For creative professionals, feedback is an essential part of the process. Developers, designers, writers and every professional on the planet needs feedback in some format to improve, learn and make sure they are delivering what clients need, now and in the future.
Skilled professionals know this. But the act of receiving feedback isn’t always comfortable for every professional. Nor is it something that managers enjoy, whether they’re giving feedback to freelancers or salaried team members.
Whether your team members are remote or in the office will impact how people receive feedback. As a manager, it has a noticeable impact on productivity and team morale if you give people feedback in a way that they prefer.
In some cases, group feedback is the most effective format. Giving everyone a chance to critique each others work. That method might prove most efficient for your team. However, in other cases, that might make people understandably uncomfortable and nervous.
Giving and receiving feedback gets easier over time. And that is just as true when you are working with a remote team.Click to tweet
As the team gets to know one another, through a variety of proactive and prompted communication tools and channels, the feedback process and working relationships will improve in time.
In a leadership role, you need to encourage this to happen as efficiently as possible to ensure that projects run smoothly, on time, and on budget.
Here are ten practical and proven ways you can improve the feedback process and start treating it as a team sport, whether you approach this as a group or individually.
10 ways to improve feedback in remote teams
#1: Make feedback a regular and scheduled part of communicating
When managing a remote team, those chance encounters in hallways, on the stairs or in the break room aren’t possible. You never accidentally communicate with a remote team member. It is always something that you do with purpose, and for a manager, sometimes delivering feedback isn’t something you want to do. You would much rather give team members good news whenever you communicate with them. But that isn’t always possible.
For your team members, most would prefer not to receive feedback when they aren’t expecting it. So take the nasty surprise out of this, and the extra effort required as a manager. Make feedback a planned and regular part of 1-on1s. Make sure your team know this is when they’re going to get feedback and if you prefer, give them the chance to provide feedback as needed either about management or other team members.
At Zapier, a company known for working with a majority of team members who are remote, they ask four key questions in every 1-on-1:
- What’s one thing you’re excited about?
- What’s one thing you’re worried about?
- What’s one thing I can do better to help you with your job?
- What’s one thing you can do better to improve at your job?
With consistent questions and consistent times for 1-on-1s and feedback, team members can plan ahead and prepare more easily. Plus, this gives them set times to complete tasks, thereby making project management more effective and easier to manage.
#2: Choose the best channel for feedback
When managing remote teams, you are more than likely using a complete tech stack of communication channels: Email, Skype, Zoom, Slack, Telegram, project management tools, collaborative documents, and workspaces.
And maybe another for team chat sessions and conference calls. If your team know when they’re going to get feedback and which channel will be used, they can plan ahead more effectively.
#3: Group or individual?
Before launching into a group feedback session, find out what your team members prefer. What makes them comfortable or uncomfortable? A group feedback session — even if you make it fun — isn’t for everyone.
Once you know preferences, set aside time either for a regular weekly group feedback session, or scheduled weekly 1-on-1s.
Positive praise encourages people and motivates team members, so always remember to do that either on a conference call or in a team chat session.
#4: Don’t forget to praise good work
Praise is an important part of the feedback process.
Our brains are hard-wired to remember negative feedback and times our work wasn’t good enough. So regular and consistent praise is an effective part of managing teams and remote workloads. But remember, don’t only give vague praise. It could sound half-hearted and almost like something a manager needs to say once in a while: “You’re doing a great job. Keep it up!”
Connect something they’ve done to an output. Or something a client has said. Or a revenue increase or cost saving that their work has produced. Specific praise should contribute to future outputs and hopefully future success.
#5: Challenge negativity bias
We remember negative feedback more than positive, and as part of the wiring in our ancient brains, protecting us from predators and predicting disaster, we often assume the worst. It puts our responses into “fight or flight” when expecting feedback, or when waiting for feedback.
Two bits of positive news with something that needs improving in the middle. It isn’t a tasty sandwich to make or eat, but to ensure team members work improves, it’s the best way to challenge natural negativity bias.
#6: Reduce radio silence worries
Radio silence form a manager is something else that generates often unnecessary worry and stress.
Find ways to combat this problem. If you can’t meet an agreed call time, drop someone a quick private message via Slack or Telegram. Let them know why.
Don’t simply forget and avoid them. But at the same time, reduce any potential worries as much as you can: give them a brief overview of what you need to tell them in a 1-on-1. This way, your team can focus on their work instead of worrying about what you might say, or not say, on a call.
#7: Teach positive feedback methods
People are inclined to read tone into something they read in a message or email. We are usually included to read a negative tone into those communications, even if that wasn’t the intention of the sender. It is therefore important that when authority is delegated to others to manage aspects of a project that they manage team members the right way.
Learning the best way to communicate with remote team members is essential for managers. Picking the right words and not provoking unnecessary stress is a vital part of the process, whenever possible. So before you hit send, read back an email or message and try to put yourself in the mind of the recipient: if something doesn’t sound very good, make some quick changes to improve the perceived tone.
#8: Implement regular 360-degree feedback habits
Once your team is comfortable with communicating, giving and receiving feedback, implement a 360 process so that yourself and other team leaders and managers can find ways to improve management styles and company process.
No company is perfect, which means there are probably things that your remote development team need improving so that they can work more effectively. A 360 feedback session – either as a group or during a 1-on-1 is the best way to find out what needs improving.
#9: Implement team activities and off-sites
Whenever possible, team activities – even if they’re online – or group off-sites in the same country – are amazing ways to bring a remote team together.
Companies such as Buffer and Zapier use them to build team morale and embed the culture more effectively. If your company can do this, it is highly recommended, especially when working with remote teams.
#10: Use the Situation-Behavior-Impact (SBI) model
The Situation-Behavior-Impact (SBI) model is an effective and proven way to deliver feedback in a way that improves outcomes. It is used to bring perspective on a specific situation or piece of work, reflect on specific behaviors and understand the outcomes of those behaviors.
The model for delivering the SBI approach is as follows:
- Identify the situation: Describe something in specifics and avoid generalizations.
- Note behaviors: When doing this, don’t be critical or make assumptions, and whenever possible only describe what you’ve witnessed firsthand or can describe accurately enough from another trusted team member.
- Outline the impact and outcome: What happened as a result of certain behaviors? What was the impact? What could be done differently next time?
What does good feedback look like?
Feedback is an important part of the working process in any environment, and this is even more crucial when working with remote team members.
Communicating something poorly will result in poor outcomes, even the possibility that team members will look to work for another company or client.
As a manager, you should be aiming for good feedback every time:
- Focus on one issue at a time. Blasting them with too many points will make your team feel under attack;
- Don’t be too critical or negative. Remember the sandwich method. We always focus on negative feedback more than positive, so always give someone good points at the same time;
- But never avoid real problems. They aren’t going to go away unless you talk things through with someone;
- Don’t be vague. Good feedback is always specific, otherwise, outcomes, patterns of behavior and the quality of work someone produces will never improve.
- Leave time for them to ask questions and clarify points they may not understand.
In addition to giving feedback, there are also some keys to remote management that can impact the productivity and overall happiness of your team. Keep those in mind.
We hope this article proves useful when you need to give feedback next time. Always aim to communicate the most effective way possible and try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. This way, you’ll treat feedback as a team sport.
And now, over to you! Best of luck in your next feedback session!