This moment — this crisis, is calling on you. It’s calling on you to have real conversations with the real humans inside your organization (and beyond). But it isn’t easy, is it? Sitting alone at your kitchen table plowing through emails and video call after video call after video call. And there’s the endless pile of dirty dishes on the counter and unfolded laundry on the chair.
If managing or leading remotely is new for you or for your team not only are you feeling the disruption in the flow of your daily work — you’ve also been thrown into what we could call the context gap. This gap is what makes remote feedback, and remote management in general, both different and challenging. The context is missing for you as a leader of a distributed team. It’s also missing for each individual on your team and it’s making work more difficult. That context we just get without thinking about it - from the physical and emotional environment of an office — is gone.
Assumptions about what’s going on for others may also be getting in the way. Remember, we’re almost always right that something is off, and we’re almost always wrong about why. The general gap that exists between in-office communication and remote or distributed communication is always wider. There is more open space between remote communications, fewer visual and situational cues to go by. On the flip side, with the need for work to be highly scheduled, there are potential upsides too — less noise, no awkward hallway moments, less randomness.
It all adds to the challenge that was there before around giving feedback. Let’s turn our attention to that part of the remote management challenge. First, the focus areas for feedback are the same whether you’re sharing physical space or working from home. Those topics are going to fall into one of three categories — a conversation about quality of work, an accountability conversation, or it’s about their approach.
With that backdrop — the content is the same but the context is different — here are five strategies for how to have the feedback conversations you need to have whether you’re at your kitchen table, back in an office, or, what’s likely for many of us, a hybrid setup for the foreseeable future.
- Start with curiosity. Ask a simple question like, “How are you?”. Showing care in small moments, before you get into tactics and projects, is very likely to open the door to a human conversation and relieve some of the pressure this other person may be feeling. Maybe they just didn’t know how or didn’t feel comfortable going first.
- Lead with empathy. Share how you’re doing. Give concrete examples of how you are navigating this awkward phase of trying to show up with your best at work and in your life. Sharing a personal experience (like the time you unknowingly had your video on during a meeting) can fast-track trust and rapport.
- Be intentional. Give a brief and honest mention, an observation; “I noticed you seemed a little tense on the team call earlier today.” Then leave it be. Mentioning the behavior (desired or not) will create space for personal reflection and personal reflection leads to growth!
- Follow through. Even our best-intentioned first attempt typically isn’t going to be enough to spark meaningful change. Trust the process. Following up with that intention and your diligence to connect with this one other human — those are essential elements of working relationships that last.
- Maintain the conversation. Real-time feedback, mixing reinforcing (positive) and redirecting (critical) feedback, creates safety. When you have a climate on your team where flaws and imperfections are acceptable, and when everybody knows that more good is happening than bad, you’ll find yourself with a deeply engaged team. As leader in your organization, what’s more important to your role than that? Should you stay in touch by email, by chat, by text, or by phone? Yes, you should.
Giving people the gift of feedback in the form of open conversation increases engagement, allows the work to move faster, and people to work together with less friction. Remember that the feedback you needed to give, before this moment, was already there. You don’t need to let the challenges of working remotely set you back in your leadership journey. You are here now. It’s still you, your team, and your choices.
Go ahead, make the call.