The last few years have brought various degrees of change for every type of business, including the growth of remote-work options. With the possibility of remote work, businesses can prioritize hiring for talent, skills, and knowledge over physical location and proximity. While businesses have been pivoting to new ideas, initiatives, and work environments, the ability to provide employee feedback has remained a critical but challenging aspect of creating a successful remote-work environment.
Ultimately, the importance of employee feedback goes beyond business longevity. Offering feedback cultivates a supportive environment that encourages employee growth, reduces misunderstandings, and ultimately boosts productivity—each of which can be even more complex and complicated to achieve through a pixilated screen. Many managers know that offering employee feedback is important, but very few feel comfortable actually doing it, and remote work makes it that much easier to shy away from the process altogether.
So how can managers achieve clear, consistent, and effective feedback for their remote work teams? These three simple tips will make a big impact.
1. Be assertive while being compassionate
We all know the frustrations that come with misunderstanding someone, or someone misunderstanding you. This happens all too often in face-to-face conversations, but even more frequently through virtual messaging platforms. With most nonverbal cues being lost in remote conversations, tone of voice, posture, and balance can go a long way when giving input.
Dr. Dan Harrison, founder and CEO of Harrison Assessments, a company with cloud-based technology that provides secure, job-specific predictive analytics to enhance the candidate and employee experience, believes it’s a balance of compassion and assertiveness that paves the way for both business and employee success.
“Providing employee feedback means maintaining warmth and approachability while also enforcing company rules to ensure work is done correctly and on time,” Harrison says. “If you dive straight into hard-to-swallow critiques, employees might become defensive and won’t be as receptive. If all you do is praise employees, on the other hand, then they’ll never grow.”
It’s also important to let employees know that feedback isn’t just to benefit the business, but also to enhance their own success and even potential career growth, too. How and how often you communicate feedback is crucial (even if you are in a Zoom box).
“You must be a compassionate enforcer who can adapt and react to whatever steps the employee takes from there,” Harrison adds. “If they improve, continue helping and encouraging them. But if they don’t, you need to get to the bottom of what might be causing the performance issues. Try asking what they feel they need to excel at their job. Show that you care about their success.”
2. Give employees time to echo key takeaways and ask questions
Quality conversations require setting aside time to ensure that all messages were actually received as intended. This is true for in-person as much as remote conversations. However, there should be a greater emphasis on summarizing the key takeaways with remote employees since there is a greater risk of messages getting lost in translation.
To ensure effective communication and understanding, take note of any important points or decisions made during the conversation to clarify that everyone is on the same page. If time runs out or is cut short before this can happen, reach out and ask them to email their top three takeaways by the end of the day. This is a great way to make sure you and your remote employees are on the same page.
This communication can help highlight any misunderstandings and allow for clarification. It can also illustrate a more collaborative and inclusive approach to decision-making. When employees are given the opportunity to reflect on what was discussed and provide their insights, it encourages them to take an active role in the conversation and helps to build a stronger sense of ownership and responsibility for the outcomes. That level of mutual understanding is much harder to achieve in an email.
3. Give feedback that encourages change
Effective employee feedback is specific, consistent, and actionable.
Unlike giving feedback in an office, checking in on remote employees is less organic and has to be structured since you can’t just walk down the hall and have a quick check-in. This is why giving specific, actionable feedback with measured goals is vital to working remotely.
Having a structured feedback process in place, such as regular one-on-one meetings or performance evaluations, can help employees know what to expect instead of being caught off-guard and anticipating bad news. Consistency also helps establish a trustworthy work relationship, which spurs a culture of transparency where open, honest dialogue is valued.
Providing a clear agenda before the conversation starts and keeping the discussion focused on the topic at hand can help in promoting quality communication. Failing to give specific examples of the behavior or work that needs improvement or redirection can lead to confusion and complacency instead of valuable change. On the other hand, feedback that is too personal or overly critical can result in employees shutting down or becoming defensive, rather than actually wanting to grow.
With this in mind, it is important to give feedback to employees on specific behaviors that can be improved, as well as practical skills and examples that would help them navigate a new way of doing something. This could include examples for rules around response times, the best methods of communication for different situations, or how to practice active listening during conversations.
In the virtual world, delivering feedback is often seen as daunting, but positive phrasing can be less intimidating. Receiving comments on what to do—rather than what not to do—in order to reach goals is more beneficial for both the manager and the employee, and ultimately for the business. Positive phrasing that weaves in the employee’s personal brand (those unique traits that make them a valuable asset to the team) optimizes this process.
It’s no surprise that remote work brings its fair share of communication challenges. How often do we experience a sense of “???” in our day-to-day lives? Texting someone the word “sure” can mean many different things to many different people. Delivering feedback over virtual channels requires extra care. By setting aside time for effective communication, using the right tools, having a clear agenda, and taking note of key points, leaders can ensure that their remote teams are getting the full picture, even on the smallest of screens.