Spoiler alert: The three most important things about feedback don’t change because we are working virtually. However, as a leader of others, there are changes to consider based on working virtually when giving feedback:
Feedback always needs to be timely to be effective. So it needs to be given as close to when you experienced the event as possible.
For example: If you were in a meeting in a conference room or in your office and a team member was looking down at their phone regularly, you might ask them to hang back for a quick conversation after the meeting.
When this happens in an online meeting, it may require you to quickly see if they are available for a chat after the call, or schedule a quick moment to chat. Then you’ll want to share what you observed and ask a question.
You might say something like … “I noticed you were looking at your phone during the meeting. What was going on? What was distracting you from the conversation?”
Timing is important. Don’t let working virtually be an excuse for not giving feedback in a timely manner, or worse, just letting it go.
Please leave “great job,” “well done,” or “terrific work” to those who may not be familiar with the work or the person who did it. You are their manager. You have supported them through (fill in name of goal here). You know what they struggled with, what innovative ideas they brought, and most importantly can help them see the impact their work has on your team and the organization.
For example: If you have a team member who is working on a project and you have feedback on it, make sure to be specific. Your meeting time is scheduled, and you won’t be running into them in the hallway where they can ask a question. Sure, they can send a follow-up email or “slack” you for a “quick question,” but the opportunity to reconnect likely won’t happen randomly.
Be specific (e.g. “I so appreciated your attention to detail when you did the final review and formatting. I had a couple of thoughts regarding your prioritization of the topics.”).
The word feedback for some is code for … “I have to give some bad news”. If feedback feels like an “event” or something to be dreaded, ask yourself, “Is feedback fully part of the culture?” Do team members receive “feedback” once a year at performance appraisals, or is it a regular part of 1:1 meetings?
For example: If feedback was not part of your 1:1’s before working virtually, acknowledge this to your team members and ask for their support in changing this.
Be vulnerable. Demonstrate that you recognize you may not have always been as (fill in the blank timely, specific, developmental) in your delivery of feedback. Maybe you haven’t given it regularly at all. But you are committed to changing that. You may need their help.
And encourage your teammates to ask for feedback from each other. Then model the behavior yourself. Ask for their feedback. Send an email after a meeting asking them to come to your next 1:1 with some feedback about (that last meeting, presentation, etc.); what went well; and any areas of opportunity?
They can do this for you, but they can also begin to apply this to themselves. Thinking in this way, about what went well and where there are opportunities for continued improvement, will open up the opportunity for dialogue and your feedback as their leader.
Remember to give feedback regularly. Make it specific, timely, and developmental, and work to make it part of your organization’s culture. Working virtually may feel new or different, but it does not mean we sacrifice anything that is important to our employees or our organization.