4 Ways To Deliver Constructive Criticism Remotely Without Altering Employee Morale

Managing a team remotely and struggling to communicate constructive criticism? You aren’t the only one. Given COVID-19, more employees and teams are working remotely more than ever, causing an increase in digital communication over in-person interactions in the workplace. Interacting online is causing us to rethink how to work effectively within our teams, including how managers provide feedback to their employees.  Although receiving feedback is critical for career growth and progress, along with expansion and upward mobility within the organization, most employees are hyper-sensitive or frightened to accept constructive criticism. Managers also don’t love to dole out feedback, worry about offending employees, and stifling their morale. Even though most managers don’t like giving feedback, their employees are longing for it. One study published by Harvard Business Review found that more people prefer corrective feedback (57%) to praise or recognition (43%). This is mostly because people believe that corrective feedback does more to improve their performance than positive feedback. While navigating COVID-19, most things will change, including communication mediums, workloads, and more, but providing constructive criticism, shouldn’t be one of those factors that shifts.  See our tips for delivering feedback remotely below.

Establish frequent and casual check-ins. 

Even though remote work lacks the same human connection as the office environment, it’s still essential to establish frequent and casual check-ins. Regularly checking in with your team by Slack, call, or email can help maintain that connection and alleviate common feedback issues. Research shows that managers often inadvertently layer in compliments within their feedback to sugarcoat their criticism, which makes it less helpful for their employees. To combat this tendency, make sure you are consistently providing feedback. Ongoing, casual check-ins prevent resentful feelings, future mishaps, and disagreements, which usually arise in remote work situations. 

Be compassionate. 

Before you critique your colleagues or employee’s work, remember to exercise compassion as it can go a long way toward establishing trust. Since virtual employees don’t have the regular opportunity to read tone or body language, building mutual trust is key to make your feedback more palatable and acceptable. As a solution, utilize the same pleasantries as you would in the office. Taking this approach into account, you may be wondering how to show genuine compassion without coming across as disingenuous. The key is to let them know you are on your employee’s side, even if you have to flag something that they could do better.

Resort to leveraging video conferences for sensitive information. 

When it’s time to deliver constructive feedback remotely, a video or Zoom call is the best alternative to face-to-face syncs. Research studies have found that video calls are just as effective as in-person meetings, as long as you frame the video to capture your body language, not only your facial expressions. In efforts not to misconstrue your written feedback, convey your thoughts to your employee over video. 

Celebrate your employee’s accomplishments. 

As a remote manager, you may be wondering how to praise your employee for their consistently good work performance. 

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 a 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.”  

You can begin to recognize your remote employees by doing the following: 

  • Company email threads to appreciate good work.
  • Sharing messages in public chat rooms. One specific idea is a “Celebrate” 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.
  • Create regular time for celebrating ‘wins’ in a team or all-hands meetings.

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