Don’t Read Between The Lines. This Is How You Provide Good Feedback During a Pandemic.

Learn more about how these four Los Angeles tech companies have navigated the fine line of communicating virtual feedback.

Written by Brendan Meyer
Published on Dec. 22, 2020
Don’t Read Between The Lines. This Is How You Provide Good Feedback During a Pandemic.
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“Thanks.”

“Yeah OK.”

“Sure.”

“Can we talk?”

Spoken out loud or said in person, these words and phrases can convey a multitude of emotions, but typed in a Slack message or an email and it can feel like someone is rude, irritated or distant.

It’s a problem we’ve all had to face since the pandemic upended the way we work. In a remote environment, how do we adequately convey emotion when conversing or providing feedback without the use of body language?

“Context is easily lost over Slack or email,” Matt Williams, a senior sales manager at Mothership, said. “I never want my team members to not fully understand that there might be a problem or issue with performance.”

Williams’ solution? Provide instant feedback and keep an open line of communication, whether that’s through daily Slack communication or setting up a pulse check with his team or an individual.

Something similar is happening over at MediaAlpha. Kate Potts, a manager of learning and development, has found that being over-communicative while inviting the discussion of emotions has worked.

“I find that asking ‘How does that make you feel?’ or ‘What is your initial reaction to that feedback?’ to also be very helpful,” Potts said. “This creates an open space for you to discuss feedback while respecting where someone’s headspace is. We are human, after all, and we are in month nine of a worldwide pandemic.”

Learn more about how these four Los Angeles tech companies have navigated the fine line of communicating virtual feedback.

 

Kate Potts
Manager of Learning and Development • MediaAlpha

MediaAlpha is an adtech company in Los Angeles. It connects brands with consumers with a platform that powers more than 450 million annual advertising transactions. Now more than ever, Potts stressed the importance of one-on-ones when it comes to providing virtual feedback and checking in with team members.


What's different about your approach to giving feedback remotely versus in person, and why?

I have had to make several changes in my working style, including my approach to feedback. In an in-person dynamic, you have the benefit of reading body language and being able to leverage your own as well. Body language is a key communication tool that we leverage all of the time in person, and it becomes nearly impossible over the computer since we can only see shoulders up, generally. 

What’s worked for me while giving feedback remotely is the invitation of discussing emotions. One way many of us already employ this during in-person feedback is asking someone “Is now a good time for feedback?” or “Would you be ready to discuss this with me?” Additionally, more so now than ever, I find that asking “How does that make you feel?” or “What is your initial reaction to that feedback?” to also be very helpful. This creates an open space for you to discuss feedback while respecting where someone’s headspace is. We are human, after all, and we are in month nine of a worldwide pandemic.


How do you work with remote employees to determine the best cadence and medium for providing feedback to them specifically?

It’s the same approach to providing feedback to team members in person: Tailor your approach to the individual. Understanding your team as the unique individuals they are will help you prepare for how you approach your conversations, interactions and discussions with them. Of course, leaders have their preferences too, and I am not suggesting you abandon your own unique style, but I encourage us all to think about what is best for others. Does this person do better with a phone conversation rather than Zoom? Will this person respond better to an email or a Slack message? These are some questions we should ask ourselves. 

 

It’s the same approach to providing feedback to team members in person: Tailor your approach to the individual.’’

 

How do you maintain transparency and communication with your remote team and how does that support your ability to provide great feedback?

At MediaAlpha, we have always had remote teams. We have team members in Taiwan, Turkey, the U.K. and in several states across the U.S. spanning the timezones, so we have had a bit of practice. What we preach is “radical transparency.” It’s the idea that we tell everyone exactly what is going on and why. Even though we can’t swivel our chairs around and chat with each other, we are just a Zoom call away. Radical transparency has supported our ability to provide great feedback by making information openly available.

 

Dru Goradia
VP of Engineering

Honeybee Health is a healthtech company in Culver City. The online pharmacy offers prescription medication at direct wholesale prices. When hiring, Goradia said that the company targets people with good communication skills, which has made the remote transition much easier for his team.

 

What's different about your approach to giving feedback remotely versus in person, and why?

I saw some challenges when COVID-19 hit and we suddenly transitioned from a mostly in-office team to a fully remote workforce. When giving feedback to team members, I wanted to make sure I set the right environment first, and that starts with making sure we're using video. You just can't get accurate cues and expressions without it. You need video to read body language and gauge if there's resistance to critical feedback. There is also more potential for distractions when working from home, but it's important to remember that we're human and supporting your team in a difficult time is key. I had to better understand their personal stories, what's going on in their lives and their support systems.

 

How do you work with remote employees to determine the best cadence and medium for providing feedback to them specifically?

