiment on the
Widget project, even though it was clearly in your area of
expertise. You helped me when I got stuck, and I'm so appreciative.

People, in general, seem to like when you compliment them, and even more so when you’re able to call out specifics. Every time I’ve used this format, the people on the call have been quite receptive. It’s been a helpful, perhaps even therapeutic, way to spend the last few minutes of time with these people as teammates.

And when someone else has been the one leaving, this kind of call has been helpful to me and the rest of the team to have a sense of closure, and we leave the call with positive vibes.