Since teleworking has eliminated the convenience of dropping by each other’s offices for a chat, managers should make the effort to communicate more regularly with employees (Getty Images/mediaphotos)
At the best of times, employee feedback requires a fine balance between encouragement and constructive advice. With the transition to virtual workplaces, however, there are many more nuances that need to be considered when engaging with your employees.
“When people are working from home, you need to apply a different set of expectations in terms of performance,” says Kiljon Shukullari, HR advisory team lead with employment relations consultancy Peninsula Canada. “A lot of psychological weight has been created on some individuals that will transfer to their work. You have to take into account the type of environment they’re in and demands at home.”
Regardless of the pandemic, the basics of how to give constructive feedback still apply: start with positive encouragement before discussing areas for improvement, let employees offer their own solutions rather than providing all the answers and set realistic expectations and deadlines.
Adding to that, here are some additional best practices that have come to the forefront:
1. COMMUNICATE MORE OFTEN
“You should be having more open conversations more frequently, because you don’t have the luxury of being in an office and dropping by for quick conversations,” says Shukullari.
“Employers should want to address any sort of feedback way more frequently and regularly than they used to so they can share both positive feedback and smaller snippets of constructive criticism,” says Michael French, regional vice-president, Robert Half Canada.
Communication works both ways, he adds. “I think I’ve spent more time listening than I ever have. So many are afraid to share what has been happening at home but, when they do, it’s easier to accommodate them than make them bend your way.”
Also, keep in mind that different generations like to communicate in different ways. A younger generation employee may not be keen on feedback by email and would prefer a more personal one-on-one discussion over virtual meeting platforms.
2. FIGURE OUT THE BIGGER ISSUES
Stress levels are so much higher for managers and employees as everyone juggles their personal and work life in the same space, so it can be difficult to figure out the difference between a symptom and a problem.
An employee may seem disengaged, chronically late for meetings or less productive, but the problem may have been substandard equipment or scheduled meetings that conflict with their child’s online class schedule.
“When you focus on the symptom there is all sorts of finger pointing,” says French. “It’s easier to resolve if you get to the heart of the issue and come up with a plan.”
That plan could be something as simple as adjusting meeting times by a few minutes to accommodate an employee’s personal schedules or upgrading their equipment so they can work more productively.
3. ACKNOWLEDGE THE LITTLE THINGS
Connecting with employees for even the smallest of accomplishments is key. Send a short email thanking them for something they did or when things are going well.
“Not every conversation has to be like report-card time,” French notes. “It only takes 10 minutes at the end of a week to send a quick note, but it can go a long way. If you think about what everyone has been able to pull off during COVID, there are so many things to celebrate. There’s lots of praise and kudos to go around.”
4. PREPARE FOR CHANGING WORK ATTITUDES
As workers gradually return to the office, know that there will be lingering effects after many months of isolation. Employers can expect to have very different conversations with their employees around career goals and work-life balance.
“COVID threw many people for a loop and they may want something different with their lives. It will take at least a year to figure things out,” says French.
FRESHEN UP YOUR REMOTE WORK ROUTINE
Try these tips to improve teambuilding and break up your daily routine. And, if you’re heading back to the office in the near future, make sure you take some time to mentally prepare.