You can't overestimate the value of feedback in the remote work setting.
At the same time, it can be challenging for leaders to give feedback to remote workers since the interactions are limited. For this reason, the importance of having structured feedback practices in place becomes even more critical, when compared to a traditional face-to-face setting.
Feedback elucidates expectations, encourages people to learn from their mistakes, and builds confidence. In addition, companies that implement regular employee feedback see an average of 15% lower turnover rate.
Even though we all know the importance of constant and effective feedback, most leaders don't do it enough.
Most leaders don’t have enough experience having difficult conversations. But providing feedback doesn’t need to be rocket science. Once you start seeing the consequences of effective feedback, it even becomes rewarding.
The Different Types of Feedback
Feedback doesn’t always come as a way to improve workflow. There are other reasons to provide feedback, including praising achievements.
Feedback has three different appearances: positive feedback, developmental feedback, and evaluative feedback.
Positive feedback serves as a recognition resource to show appreciation for a great result on a project.
Most managers don’t give enough positive feedback. One of the explanations for this lack of acknowledgement that I’ve heard is “I don’t want employees to think that they are entitled, we want them to keep working hard”.
But the truth is that effective positive feedback is an agent of engagement. Gallup found that more than 65% of employees felt fully connected with their work after receiving positive feedback from their leaders.
So, effective positive feedback is an important booster of confidence and empowerment, and you should take advantage of it.
Developmental feedback happens when managers see an opportunity to teach an employee how to do something in a more efficient way. This type of feedback focuses on the growth of employees -- both personal and professional.
Developmental feedback might happen when a manager notices that an employee has been struggling with a specific task, or even with the development of a specific soft skill, and approaches the remote worker with actionable insights.
Evaluative feedback comes as a proactive resource to frustration.
It happens when managers make constant check-ins on the progress of a given project to provide guidance. Setting milestones and evaluating how remote employees are addressing a given project gives them the chance to provide their input before the project is finished.
It allows leaders to tell remote workers whether they are on the right track. And if they are not, it enables them to describe how they would handle it differently.
All these types of feedback are crucial, and remote workers’ performance is better when they receive all three types of feedback.
Being able to understand when to give feedback, and recognize which type of feedback is appropriate at each time is one of the things that separates good leaders from exceptional leaders.
Techniques to Provide Quality Feedback
If you want to see positive results from your feedback, you must use the fundamental methods that make it easier for employees to digest your suggestions.
Feedback must be specific, fruitful, encouraging, timely, and must be delivered correctly. Let’s explore in more details:
Make Task-Based Feedback
You should never criticize individuals personally. Instead, you should focus your critique on the task, skill, or project that needs to be improved.
By criticizing the employee, you make them react in a defensive way. The idea is not to get an explanation of why that happened, the idea is to work together on a better solution.
Putting the focus on the task to be improved instead of putting the focus on the individual who is working on the task, makes them accept the feedback better and embrace the evaluation to deliver better results.
Give Feedback in a Timely Manner
You can’t wait until quarter-end performance reviews to tell your remote worker that they should have done a better job on a project they worked on two months ago.
First of all, they won’t remember the details of the project -- and you won’t either. Second, it would be too late to fix problems and have a better outcome. And third, the employee will most likely have already learned the lesson by themselves by then.
The idea is giving small pieces of advice frequently as opposed to delivering a lot of information at once. The faster you provide feedback, the better. That is true for positive feedback as well. In the immediate period after a given achievement, workers will respond most positively and productively to praise.
A PWC study revealed that 60% of employees would enjoy hearing feedback on a daily or weekly basis, with 72% of young employees particularly saying they’d enjoy more regular feedback.
Provide Actionable Resources
What can you expect employees to do with a negative critique alone?
If you want to see better results in a certain project, you must give actionable guidance. You must tell in detail how you expect employees to perform on this and upcoming occasions.
Communicating your expectations and giving actionable advice gives remote workers the opportunity to learn from their failures -- or even better, the opportunity to learn from your experiences and apply them before their projects fail.
Keep in mind that it’s always better to guide employees through the problem-solving process than just giving them a ready-to-be-applied solution. Teach them how to find a way themselves.
