Let’s be honest. Nobody likes giving feedback. We might say that we do, but we don’t. If you’re human, and we’ll assume that you are, you don’t look forward to difficult conversations. Without a good loop of feedback, however, organizations don’t grow. Bill Gates, one of the most successful leaders in the world, is quoted as saying, “We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” So, as much as you might dread giving feedback to an employee, it’s one of the best things you can do for the other person and your organization.
The need for leaders and managers to pay attention to how they give feedback is even more important in a remote work environment. In a traditional office setting, a team leader can offer feedback as he or she passes by an employee’s desk. In a virtual setting, however, the team leader can’t rely on organic interactions.
Feedback in the remote workplace is more nuanced than you might have experienced before. Here are three insights into giving feedback to virtual employees. We hope they move you to begin thinking in a new and fresh way.
Don’t Wait Until It’s Necessary
Ask anybody who’s married and they will tell you that it’s better to talk about issues in real-time before they morph into arguments in which no one is sure what they are fighting about. For example, you don’t want to find yourself yelling at your husband for snoring because you’re actually mad at him for forgetting your anniversary.
The same principle is true in a remote workplace. Employee reviews and feedback sessions are much easier and productive when daily problems are dealt with as they come up. We call this “ongoing feedback.” The mechanism for providing realtime communication is up to you, but it’s likely that you will rely heavily on written communication. That’s just the reality of remote teams and it’s totally fine. The important part is that your employees are receiving regular feedback specific to current events.
Don’t forget to schedule regular, face-to-face meetings in which you provide constructive feedback to your employees. You will see real benefit from this. Why? Team members will feel like their well-being is on your mind because you’re having face-to-face communication in a similar way to a traditional office experience.
Tips for providing ongoing feedback:
- Set reminders in your calendar so you won’t forget to check in with your team members
- Give positive feedback as much as, if not more than, you give constructive criticism. Some experts say that it takes 10 positive comments to outweigh a negative one.
Invite Feedback From Followers
One way to lay the ground work for good feedback is to invite your employees to tell you how they’re feeling about their job. Typically, men and women will be vulnerable around people who are vulnerable with them. Think about your best relationships outside of work; that one person around whom you are completely yourself. What if that friend suddenly quit sharing their feelings, thoughts, and ideas with you? You would shut off, too.
Your employees are the same way. If they feel like you genuinely listen to their feedback, they will be more likely to listen to yours. In a remote workplace, this can be challenging, but it will give make your feedback sessions a little more comfortable.
Tips for inviting feedback from remote employees:
- Schedule your meeting a week in advance, clearly explaining the purpose of the conversation
- Give your employee the questions your going to ask ahead of time
Always Follow Up
Distance can create suspicion. What a person thinks he communicates via video chat can sometimes be misconstrued. For example, you might give an equal amount of positive and negative feedback to your employee only to find out that he heard only the negative comments. Not surprising, huh?
When you’re engaging with remote workers, you will rely heavily on written communication. And, because people tend to hear what they want or mistake tone for something it’s not, leaders should always send a detailed, follow-up email to their direct reports after a feedback session. The email will (1) Ensure that nothing gets lost in translation and (2) Function as a conversation starter during your next check-in.
Tips for sending follow up emails after a feedback session:
- Start your email before the meeting. To save time, create a template that you use for every follow up
- Write key takeaways in bullet-points. This will prevent the reader from missing important details
“It’s better,” writes Andrew Spittle “to keep someone on course through a series of small adjustments than through a U-turn.” We hope these thoughts, about giving feedback to remote workers, give you courage to better grow your people and organization.
Let us know if we can help in any way!