Supporting employees to feel on track with their performance, regular informal feedback sessions are proven to boost morale, productivity and confidence in the workplace.
While it is easy to pop over to an employee’s desk or to arrange a quick meeting in the office, an extra barrier to feedback is presented while working from home, as even the smallest interactions require scheduling a video call or typing out an email.
According to a study outlined in the Academy of Management Proceedings 2018, promoting an organisation-wide feedback culture among colleagues is even more important in overcoming the hurdles of remote working.
One of the authors of the study, Monash Business School Associate Professor Nathan Eva said it was crucial to schedule time slots for regular informal feedback sessions while working from home to improve performance and innovation in the workplace.
“Speaking to a lot of businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic in particular, there was often a struggle around the lack of water cooler talk – the little things you normally hear in the office about how people are going or running a quick query past someone,” he said.
“When you’re in the office all the time, you get to pick up on people’s emotions, how they’re going, where they might be dropping the ball or struggling.
“You don’t get to pick up on that when you’re working from home all the time, so you need to be a bit more structured with having catch-up and feedback sessions.”
Delivering feedback while working from home
Behind a screen, it can be difficult to tell how feedback is received and how to deliver it effectively, but Associate Professor Eva said there were ways to make feedback sessions beneficial and even better than face-to-face.
“We know it is harder to pick up on body language and emotional cues over Teams or Zoom, especially when cameras are off,” he said.
“To make an online feedback session beneficial, it’s important to make sure the session is well thought out and you’re not rushing off to another meeting, so you’re giving time to process and talk through any extra points.
“One of the advantages of having a feedback session online is the fact you can have notes in front of you so that you’re constructive with your feedback and you’re hitting the exact points you need to.”
Associate Professor Eva said how you delivered feedback was also essential.
“In terms of how you deliver feedback, it’s important to use ‘we’ and ‘I’ statements, rather than ‘you’ statements,” he said.
“Also help your employees to understand what the impact is. It’s about helping them see how their action and the course correction of their actions are helping the team and the wider business.”
AIM WA Chief Learning and Development Officer Drew Mayhills FAIM said while integrating strong feedback systems was a non-negotiable part of a successful organisational culture, team members would have individual preferences as to how they liked to receive feedback.
He highlighted the importance of leaders learning their employees’ preferences and tailoring your approach to suit.
“Some people prefer feedback delivered straight up in very objective language while others might prefer to receive feedback with time allocated prior to meeting, so they can reflect on their colleague’s questions and comments,” Mr Mayhills said.
“Work from home arrangements can also present unique opportunities for technology-enabled means of providing feedback such as marking up documents with voice annotations and links to worked examples of supporting materials.
“Having a conversation about what good feedback looks like and what you will be providing feedback on should be clear from the outset.
“Establishing your colleagues’ preferred modalities for feedback before you provide any maximises the likelihood of the message being heard while minimising misinterpretation.”
Regular feedback drives improvement
As highlighted in a 2020 survey by New Eagle Hill Consulting Research, one of the leading causes for burnout in the workplace is a lack of communication.
So, when employees receive feedback, Mr Mayhills said it allowed them to feel more engaged with their work and leverage their strengths.
“Feedback when done well can inspire performance, unlock potential and raise awareness."
“As we build trust and safety with our teams, feedback becomes the engine room that drives people’s personal satisfaction and professional development,” he said.
“When it’s done poorly, it can be all of those things in reverse – it can stifle performance, discourage trying new ways of working and obscure insights.
“We each arrive with a varied set of feedback experiences from previous roles and sometimes these have been damaging.
“As leaders, we are responsible for establishing and modelling ways of working to repair and restore our colleagues’ faith in feedback practices.
“It can be even more challenging to get feedback sessions right in a hybrid or work-from-home environment; we take things for granted when we are in the office such as being able to read the overall sense of engagement in the room during a team meeting. This is often ambiguous in video conferencing.”
By embracing regular feedback sessions in the workplace, Mr Mayhills said it could drive positive feedback culture.
“Part of the solution is finding ways to integrate microdoses of feedback into our daily conversations with colleagues and team members,” he said.
“If we only receive feedback four times per year, it can feel nerve-racking or intimidating because, when it’s time for feedback, the sense is more that we are being evaluated with a negative connotation.
“A feedback culture normalises ongoing opportunities for teams to share insights with each other, which help to shape their performance.
“John Hattie and Helen Timperley offer three great questions for effective feedback in The Power of Feedback article: Where am I going? How am I going? Where to next?
“Leaders and managers can build safety around their team’s feedback culture by sharing and consistently using this model.”
Mr Mayhills said courses such as AIM WA’s Effective Communication course allows professionals to overcome communication barriers and recognise different communication styles.
“It’s about becoming more intentional in both the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of our language so that our relationships are stronger, the feedback on the work is clearer and the person feels safe to receive the feedback,” he said.
“When we regularly commit to providing intentional feedback, we are both creating the conditions for improved performance and contributing to our shared relational capital with each of our team members.
“This is even more important in a work-from-home environment to build rapport and drive growth.”