Providing Feedback to Virtual Team Members

Instructor: Scott Tuning

Scott has been a faculty member in higher education for over 10 years. He holds an MBA in Management, an MA in counseling, and an M.Div. in Academic Biblical Studies.

Feedback is important in any setting, but it is even more critical in the virtual workplace. This lesson provides remote managers with guidance about the content, channels, and follow-up strategies for providing feedback to remote employees.

The Framework of Remote Feedback

As the number of facilities using enterprise electronic medical record software has increased, the need for interface developers has also increased. Most developers do this interface work in remote locations since an on-site presence is rarely required. The complexity in this arrangement is that large organizations will have dozens or even hundreds of these custom-built data exchange interfaces that are worked on by numerous developers. To keep all this custom development work consistent and well-documented, a robust system for delivering remote feedback must be in place. Remote feedback is the process by which an off-site employee group receives feedback that is of the type and quality usually received by on-site employees.

Feedback Message Content

Managers who supervise remote developers should give them both positive and negative feedback about their practices, procedures, and strategy. When the feedback reflects negatively on an employee's work, it should always contain information explaining the problem and giving concrete guidelines for fixing it.

Feedback Examples

Let's look at a few examples of problem/solution feedback and consider how managers with remote employees could provide feedback to virtual team members.

Feedback defining the problem:

''The customer is reporting that data being exchanged between the laboratory and the hospital is unreliable and subject to intermittent failures.''

Feedback suggesting a solution:

''Monitor performance by observing data flow, recording workflows, or building automated alerting when data is not flowing between systems.''

Although negative information is easier to remember, positive feedback improves both team and individual performance better than negative feedback. In a 2013 study, academic researchers Emily Heaphy and consultant Marcial Losada determined that teams function at peak performance when there is a 6:1 ratio. In other words, for every one corrective statement, make at least six brief references to things that are going right.

Feedback Frequency

''No news is good news'' is most definitely not applicable here. One of the most important aspects of communicating with remote employees is to ensure that they have time to modify any sub-par performance issues. There's nothing worse than automating error by allowing a remote employee to continue using a process that is flawed simply because they do not receive any feedback indicating that there is a need for change or improvement. For this reason, a remote manager should provide frequent, brief, but relevant feedback with high frequency. This is in contrast to a traditional model in which feedback is rarely given more than a few times per year during a performance evaluation.

Feedback Channels

Feedback should be heavily weighted toward an examination of the process or products, rather than the person. When a remote manager is providing feedback about final work products, appropriate feedback channels (methods and mediums for communicating feedback) include email, telephone communication, and/or video conferencing. These methods work well when the components of the feedback are primarily objective and measurable.

The importance of the feedback channel in remote work is that informal feedback is not an option. In on-site work, feedback can be given informally at the water cooler or by a quick visit to the office of a co-worker. In contrast, remote feedback can come off as especially formal since it will be planned in advance. For managers overseeing remote employees, it's important to choose a good mix of formal and informal feedback channels.

Managers can use several methods to get their feedback to remote employees.

Audio communication is another viable option for providing feedback to remote team members. A conference call has the relative advantage of being able to be set up quickly, joined from almost anywhere, and participants will not be on camera. The relative disadvantages are technical problems, difficulty hearing one or more members when they speak, and having multiple people talking and muting their phones simultaneously.

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