One of the core skills needed to foster an environment of deep trust and high expectations is providing ongoing, effective feedback – a task that can become layered with complexity when you’re not working face-to-face with your employees. Whether you find yourself managing a newly remote team, or are part of a virtual culture that normally interacts across physical distance and time zones, here are some suggestions to help you confidently deliver feedback in virtual settings and ensure your employees feel seen and valued.
Think before you speak. If you’ve observed behavior that calls for a feedback conversation, avoid the urge to react too quickly. A “best boss” practice is to think through the feedback you want to provide so that you can clearly identify what you hope to achieve. Ask yourself:
- What specific behavior am I seeing (or not seeing) that needs to be addressed?
- Do I have tangible examples to support my feedback?
- What do I want to see this person do differently?
- What positive behaviors would I like to reinforce?
Being thoughtful on the front end of a feedback conversation will help you feel confident and prepared, and set you and your team members up for success once the conversation concludes. For more helpful tips, read our guide: How to Navigate Negative Reactions to Employee Feedback.
Connect, listen and empathize.
Now more than ever, be sure to consider any extenuating circumstances that might be influencing the behaviors you plan to address during a feedback session. For example, if an employee who is normally a top performer is suddenly missing deadlines or seems less engaged, consider scheduling a check-in call simply to connect on a human level first. You may discover an employee’s lapse in performance is linked to things like childcare concerns, a suddenly irregular work schedule, or increased anxiety in the face of so much uncertainty. By focusing first on what your employees feel and not just on what they do, you can demonstrate empathy, build trust, and potentially improve performance, long before the actual feedback conversation takes place.
Choose the right method, manner and timing.
When working remotely, we may find ourselves responding to IM’s, emails, and text messages throughout the day. While these methods are invaluable for day-to-day connections, when planning a feedback conversation, opt for a video call whenever possible. Video can help fill in the communication gaps that often occur in a virtual setting (e.g., non-verbal cues, facial expressions, body language). The second-best choice is a phone conversation, where tone and inflection can go a long way towards softening a difficult-to-hear message. In terms of manner and timing, consider the urgency when determining whether to roll feedback into a regular 1-on-1, or make it the sole topic of a separately scheduled meeting. Either way, be sure to give your employee a head’s up that you’ll have some feedback for them in the upcoming conversation to avoid having them feel blindsided or ambushed.
Make it a two-way conversation.
Be sure to give team members the opportunity to give you feedback as well, by closing conversations with questions like:
- “How do you feel about the feedback I provided today?”
- “What questions or feedback do you have for me?”
- “Is there anything I can do to help you be more successful while working remotely?”
Don’t forget to follow up.
After ending your feedback conversation, draft a short summary of key takeaways and send it in a follow-up email. Be sure to include any action items or agreed-upon next steps, and calendar a second conversation to demonstrate commitment to your employee’s success.
Providing feedback for your virtual team takes thoughtful planning. Leading these conversations with candor, empathy and transparency can go a long way towards making sure your team feels supported, seen and valued.