With the whole team remote, video conferencing has been the best medium for us when it comes to individual teams and one-on-ones. I try to make sure that I meet with each person once a week. At first, this became more challenging, since all of a sudden, meetings were our only means of collaboration. I made a concerted effort to stick to this as much as possible and it has paid off. I have seen marked improvements over the last nine months on both an individual level and productivity as a team.

 

You need video to read body language and gauge if there's resistance to critical feedback.’’

 

How do you maintain transparency and communication with your remote team and how does that support your ability to provide great feedback?

I really think this starts at the time of hiring. I want to make sure that each candidate coming through the recruiting pipelines has, in addition to the requisite technical chops, good communication skills and an openness to collaborate on ideas. We make a point to look for these traits and emphasize them in our company and team culture. By starting with a good foundation, we quickly develop a sense of trust, and we can sense when something's wrong. You become incredibly attuned to your team's productivity.

 

Matt Williams
Sr. Sales Manager • Mothership

Mothership is a software tech company in Los Angeles. Its technology makes freight delivery more efficient. When it comes to virtual communication, Williams has leaned heavily on Slack and Lattice to communicate more frequently and has prioritized instant feedback.

 

What's different about your approach to giving feedback remotely versus in person, and why?

The biggest difference in my approach to giving feedback is utilizing technology more efficiently. I use Lattice and Slack on a daily cadence to provide streamlined feedback and to make sure I am accurately and appropriately providing enough time with each individual. Recognizing and showing my appreciation for employees who are working hard and hitting monthly goals is critical in this new environment. I often send team and companywide shout-outs via email, Slack or during monthly virtual meetings.

 

How do you work with remote employees to determine the best cadence and medium for providing feedback to them specifically?

Working remotely has been a challenge for providing instant feedback, wins and reflection. I have utilized Slack as a tool to keep both my team and individuals engaged and sharing wins. I often pair individuals up in the morning and each will share and write down their daily goals. They will share these goals with their partner, and then they will do a daily check-in. This activity keeps both the individual and team on pace, while also giving team members a chance to talk and keep each other engaged.

 

My goal revolves around providing clarity around performance, no matter the setting.’’

 

How do you maintain transparency and communication with your remote team and how does that support your ability to provide great feedback?

In most remote settings, context is easily lost over Slack or email. I never want my team members to not fully understand that there might be a problem or issue with performance. I am a full believer in building an instant feedback culture where we can have healthy feedback and open discussions that provide growth and learning. I have found myself creating quick pulse checks to get a sense of how the day is going so we can quickly pivot or change daily goals to stay on pace. My goal revolves around providing clarity around performance, no matter the setting.

 

Simone de Leuw-Fastner
Director of Operations • Relocity

Relocity is a travel company in Los Angeles. Its relocation concierge service helps transferring employees settle into their new communities, connecting them with a local personal host via a mobile app. Simone de Leuw-Fastner has depended on her ability to pick up on nuances in her team’s behavior, such as stress level and well-being, to know how to best communicate virtually.

 

What's different about your approach to giving feedback remotely versus in person, and why?

It's more difficult to give feedback remotely since it’s harder to read a person on a video call, especially for constructive criticism or to discuss performance issues. In general, the approach isn't much different from an in-person approach. It's important to set up those meetings via video call to get some face time. I also make sure that I'm dedicating the same amount of time to each of my team members so no one feels overlooked. We are also doing regular shout-outs to our best-performing team members during our monthly all-hands meetings.

I also regularly ask for their feedback and how we can improve on certain workflows. Besides our regularly scheduled check-ins, I often reach out via text message or Slack in order to maintain a personal connection and ask how they are doing as a substitute for run-ins at the office

 

How do you work with remote employees to determine the best cadence and medium for providing feedback to them specifically?

It’s important that my team knows that they can reach me 24/7 in case of emergencies and that I am always available to talk if they need extra support. We usually have a weekly team meeting where we discuss general business updates or specific goals that we set for the whole team. In addition to weekly team meetings, I also have one-on-ones with each team member. I am always mindful of the personal challenges they might currently face.

 

If your team trusts you, they are more open to feedback and constructive criticism.’’

 

How do you maintain transparency and communication with your remote team and how does that support your ability to provide great feedback?

In order to effectively manage a team, it's important to pick up on the nuances of my team's behavior, their interactions with other team members, stress levels and well-being. I believe that by maintaining transparency and communication the team is more engaged and happier, and that will ultimately show in their overall results. If there are important updates and changes, I reach out to my team ASAP to give them an update and don't wait until the next meeting. Giving my team explanations for certain decisions builds a level of trust. If your team trusts you, they are more open to feedback and constructive criticism.

 

Responses edited for length and clarity. Photography provided by companies listed, unless otherwise noted.

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