Hearing them out and using their own words to suggest a solution is also a powerful way to empower employees. It lets them know that their voice is being heard.
Pay Attention to How You Deliver the Feedback
Besides the message you speak, the way you deliver the feedback also means a lot.
I like to use Zoom for video calls. This gives a more personal touch to the relationship with employees. But it also means that I have to be constantly paying attention to my body language. The importance of non-verbal communication cannot be understated here. Research shows that employees respond better to empathetic and approachable management.
If we take two different leaders with different voice tones and mannerisms and have them deliver the same exact feedback to an employee, the employee will react differently, based on how the feedback is delivered.
This is why taking the time to smile, make eye contact, and speak in a friendly (but natural) tone can significantly improve the way remote workers receive and act upon your feedback.
Give Negative Feedback Privately
It can be extremely distressing for an employee to be publicly criticized.
During team meetings, avoid giving feedback to one person in specific, unless it is appreciative feedback. In general, make sure that you’re sharing feedback only if everyone in the meeting has a hand in the project you refer to.
Taking the time to deliver feedback during a one-on-one meeting will make the employee feel better about the situation and feel more comfortable to share details. Creating spaces dedicated to feedback and informal conversations makes it less tempting to shoot feedback during inappropriate times.
How to Structure Feedback Time
In a remote setting, conversations don’t happen spontaneously while you’re having lunch with your employees, for example. The best way to create opportunities to deliver insights is by putting together a set of feedback-dedicated meetings throughout the year.
These are some effective types of meetings you can have with remote employees:
Connecting to each remote employee at least once a week should be a priority.
One-on-ones should be a space for open-ended and anticipated conversations between managers and employees. Think of one-on-ones as constant casual check-ins.
Managers can use this space to:
- Hear quick updates on projects’ evolution
- Give feedback on last week’s progress
- Hear about the employees’ challenges
- Give insight on how to handle difficult situations
- Talk about personal subjects
- Compliment the employee on recent successes
- Or even just to talk about things they like in common
I recommend making notes about things that come up during the week that you would like to discuss with the employee personally instead of sending a message or email. This way, you’re not tempted to deliver feedback at improper times.
Monthly Performance Reviews
Monthly performance reviews have some formalities that don’t occur on weekly one-on-ones.
This type of meeting is a formal conversation based upon the informal conversations that have happened prior. The goal of performance reviews is to evaluate every month how the employee is progressing with quarterly or yearly goals.
Having the opportunity to give formal feedback every month allows managers to keep up with projects’ progress and give inputs in a timely manner. This also allows managers to change the strategy quickly if needed.
Monthly reviews are also a good space for managers to provide feedback on the employee's strengths and weaknesses, and to provide insights on how to take advantage of the strengths and how to minimize the weaknesses.
Quarterly Employee Evaluations
These are formal assessments in which managers evaluate an employee's work performance over the last four months.
These meetings often involve written forms to document and track employee performance between evaluations. During these evaluations, managers should assess whether employees reached their quarterly goals or not. Based on the performance, managers can craft the goals for the next quarter.
Keep in mind, that nothing should come as a surprise. During monthly performance reviews, you should get an idea of where your remote worker is standing regarding the goals.
The idea is to make all the necessary adjustments before the quarter ends to ensure that during this evaluation all the goals will have been achieved. And that, during this meeting you will give positive feedback only.
Besides receiving direct feedback from a manager, remote employees should also be evaluated in a holistic manner, through a 360-degree review.
A 360 review is a performance management system that provides employees with anonymous feedback from various people. This feedback is provided by peers, subordinates, managers, direct reports, even vendors and customers. This helps remote workers to have a complete idea of their impact within the company.
You should also consider having employees to provide self-evaluation. A self-evaluation gives you a solid base to discuss strong and weak points during monthly and quarterly meetings.
Give Powerful Feedback
Think of feedback as a map that helps point employees in the right direction and that keeps them on track as they go.
However, giving feedback to remote employees likely won’t happen if you don’t set aside regular feedback-dedicated meetings. It is human nature to put off difficult conversations. And trying to soften the blow only makes the issues compound.
With regular one-on-one meetings, you can clarify expectations, help employees learn from their mistakes, and boost their morale.
So make it a priority.