Giving & Receiving Feedback in a Remote Team

Leading a remote team successfully is easy when you know

Remote working is fast becoming an established norm in 2021. From start-up companies leveraging technology to benefit their staffers and freelancers with ‘anytime, anywhere working’ from their inception to more established corporates making the transition to increasing numbers of remote teams, to accommodate the needs of employee’s seeking to harness greater work, life balance. This coupled with an ‘on-demand’ economy, has resulted in greater numbers of freelancers and contractors in the workplace than ever before, according to a report by freelance on-demand talent platform Upwork.

Big 4 firm, EY was one of several consulting firms pioneering flexible working in the early 2010s ahead of rolling the concept out globally from 2012 onwards. It was here, I worked on the remote working model, ‘proof of concept’ project during that transformative time. EY’s pioneering people project aim was to prove that employees could be physically dispersed from their teammates and upper management, without any subsequent impact on output and productivity. This concept made a great deal of sense, particularly as the majority of the business, was by the definition of being a consultancy, largely found to be travelling and based off-site working from client site.  Yet for the central business support arm of the firm, home to HR, IT support and business support services, the concept of working off-site, out of sight from your manager and away from your team, was a wholly new one. And one that took a great deal of prooving to the firm’s senior management, that there was no detrimental impact on productivity before being rolled out to everyone.

But like many organisations, the move to a more flexible model was driven by necessity, rather than desire alone. With client contracts increasing, so too was the need to hire and like many companies whose office sites are taken on with the greatest of future scale-up intentions, the firm found that its sizeable office estate was creaking at the seams with the ever-increasing numbers of staff required, in order to keep up with growth. The options then for the firm, as they are now for many organisations contemplating how to meet the demands of an ever-increasing workforce, were to expand their estate portfolio, locking into expensive leases and service charges or consider a remote working model, one which would ‘off-site’ existing and future employee’s to work from home.

Remote Working Benefits

Opting for a more flexible, remote work-from-home model offered significant benefits. Firstly by extending the operation to leverage remote working, employees who held significant knowledge capital and expertise could be retained, but also incentivised by the prospect of achieving greater work-life balance. For employee’s with outside hobbies, personal pursuits and interests requiring them to be in a different location from their office one, could maximise the opportunity to work remotely and potentially closer to where ever they needed to be. Equally, for those employees who had family commitments, ranging daycare drop-offs to school gate pickups, the option to work closer to or from home itself resulted in the time lost thanks to long commutes in-between, was no longer an issue. Which in turn resulted in working parents who could log on to work from home for longer, ahead of managing any childcare obligations.

The second clear benefit was to future recruiting. Operating a remote working model could now consider talent from a wider pool than that which may not have been previously explored. With average commute times, according to trade union TUC taking between 50 minutes to an hour, the extension of remote working enabled the firm to attract talent living beyond that commute distance, thanks to the promise of a less frequent expectation for office-based working.

Annual commuting time is up 18 hours compared to a decade ago, finds TUC
Annual commuting time is up 18 hours compared to a decade ago, finds TUC | Source:

Yet despite the obvious benefits to both people and the bottom line, there remained a degree of scepticism about how this change from traditional office-based working would work in reality. Could people really be trusted to perform their duties if there was no-one around to ensure they did so? Would productivity be impacted by employees sloping off to watch homes under the hammer, rather than meeting a deadline? How could you get your team to work & feel like a team when they weren’t working anywhere near to each other? And how on earth could you communicate feedback effectively to both support your team and ensure the work being done, was of the right level and quality?

Remote Team Foundations

The answers to those questions, deduced from the remote working proof of concept, continue to be the methods and advice I now give to clients who are seeking to embrace remote working for the first time. Understanding how to set strong foundations for a remote team leads to effective management and the ongoing success of the remote team dynamic.

Three prospective remote working problems are offered the following solutions

  • Make great hiring decisions – Who you hire, is the foundation for all good decision making when it comes to people management. Whilst this may seem like a fairly obvious point to make, it’s the obviousness of this fact that business owners and people managers often miss when making a move to a remote working model.
    It’s paramount to remember that you are hiring responsible adults to work in your organisation and as adults can, in the most part be trusted to deliver on their commitments, it’s important to keep this in mind when transforming to a more remote set up. When building your teams and recruiting the talent you need, by holding this foundation in mind, you’re sure to achieve a people dynamic that will work effectively, regardless of their physical location.
  • Trust – Trust your employees enough to know that they will deliver what’s expected. Along with trusting yourself enough to know that you made the right hiring decision in the first place. If there’s any room for doubt, then consider a review of your hiring and people management, talent development process. Ultimately if you’re unable to trust your team to work from wherever, then something has gone wrong somewhere in the employee life-cycle.
  • Communicate – Communicate – Communicate. Out of sight, is in no way an excuse to be out of mind. Your team communication plan should be a solid mix of both scheduled meetings and ad-hoc catch-ups. Scheduled, to ensure you have a regular frequency for coming together to share, collaborate and update. But also ad-hoc and what I describe as organic communication flow, to ensure you’re not only speaking with each other as a team when the diary schedule tells you to do so. It’s affecting the feel of those water-cooler moments enjoyed IRL (in real life), that are of equal importance whilst working remotely. And whilst you’re unable to simply swing by someone’s desk to ask how their weekend away was, you can utilise tools like instant messenger, wassap groups or even a quick phone call to check-in and maintain that all too important human connection.

