As the world adjusts to month six of the pandemic, digital communication has become the norm, requiring many organizations to rethink processes around performance management. Managers are handling so many changes that some people-related tasks might have fallen through the cracks. Yet supporting employees in their learning and development through feedback should continue to be an ongoing process. 

With that in mind, here are some strategies for delivering growth-oriented feedback in a world that has gone “remote.”

Prioritize check-ins

Remote work inherently lacks some of the connection that comes with face-to-face conversations. Leaders should make a point to check in with each person on their team at least weekly to continue to strengthen the connection and trust required for productivity and engagement. 

These check-ins should not only focus on project status, but also include how the employee is doing, what learnings have occurred, and positive recognition. In this way, feedback becomes a learning and growth experience. 

Remember empathy

Before you communicate constructive feedback, remember to have empathy and compassion. Employees are juggling work while caring for children and potentially caring for other sick family members.

Channeling empathy requires managers to check in with themselves before giving feedback. If you are stressed, anxious, or angry, you are less likely to provide feedback from a place of helping employees grow. The feedback will lack compassion, and the employee may end up frustrated and angry. In “Leading with Feeling,” Cary Cherniss and Cornelia Roche write about how leaders’ emotions can impact employees’ reception of feedback, for better or worse.

Leaders should put themselves in a positive state of mind before giving feedback. For example, reviewing the recognition moments an employee has received offers a simple reminder that there is more to the employee than just this one piece of constructive feedback. 

Reset expectations

The expectations and goals from six months ago need to be adjusted given the new reality. Before giving feedback on goals, ensure communication has been clear and consistent on any goals and expectations which may have changed. 

Focus on results

Constructive feedback should be focused on results with increased flexibility as to how the results are delivered. The standard “work hours” no longer apply given the current reality. Employees should not be penalized if they work during off-hours or if they are working fewer hours, as long as the work is getting done. 

Timing it right

If your organization is going through layoffs, now may not be the right time to initiate a company-wide feedback process. Employees may assume another layoff is coming, and that company-wide feedback is how you’re determining who gets let go during the next round. Consider informal feedback discussions between managers and employees, versus company-wide processes.

Celebrate

The positive side of feedback should not be forgotten. Now is the time to start recognizing contributions, including how people are working together to meet shared objectives. 

Aim to create positive loops of feedback and performance that keep motivation high. Give employees constructive feedback and recognize and celebrate as they improve based on that feedback.

Be clear

To ensure feedback is clear, succinct, and relevant:

  • Outline the context and the situation.
  • Describe the behavior or results. Be precise in detail.
  • Make sure it’s timely (close to situation).
  • Offer suggestions on how the employee can improve.

Given the stress many are under, making feedback clear and focused increases the learning that will occur.

Use video

Since most communication is non-verbal, turn video cameras on when giving feedback to reduce the chance of misunderstanding. Just like when we communicate face-to-face, leaders need to be aware of their body language. Avoid gestures that might make employees anxious. Here are some tips

  • Don’t raise your voice: Remember, feedback is about helping employees improve.
  • Do not cross your arms or legs: It gives the appearance of being closed off to the conversation.
  • Do not lean forward in an aggressive stance: Your tone can be perceived as intimidating. 
  • Do not frown or display negativity in your facial expressions: Feedback should be given from a place of leadership, not condescension or shame.

Feedback is an essential element to help employees succeed and grow as organizations continue to adjust projects, skill requirements, and goals. It cannot be given in the same way as in the past; it must take into account the current reality.