Remote work had already been on the steady rise even before the Covid-19 pandemic, but when the world all but shut down, working from home became the only option for many businesses. In fact, before the pandemic, only 4.1% of the U.S. employee work force telecommuted half-time or more prior to the pandemic, compared to a stunning 69% of U.S. employees who worked from home at the peak of the pandemic. Now, even as the pandemic slows and people are beginning to return to work, many workers are opting to work from home as permitted. Kate Lister, President of Global Workforce Analytics, predicts that 25-30% of the workforce in the United States will be working from home at least once a week post-pandemic.
Having workers out of the office on a regular basis presents a unique set of benefits and challenges. For one, managers are presented with the challenge of providing feedback to their employees, even when they’re not in the office—sometimes when they’re not even local. We’ve already covered that annual reviews are dead and continuous feedback is an infinitely better route in a previous blog post. But when it comes to remote workers, how can businesses maintain continuous feedback? Here are a few tips to keep your remote workers accountable to their work tasks and their personal goals:
Tip #1: Digital Face Time
A huge part of delivering constant feedback to your workers is simply seeing them on a regular basis, and when you’ve got workers sprinkled across the region, that can make things difficult. That’s why we advise creating some form of digital face time. This will certainly include your “huddles,” or progress check-ins, but it can also include opportunities to build connection with your employees.
Research suggests that having a trustworthy employer drives employees toward greater happiness and better performance at work. When your whole team is together in the office, building rapport with them tends to come naturally. Passing by their desk on Monday morning to ask how their weekend was, a quick call into your office to check their progress or chatting hobbies and interests in the break room all contribute to building camaraderie and trust in the workplace.
However, now that we’ve learned how to maximize remote work potential, it’s time to adjust to fit the stronger narrative. Some employers have instituted virtual happy hours for building connections with their team, including games and chat-worthy discussion topics. Other ideas might be to spend a small chunk of time working “together” (virtually) and completing some of the day’s tasks while having one another’s company, or setting aside part of your regular huddle time to connect with your employees, beyond just checking their work progress. Use this digital face time to facilitate conversation with your work-from-home employees. If you need some ideas on how to strike up casual and yet appropriate conversations, this website has 100 ice breaker questions you can use in a work setting.
With the hustle and bustle of the business world, it’s easy for things to go “out of sight, out of mind” quickly, so it’s important to avoid that mentality by making sure to incorporate digital face time with your employees who are working from home. Keep them in sight so that they stay in mind as you and your team strive to meet your business goals.
Tip #2: Always extend a call to action—and follow up.
The days of assigning homework did not end with traditional education; it just got a name change. Now, we dub it a “call-to-action.” When it comes to continuous feedback for remote employees, the goal is to keep workers on task when they are out-of-office, and consistently performing well on those tasks. One method to help remote workers stay on task between performance management check-ins is by giving them a strong call-to-action. By doing so, work-from-home employees know exactly what efforts to improve on between each meeting. Reaching goals and perfecting performance becomes more manageable when there is only one or a few specific elements to work on.
Now, when it comes to giving a call-to-action, it is imperative to be exact about your expectations. Extend clear invitations and then plan to, promise to, and carry through with follow up. After each ‘homework’ assignment, ensure your WFH employees expect to be held accountable to you for their progress at your next feedback huddle. Here are a few tips for successful follow up:
- Write down the call to action and share it with the employee
- Document your employee’s thoughts and goals toward the action item
- Set a reminder for the next meeting time to follow up on the employee’s progress
The bottom line: extending a call to action at the end of each feedback meeting is crucial to a successful continuous feedback model for your remote workers. Without it, it’s easy for your out-of-office employees to become overwhelmed, lost, or off target.
Tip #3: Schedule Your Regular Feedback Meetings
Consistency is key! When it comes to continuous feedback, it is vital to schedule regular, reliable, consistent meetings. This means trying your best to have a one-on-one with each employee every week at the same time, or every other week, if meeting once a week is too often or unsustainable.
