It’s no surprise delivering feedback in a virtual environment poses challenges, but there are ways to connect with employees and provide positive and corrective feedback in a conducive manner.
Even under the best circumstances, providing constructive, critical feedback in a virtual environment can be a challenge—but when times are tough, that challenge can overwhelm both you and your employees.
However, if you give feedback regularly and follow some basic guidelines, you can make the process easier and more productive for yourself and everyone.
One basic mantra to adopt is, “Coach as you go, so problems don’t grow.” A regularly scheduled 30-minute virtual standup is a great way to put this into practice.
The Virtual Stand-Up
In normal times, virtual standups allow opportunities for personal connection, project updates, feedback and new assignments. But in difficult times, they also provide structure, moral support and a sense that “normal” days will return.
In my experience, these regular, virtual coaching sessions work best when you give them a predictable structure, like this:
- 10 minutes for “life” items to catch up personally—this is especially important now, in the days of COVID-19
- 10 minutes for your employee to update you on what they have accomplished over the past week, and what hurdles they experienced or they anticipate happening
- 10 minutes for you to give feedback, redirect efforts, or add new projects or tasks to your employee’s list
Reserve any detailed discussion—as well as more sensitive coaching sessions—for separate conversations, either by phone, voice or video meetings with remote-working tools like Microsoft Teams. Text, email and Teams text chats are not good for difficult conversations because those forms of media lack the verbal cues of spoken communication.
Dealing with Sudden Issues
So, what if you have been holding regularly scheduled virtual feedback sessions, but a new problem pops up you need to address?
First, know your employee’s communication style. Some employees need direct feedback, while others benefit from more informal feedback. Set up a time apart from your virtual standup for critical feedback and label it as such—no one likes to be blindsided. But be careful: a gentle phrase like, “Can I give you some feedback?” can establish a positive, constructive environment while setting the necessary expectation. The key is to know your employees and appropriately balance direct feedback with informal feedback.
Next, follow up in writing. Document positive and constructive feedback throughout the year to recap conversations for your employees, and allow them time to digest the information again. Some employees can interpret both positive and constructive feedback differently than you intended during a conversation. In contrast, others may want to follow-up on growth areas or review what they did well so they can repeat it in the future. Written communication is also easier for employees to reference on their own time when they are working remotely or balancing multiple life challenges, as we all must in these days of COVID-19.
Any time you share feedback with an employee for the same behavior more than once, you should document it. If they fall into a pattern, the documentation of previous feedback could be helpful.
Conducting Virtual Annual Reviews
Conduct annual reviews that include self-evaluation and peer comments. The annual review process is important even in remote environments, in good times and not-so-good times. You don’t see all the little things an employee does daily with remote work, so give them a chance to call out activities they completed over the past year. Add feedback from peers to capture the results of your employees’ work that you may miss in a remote environment.
We ask employees for input on whom they would like their peer-reviewers to be, and we pull feedback from client sites, if applicable. That way, you get a more holistic, 360-degree view of your employee’s work.
Exhibit grace with the special challenges your remote employees face. In today’s world, issues may come up during those first 10 minutes of your virtual standup that neither you nor your employee has faced before, and employees may say or do things they wouldn’t ordinarily say or do. Be flexible. Provide a safe space. Allow them to take extra time in the meeting if they need it.
Ordinary challenges like a sick child, balancing work and household tasks, a partner’s work challenges, or just being unable to get out of the house feel bigger to all of us now, whether you are a manager or an employee. Be kind, but stay focused. Better days are ahead.