When staff members are working remotely, all types of communication are vital to success. However, giving feedback to remote workers in a virtual workplace is one of the most critical—as well as often overlooked—components of communication in a business that utilizes remote workers.
Here are five tips for providing feedback to remote workers:
1. Don’t assume “no news is good news.”
Connecting with remote workers isn’t accidental. They don’t see you pass by in the office halls nor do you bump into them in the elevator. This lack of regular contact can lead to confusion about their status and performance. While the old adage “no news is good news” may be true in some instances, a lack of news or communication can make a worker feel isolated and uncertain. Without a daily smile and chitchat from you near the coffee machine, a worker can start to wonder if he or she is valued.
The key to overcoming the remote nature of this office arrangement is to make regular contact a daily ritual. Don’t wait for the monthly newsletter or yearly review; make a point to check in with your remote workers on a tighter schedule. Little tricks like having a list of their names on your desk to keep them in mind or setting reminders on your calendar can help you keep this a priority. Then take some time to reach out to one or two of them each day.
Additionally, don’t wait to deliver good news. If you see something fabulous a remote worker did, let that individual know with a quick comment instantly.
2. Choose the best medium to communicate.
In a distributed work environment, we get used to relying on various media for communicating. We send countless texts and instant messages in a day. However, sometimes these media just aren’t appropriate for providing feedback in a remote workplace, because they lack the nuances of a spoken conversation. This is especially true with difficult or critical feedback.
For the same reason you shouldn’t break up with a romantic interest by text, you shouldn’t criticize someone’s work by text or email. You also shouldn’t reserve phone contact just for the “bad” things, or asking to schedule a phone chat will become a harbinger of doom. Of course, a text is fine for a quick commendation such as, “I heard you got the Aardvark account. Great job!” or to ask for confirmation of information: “Were you going to send me a first draft this week?” However, save the more intensive stuff for the phone.
Additionally, publicly rewarding and recognizing workers acts as a multiplier. By making your feelings public, your words will carry a larger meaning. Whether it’s acknowledging remote workers in meetings, newsletters, or in Facebook groups, everyone loves for the world to see what they’re doing right!
3. Get specific about praise.
It’s rarely helpful to give vague or ambiguous feedback to remote workers, whether it’s positive or negative. While it doesn’t hurt to tell someone, “You’re doing a great job,” it’s far more productive to let the remote worker know exactly what performance traits you want them to continue. Examples of good specific feedback include things like:
- “That report was really well researched and organized. It will help us all to implement more efficient strategies this year!”
- “I saw that your latest marketing mailer generated 7,200 new sales leads. That’s twice what our previous one did. Great job!”
Specific details make the comment more meaningful and help to deliver messages of how they can continue to be successful. Try to make all feedback personal and unique. Standardized messages will lack impact even if you’re doing them regularly.
4. It takes 10 positives to counteract one negative.
Not all feedback can be positive, but it’s important to note that negative feedback has a much bigger impact on any worker. As managers, we tend to be busy and often don’t take the time to reach out until there’s a problem. However, this type of intermittent and negatively-weighted communication will leave remote workers frustrated and less productive.
When you’re providing negative feedback to remote workers, use the sandwich method. Start with a positive, then give the negative, and then end with another positive. The key is to not end the conversation with the worker dwelling on the negative.
Also, keep all feedback constructive. Just like a positive comment, “You’re doing a great job!” doesn’t give enough specifics; poorly worded negative feedback won’t deliver the results you want. Remote workers often miss out on the smaller impromptu meetings. You’ll need to continuously guide and teach them through your constructive feedback. Keep in mind it’s your job to make sure they’re achieving their goals, and giving them useable, constructive information will ensure success for both of you.
5. Make sure to invite two-way communication.
It’s easy to fall into a pattern with remote workers of just communicating feedback and moving on. However, there’s a lot to learn by opening the door to responses from your remote staff as well. Consider that learning about them, their goals, and challenges can help you better manage them productively. Additionally, you can use them as fresh eyes for plans and ideas you might have. Remote workers have the advantage of not seeing the day-to-day developments on a work project, but still understanding the larger goals of your organization. Their feedback to you can be invaluable. Plus, you get the added benefit of them feeling included in the team.
Effective feedback in a remote workplace can make the difference in the achievement of your remote workers. Providing regular and detailed communication will keep them on task as well as productive and motivated. The more specific your communication, the more successful your message will be. So pick up the phone and open your virtual office door—let the channels of good communication flow and reap the benefits of a productive remote workplace.
Debbie Vasen and Ann MacDonald are responsible for managing content at LoveToKnow, which gives them extensive experience managing remote workers. Debbie is the managing editor at LoveToKnow, and is also a professional journalist who resides in the Pacific Northwest. Ann is the Director of Content Strategy, and has more than 10 years’ experience as a professional writer and editor. She’s based in Southern California. Ann and Debbie can be contacted by email: editors (at) lovetoknow.com