Want to provide effective feedback to remote developers? Apply these 5 tips

17 Feb 2019

Giving feedback to remote developers is a double-edged sword. While it can be a powerful motivator, unguided and misinterpreted feedback can harm developers’ performance and create confusion and self-doubt. 

Providing insightful and effective feedback is an important part of your managerial skills and when you work with remote developers, it’s even more important to understand the elements that construct effective feedback.

What are the criteria for effective feedback?

  • It’s specific: Meaning that, it addresses a specific issue or a problem rather than a personal attack.

  • It's timely: Giving feedback on a project that was submitted a month ago isn’t effective feedback.

  • It’s goal-oriented: Good feedback is tied to a specific goal that the organization hopes to achieve.

  • It’s delivered using simple language: Effective feedback is simple and easy to understand. It points out the weakness and suggests actionable advice.

In a world full of remote jobs, understanding how to communicate your feedback will not just stimulate conversations but will also make you comfortable leading a larger remote team.

Delivering feedback: best practices.

  1. Communicate it verbally

Whether positive or negative, feedback should not be delivered only via email, text messages or slack channels. Psychologist Daniel Goleman explains that there’s a natural negativity bias in emails which often leads to misunderstanding. When you send an email which you’re neutral about, the receiver is likely to assume it’s negative. Likewise, if the message you intend to send is positive, it will be perceived as neutral. This finding has significantly changed the ways in which employers communicate with their remote teams. Communicating important information or feedback over the phone is necessary to combat the social illusions that occur due to the absence of context.

Humans crave verbal communication and when you work remotely, you need to communicate verbally more often. So, instead of writing an email to your remote developer, get on a phone/video call and discuss the problems, then, you can send a follow-up email.

2. Focus on the strengths

Humans are naturally inclined to respond to positive feedback. Negative feedback, on the other hand, is doomed to be dismissed. A study by Gallup found that focusing on the strengths of your employees create the strongest levels of engagement. As a result, remote teams with higher engagement levels are more productive and report higher levels of performance compared to teams with low engagement.

Kim Scott, author of “Radical Candor” says that employers should give 1 criticism followed by 3 - 5 praises during a meeting. According to her, it’s all about supporting the development of your employees. You need to care about their growth as individuals, not just as employees.  

Highlighting your remote developers’ strengths is a way to show them that their contribution matters. The trick is to make a balance between positive and negative feedback without losing authenticity and honesty.

3. Consider language/cultural differences

Technology has allowed us to create workplaces that are more diverse, innovative and distributed across the world. Luckily, you can now hire remote developers wherever they’re as long as they have the required skills and expertise. When leading a diverse team, consider that communication styles differ across cultures, and so should your communication with every remote employee.

For example, a low context culture such as the German culture is known for its directness and straightforwardness. Communication in this culture is specific and explicit. While Egypt and the Middle East fall under the list of high context cultures in which nonverbal cues and body language are the most important factors for interpreting a message. In an article in Forbes, the author suggested that avoidance of direct language and building personal relationships with employees from a high context culture is beneficial for maintaining effective cross-cultural communication in the workplace.

4. Provide a written summary

Consider sending a written follow up that outlines the main points you of your feedback, especially if you need to support it with visual data. Delivering your feedback in many forms is also essential to suit the different learning styles and personalities of your remote developers. Whether your employees are visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners, you will ensure that your feedback is interpreted correctly.

As we mentioned, there’s a natural negativity bias towards emails and written messages in general. Therefore, choose your words carefully before hitting the send button. Here are some Do’s and Don'ts for sending a feedback email:

  • Reduce the imperatives: Imperatives such as “Go, Find, finish” imply an authoritative tone and might be interpreted negatively. Avoid the use of such words or at least reduce them in your emails.

  • Avoid sarcasm: Keep your tone formal and professional. Again, avoid things that might be misinterpreted. Sarcasm in professional emails will do more harm than good.

  • Avoid CAPITAL LETTERS: This is absolutely prohibited in any form of communication.

  • Proofread: Always proofread and double check your message before sending it. Spelling mistakes could lessen the effectiveness of your feedback.

5. Make it a regular habit

Ryan Harwood, CEO of PureWow says that “It’s only uncomfortable when it’s out of character.” Make it a habit to provide meaningful, frequent, and constructive feedback. At the same time, encourage two-way communication by asking your developers to evaluate your leadership and managerial skills. Weekly feedback session sounds like a good idea to keep track of your remote developers’ performance and increase their engagement.  

Final note, humans tend to listen to feedback that comes from a person they trust. Therefore, building a strong relationship with your remote developers will help you create a feedback culture that thrives on sincerity. It’s all about practicing different communication styles and sticking to the one that suits your audience best.

By: Menna Shalaby

Content Manager

Strategic Partners