You’re reading an excerpt of The Holloway Guide to Remote Work, a book by Katie Wilde, Juan Pablo Buriticá, and over 50 other contributors. It is the most comprehensive resource on building, managing, and adapting to working with distributed teams. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, 800 links and references, a library of tools for remote-friendly work, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.
Giving Feedback Remotely
Rewards and Recognition
For a remote worker who’s performing well, the risk can be that they are not getting enough visibility from their manager or the team. Feeling overlooked and underappreciated, they’re at risk for disengagement and attrition. Research shows that the worry about being “out of sight, out of mind” or of having fear of missing out (FOMO) can lead to loneliness and isolation in remote workers. It is therefore critical for managers to increase high-performing team members’ social visibility with public recognition, and to reward good work.
A second benefit of recognition being given publicly is that it makes clear what types of behavior your company rewards. This helps to build the type of culture that you want. It’s more effective to show people exactly what success looks like, than to criticize what they do wrong. Public recognition is also an excellent tool for improving the performance of those who aren’t high achievers yet. In a remote team, there are many fewer opportunities to directly observe co-workers’ work, and so drawing specific attention to excellent work gives everyone a chance to learn and improve.
cautionIt may be the case that an employee is not comfortable with public praise, so if you plan to call them out in a team meeting, ask first. If they would prefer you not mention them specifically, you have the option of rewarding the team publicly and that individual privately, which still allows you to bring recognition of good work into the public sphere.
As a remote manager, you have a number of options for recognizing remote employees:
Company email threads to appreciate good work.
Sharing messages in public chat rooms. One specific idea is a “High Five” channel in Slack, where anyone can give someone else a remote high five—an emoji, GIF, or written comment—for something great or noteworthy that they did.
Having a dedicated written space for recognition or gratitude.
Use software services similar to performance review software for ongoing, positive praise.
Create regular time for celebrating ‘wins’ in team or all-hands meetings.
Giving feedback knocks down two of the biggest barriers preventing your reports from doing great work—unclear expectations and inadequate skills—so that they know exactly where to aim and how to hit the target.Julie Zhuo, VP of Product Design, Facebook*
Corrective feedback should be given privately. There’s nothing to be gained from public humiliation—it will only cause the manager to lose the trust of the team, and can create intense feelings of discomfort and isolation in everyone present.
importantThe exception here is correcting harmful public behavior, like a racist slur or other violation of a code of conduct. This is not performance feedback; this is maintaining an inclusive culture. If the harm occurred in a public space (for example, a team meeting or company chat), the priority is to show the rest of the team that such actions are not acceptable and won’t go unchallenged. This means immediately and publicly correcting the harm, saying, “We don’t use that kind of language here,” or, “You need to take a break for the rest of this meeting, you’re not being respectful,” then following up privately to go deeper and make sure the offending party understands what was wrong with their language or action.
When delivering private feedback, it’s best to frame performance conversations in terms of objective, documented career and role expectations, and be clear with examples of work that have failed to meet those standards. In a remote setting, you’re lacking personal context, and so it’s important to give feedback in a way that is both clear, but also genuinely opens the conversation for your direct report to share their perspectives. As a manager, you could quite simply be wrong, or there could be a very good reason for what looks like under-performance from the outside.
In these cases, knowing someone’s feedback preferences ahead of time is very useful. That understanding allows you to deliver the feedback in the format that works best, and is most likely to be received. Some people prefer a video call to discuss the issue at hand. Others prefer a detailed, written email from their manager, with time to reflect and respond in writing. Still others prefer shorter chat messages because they prefer to know right away if something isn’t right; or a hybrid written note plus follow-up call approach. It’s wise to try to use the approach that works best for your direct report.
When helping your direct report to think in a different way, you can use coaching questions—that is, ‘What’ questions over ‘Why’ questions. Instead of “Why did you do that?” you can ask “What were you hoping for here?” Instead of “Why did you think this was a good idea?” you can ask “What made you choose this course of action?”
In serious cases of performance feedback, where there may be an overall mismatch between role contributions and expectations, it becomes important to document this both for the company and with your direct report to make sure they understand the seriousness of the situation. Here, sending follow-up ‘recap’ emails after feedback discussions can be helpful, so that the feedback, the discussion, and agreed upon plans to improve, are in writing and shared between the employee and manager. It also gives the employee a chance to respond if they feel differently about the situation, if they feel the conversation mischaracterized them, or if they felt their comments were taken out of context.
This can be done over email or chat message, as long as it’s in writing in a more official place where both people can see it. Doing this creates documentation that could be needed if the situation continues to worsen; and also creates a clear, explicit message for the employee. In addition to emails or similar, it’s best to keep meeting notes, summaries of plans, and other relevant feedback in a folder online where it can be accessed by HR or another manager if needed. Wrongful dismissal is always a concern, so keeping a paper trail is particularly important.
importantIn a remote setting where context is easily lost, the employee might literally not understand that there is a problem and that their job is at risk. If you talk often about “building a feedback culture” and “healthy conflict” (which are generally good things!), your team might actually confuse serious performance feedback with a cultural norm, and think that nothing is specifically wrong. Anything less than perfect clarity around performance in a remote setting essentially sabotages a remote worker’s chances of turning a situation around.