Communicating Feedback

Feedback is essential to the success of any team, but in a remote team the importance of feedback steps up a gear. When you consider the impact of not seeing each other directly each day, establishing clear goals, communicating frequently and playing to individual & collective strengths can be maximised by effective feedback.

For feedback to work effectively, it should be two way and 360 in amongst your team. When working remotely, the facilitation of feedback can brilliantly leverage technology tools for everything from chat, to the collective management of team projects.

Communication tools for chat, such as Google Hangouts, Slack and Twist help you and your team to stay connected, aiding the flow of communication and feedback as work is carried out. And when it comes to face to face communication, which is an essential component of a remote working team, web and video conferencing tools ensure the geographical distance between team members, doesn’t feel like distance at all. Cisco Webex, Zoom and Google Meet offer quick connection, that helps your team to feel as though they’re more together. All of which facilitate team cohesion, helping to aid an effective flow.

Shared Project Transparency

Another fundamental component to giving and receiving feedback in a remote team is having collective transparency on what’s being worked on, by who and when. Having shared team transparency around goals ensures that the feedback given amongst your team will be based on a sound knowledge of where a project or piece of work is up to and what the context and quality is like.

Using a combination of both project management and collaboration tools, allow your team to give & receive feedback in real-time, aiding the flow but also the quality of the feedback being shared. Trello, Jira and Asana offer project management transparency, which in turn enables accountability for team members with what they’re working on. Readily and easily you’re able to identify who’s working on each part of any project and easily identify any delays or issues.

Equally collaboration tools like Monday and Zapier allow for shared workflow and the scope to automate tasks.

Proactive, Frequent & Organised Feedback

Employees want regular feedback that’s personal to them, but also in tune with their individual and collective company goals. And in order to be truly effective, feedback also needs to be proactive, frequent and organised in order to motivate. This means stepping beyond the model of only giving feedback in performance reviews, to a more fluid and consistent practice.

It’s essential therefore with a remote team to be consistent and organised with team feedback, particularly where high-performance teams are the lifeblood of your organisation’s success measures. With Millenial employee’s being particularly disengaged with feedback in performance reviews alone, it’s helpful to apply the knowledge of this data to feedback in remote team settings also.

Giving Constructive & Positive Feedback

Finally, the context of the feedback being given to and amongst your team can be the difference between driving high levels of engagement and in turn performance.  Understanding the benefits of both constructive and positive feedback, coupled with communicating these two fundamental approaches amongst your team, will help set the tone for feedback delivery and its resulting success.

Constructive feedback is a useful practice in driving behaviour change – By using this, you’re identifying behaviours and practices that would benefit from a step-change.

Good practice in constructive feedback involves:

  1. Identifying what the issue is
  2. Stressing the importance and articulating the consequences of any negative behaviours or practices
  3. Reaching agreement on the way forward, whilst establishing a way forward that works for the individual, team and organisation and one that all parties can get on board with.

Giving positive feedback acknowledges, recognises and rewards desirable behaviours and practices. The feedback of which is an essential ingredient in encouraging repetition of the output and behaviours you would like to see more of.

When giving positive feedback to your remote team:

  1. Be Specific, identify what has been done well and specify why this is being fed back on positively
  2. Be frequent with positive feedback. Regularly giving and encouraging the practice of positive feedback instils a strong value culture in your remote team
  3. Be sincere, your positive feedback must be sincere in both its delivery and integrity. The objective of positive feedback is to ensure the recipient feels valued, acknowledged and appreciated – Sincerity goes a long way to ensuring this is the case every time.

Bringing it all together

By leveraging the benefits that can be realised by moving to a more remote team model, you can access tremendous benefits for your organisation. In doubling down on great people management practices like feedback and communication, you can help ensure the smooth transition to this growing work practice of remote working, whilst motivating your team and encouraging a culture of openness, praise and transparency.

Helping you every step of the way with your remote team operation, is the tremendous HR management capability of Sage HR, taking care of the essentials required to manage your team no matter where they’re located. With features ranging from performance reviews, to shift scheduling and timesheets. Your time as a people manager is freed up to focus on engaging your team and delivering the greatest of work.


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Written By

Jade Taryn Graham

Jade is the founder & CEO of Inspired a people & talent consultancy working with the most innovative early stage companies worldwide. Founder & CCO of Inspired Talent Media Ltd and contributing writer for Sage HR where Jade writes about people, leadership, work/life balance and change.