There are several advantages to scheduling that will help your remote team be less frazzled and more productive. For one, scheduling keeps your workers organized and prioritized. When there is a regular set time and day for feedback meetings, employees know their deadline, and can prioritize their tasks accordingly.
Additionally, scheduling helps individuals skirt around the temptation of procrastination. A consistently scheduled one-on-one feedback huddle creates a habit of productivity so that goals are met in a timely matter. Further, scheduling keeps everyone sane. It’s good for your well-being to have a set time and day for meetings so that neither party is scrambling last minute trying to find an available time to hold a feedback meeting. Lastly, consistency in your meetings makes tasks more manageable, it’s easier to remember regularly scheduled meetings, and it ensures prime accountability in each feedback session.
A few important things to keep in mind when scheduling a time to give employees feedback: time zones and deadlines. Take note of where your employees are working, or if they are travelling in a new time zone. Avoid confusion by clarifying the time zone that your meeting time is in, even if you’re pretty sure your team is all in the same zone. Another aspect you might consider is keeping meeting times in line with deadlines. Are there reports due on Fridays, or weekly virtual team meetings every Monday morning? Consider setting up feedback meetings shortly before deadlines to give remote workers the opportunity to tweak a project or presentation before it’s due.
Tip #4: Get Specific
When you’re setting goals with your WFH employees, remember that you’re not around for them to ask clarifying questions if they are unsure of or misunderstand a directive later. During your one-on-one virtual meetings, make sure you are crystal clear about your expectations, when goals have shifted, and any changes in top-down information or instruction. It may be helpful to write down important directions to forward to your workers for ease of following along and remembering the details after the meeting is over. Having an organized agenda to lay out the important points you’d like to cover during the meeting can help you focus on specificity as you give feedback.
Another way you can be specific in your feedback is to help your employees build a step-by-step plan to accomplish their personal goals and meet company targets. With a set plan, your WFH employees don’t need to question whether or not they’re on track between meetings. Workers will feel productive during the week and confident going into their next one-on-one with you. This goes back to tip #2, the call to action. Developing a specific step-by-step plan is a fool-proof means for improving performance.
Tip #5: Ask for Feedback in Return
Set aside time to solicit feedback from your employees, and mean it! Let your workers know that you really value their input. Avoid getting defensive, thank them for their suggestions, and acknowledge that they make valid points. If you’re unsure about how to implement their advice, feel free to ask clarifying questions or ask for help with ideas on how to apply it before your next meeting with them. When asking your employees for their feedback, it should come from a place of open-mindedness.
This ties back into building connection with your employees—if your workers understand that you care to hear and apply their recommendations, they will feel a greater motivation to do the same with your feedback. However, sincerity is required to build a two-way trust in commentary. As mentioned above, you must be genuine and open-minded when receiving feedback from your employees; otherwise, your team may become skeptical, driving a wedge between you, your team, and your team’s performance. So, sincerity is key for tip #5.
Here’s the Recap:
Remote work is not going anywhere. Technology has presented us with great opportunities to allow people to work from the comfort of their own homes, and now is the time to embrace the change! Review the five tips for facilitating better performance via regular feedback meetings with your remote workers:
- Digital Face Time: Put in the effort to get to know your WFH employees outside of work responsibilities.
- Extend a Call-to-Action: Be clear about what you expect your remote employees to be working on between check-in huddles.
- Schedule your Regular Feedback Meetings: Help yourself and your employees stay organized and meet deadlines by setting up consistent meeting times.
- Be Specific: Feedback and action items need to be specific in order to avoid misunderstandings.
- Ask for Feedback from Your Employees: None of us are perfect; if you are giving your employees feedback that you expect them to apply, give them the same opportunity to offer their own input.
In essence, there’s not a one-size-fits-all for delivering valuable feedback to your out-of-office employees, so do what works best for you and your team—but hopefully these tips offer you a helpful starting place.