Part of giving good feedback is about paying attention to work habits and seeing how teams function as a whole—which is more difficult in a dispersed workplace. Here are a few tips offering helpful feedback remotely.
Good managers know how to give feedback in a way that helps teams grow instead of shutting them down. But that becomes more challenging in a remote workplace where teams are separated and in-person communication isn’t an option.
Consider these tips for staying connected with direct reports and delivering clear, effective feedback remotely.
Lead With Compassion and Understanding
Since workers have been thrust into remote work, some have dealt with loneliness, isolation, and feelings of being trapped at home or overwhelmed by distractions. Managers can help by delivering feedback in a way that is considerate and understanding, even if it points out where improvements are needed.
“The best company cultures overuse the words ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘you’re welcome,’” says Melissa Smith, a remote work consultant. “Start a meeting with, ‘Thanks for finding the time to speak with me today; I know you’re really busy.’ Starting it off that way sets the tone.”
And when you schedule a meeting, be clear with direct reports about its purpose to avoid unnecessary confusion or anxiety. Instead of a cryptic message such as “We need to talk,” explain that you’d like to go over a particular assignment.
Remind them that you’re not there to bark at or lecture them; you’re collaborating to make the work better. Open up a two-way discussion by encouraging them to ask questions and make comments.
Get on a Call
A phone call can give you a chance to clear up or expand upon written feedback you’ve given to a direct report, which helps eliminate miscommunication.
And a video call allows you to more easily connect with your team member on a personal level and show compassion as you deliver negative feedback. Face-to-face communication will also help you to gauge his or her reaction and provide support if needed.
But don’t make assumptions based on body language alone.“There are studies upon studies about how people are not experts in reading body language,” Smith says. “Making assumptions is a really horrible way to connect with your people and manage them. There’s no substitute for asking someone, ‘How are you feeling?’”
Don’t go days or weeks without connecting with direct reports on current projects. To establish continuity in a dispersed team, provide frequent feedback. This will keep employees confident that they’re on the right track, Smith says, and provides “positive reinforcement that says their company cares about them and sees what they’re doing.”
Highlight the Positives
Make sure your team members are not just hearing from you when you’re delivering negative feedback. Maybe you used to swing by their office to give them a quick congratulations; substitute that with a positive comment in your team’s messaging channel, on your next call, or during a video meeting.
Without positive feedback, a remote worker’s feelings of isolation or frustration may intensify, resulting in a loss of motivation.
“It seems like, ‘Wow, OK, so the only time I ever hear from this person is when something’s wrong. What about all the other days that I’m here? What am I doing right?’” Smith says.
Set Clear Guidelines
For remote teams, all interactions are through some form of communication channel, whether it’s a messaging app, email, the phone, or a video meeting. That means all the little notes and pieces of feedback can easily be lost or overlooked, frustrating both you and your direct reports.
Create a formal structure for feedback, designating different communication channels for different forms of information. For updates or status reports on long-term projects, use project management software to keep feedback in order. And for quick notes you want to deliver on the fly, use your chat channel. Sending general feedback not related to an urgent project? That can go in an email. Once you have a system in place, it’ll be easier for employees to digest the feedback and stay on the same page as you.