Feedback shouldn’t be relegated to times when you need to correct or improve an employee’s behaviour. It should be consistent and reliable regardless of employee performance. In a traditional office setting, employees receive constant nonverbal cues from colleagues and supervisors—a smile here, a nod there—that tell them how they’re doing. It’s important to maintain a similar level of communication with a remote employee.
Because these accidental interactions don’t happen naturally in a remote environment, it’s the responsibility of the manager or business owner to prioritize feedback and create a more productive, welcoming environment for the staff.
Here are some tips that will help business owners and managers provide excellent, effective feedback for remote employees.
1. Structure, structure, structure
In order to provide effective feedback for remote employees, you have to carve out time to provide the feedback in the first place. The natural state of a remote setting is flexible. It’s easy for you and your employees to become ships passing in the night. Don’t let this happen.
Create a formal schedule for connecting with each employee. Call it whatever you want: a meeting, a one-on-one, an evaluation, a check-in. Whatever you name it, this structured environment will provide a natural, consistent space for you to provide feedback. A standing appointment will keep supervisors from forgetting this key part of improved workplace performance.
2. Engage the whole team
Feedback doesn’t have to be the exclusive domain of a manager or business owner. Engage colleagues in providing feedback for each other.
This might mean you assign new employees to a mentor who can coach them—not only about the unwritten rules and traditions of the company, but also about their individual job duties and general progress. Some feedback might even be better received coming from a peer rather than a boss.
3. Prioritise face time when possible
Video chat is a miraculous technology that you absolutely should utilize for your remote team. Even if it only happens once a month, face-to-face interaction can be hugely meaningful. Connecting visually as well as verbally allows for an employee to see your facial expressions and perhaps soften some potentially harsh critiques of their work.
As you get to know an employee better and create rapport, they will learn to interpret more of your tone in the written word. This will make it less important to use video when providing feedback, but you will still need to touch base on their work performance with regularity.
4. Counter negativity with positivity
While you don’t need to pander to your employees, it’s still important to acknowledge and celebrate small successes with your remote team. Negative feedback is naturally easier to recall. If an employee isn’t doing something correctly, it halts productivity until you’ve provided the necessary feedback. But positive reinforcement can be a little harder to remember.
To make it easier, always try to counter your corrective feedback with something encouraging. In fact, a 2013 study found that the highest-performing teams provided nearly 6 positive comments for every negative one. This shouldn’t be difficult. If you’re having trouble finding encouraging things to say to an employee, it might be time to part ways.
5. Don’t ambush
Allow your employee some time to prepare for a feedback meeting. Don’t just pop up on Google Hangouts when you notice they’re online and dive into a conversation about work performance.
Give the employee a heads-up that you want to have a feedback meeting. This will allow them to reflect on their performance and then you can solicit a self-evaluation from them. They might identify some areas that need improvement that you hadn’t even considered, or alert you to some successes that you hadn’t noticed.
Remember, if you have a remote team, you’re a remote employee, too. You need feedback in the same way your team does. Find a way to get that feedback from team members.
This might be in a direct meeting or even through an anonymous survey. By getting feedback on your personal performance, you’ll improve the feedback you give to your employees.
An effective team always has self-improvement at the forefront. In all offices, both remote and traditional, feedback is all about staying connected and streamlining your productivity. When everyone is working effectively, your business benefits.
Simon Slade is CEO and co-founder of SaleHoo, an online wholesale directory of over 8,000 prescreened suppliers, and Doubledot Media Limited, which provides seven different training and software applications to over a million customers worldwide.
Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription, an Idealog t-shirt and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).