How to Give Feedback to Remote Workers

Picture by Bruce Mars

When was the last time your boss told you:

“Hey, listen, you messed up…”

It’s not a fun thing to hear… Yet, when it’s delivered with care, getting feedback makes us grow as professionals.

We’ve all been there, getting feedback can feel terrifying… Especially if you’re passionate about your work.

We all crave feedback: we want to be challenged and stimulated at work!

Handling feedback is even harder when dealing with remote team members, where both the team member and their manager may lack context.

So, HOW can managers deliver impactful AND honest feedback to remote workers ?

Here are 5 tips on Giving Feedback to Remote Workers:

1. Proactively set up feedback sessions

Managers who are co-located can deliver feedback over a cup of coffee or while going on a walks. Unfortunately, remote managers can’t do that, they need to proactively set up feedback sessions.

We all have the tendency to procrastinate uncomfortable conversations. Doing so may put pressure on your remote team members:

If a manager feel like something isn’t working, chances are that your report is feeling that something is off as well.

Letting a feedback chat slide may create stress affecting your report mood, productivity and possibly ruin their week-end.

It’s our responsibility as remote manager to be as proactive as possible to initiate feedback conversations, even if our instinct would rather “do it later”.

2. Be intentional about getting context

Remote managers almost always lack context, it’s just the way it is. They need to regularly check on how their team member feel.

Genuinely caring about team member success means making time for small talk, focusing on what they feel and not only what they do. That also means facilitating facetime by flying them in or travelling to see them.

The difference between remote working and outsourcing is caring more about the human being than their numerical output.

Remote managers should alway remember how situational performance is. Maybe someone’s kid is sick, maybe someone is having family troubles. Life affects their performance in a big way.

Focusing on someone’s personal growth means understanding their journey and not only judging their quarter.

3. Practice empathy

Remote managers may come across as intimidating, some team members feel like their manager could “pull the plug” at any moment. That’s a pretty stressful situation to be in.

This often happens when team members aren’t sure about how they are performing. Remote managers should share often and clearly whether someone is meeting their expectations, and if not how to get there.

Another way to practice empathy is to acknowledge that we all messed up on the job before. Have conversations with your reports on how you perceive failure. Sharing your own shortcomings illustrates how you dealt with your own mistakes, it helps creating trust and report.

Culture plays an important role too, folks won’t know what success is for you until you explicitly tell them what you expect.

4. (Genuinely) Invite feedback.

Almost all employees have questions for their managers about uncomfortable topics (especially on performance, money and time off).

They often wait until the very end of a one-to-one chat to ask those questions. In a remote setup, they may not feel comfortable asking those.

It’s our duty as Remote Managers to ask several probing questions to ensure they can ask all of their uncomfortable questions.

I love asking questions such as:

“Is there anything I can do for you?”

“What else could we cover today?”

“Do you have any questions for me?”

Answers may surprise you. They may need more face time / mentoring / written instructions … Here are some situations I previously encountered :

- Moving a weekly meeting by an hour let someone pick up their kids at school.

- Syncing before a teammate sign off for weekend to help reduce their stress.

- Setting up a daily-check up to get unstuck.

Small changes matter. A lot. Inviting feedback must be genuine. If you ask their thoughts but you don’t act on it, they will smell that it’s just an act and will stop sharing their thoughts with you.

5. Email a written follow-up.

When delivering feedback remotely, we share a lot of observations, some of those may get lost in the conversation.

Some people may only hear the positive feedback, others may focus on the negative part. After a feedback session, I love sending a written summary of our chat by email.

It’s immensely helpful to ensure that all that was said is captured, ensuring that nothing gets lost in translation. It’s an objective summary for your report and yourself to possibly revisit at a later date.

Over to you now! I’d love to hear about your favorite tips in the comments section 😃

PS: Keen to improve as a remote manager/company?

Join hundreds of remote workers on Remotive’s private Slack community.

Founder at @remotiveio | Prev. Director of Operations at @Buffer

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