We’ve written in the past about how leader’s digital behaviors change while working remotely. Today, let’s specifically explore how working remotely impacts the way managers give feedback to their teams.
We’ve looked at data and anecdotes from our customers that have been using Cultivate’s AI/ML platform to empower their managers over the last few months (with workforces that are largely or completely remote) and we found changes in behavior that seem to affect the process of giving feedback.
Specifically, we’ve seen a spike in the level of “giving and receiving opinions” via digital communications while working from home. As conversations that used to happen primarily at the office are moving more frequently online, people are having increasingly dense and opinionated conversations on communication and collaboration tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams. For example, people can no longer just “grab a room” to have a deeper conversation, so they are turning to digital communication platforms to have those deeper conversations.
This is important because previous research we’ve done has shown that as a manager, valuing the opinions of your team can increase their engagement and drive them to share opinions more often.
For example, if an employee shares their thoughts on a project with their manager and the manager doesn’t respond, the employee often feels like their input isn’t valued. This can lead to them being less likely to offer it in the future. If the manager responds with a simple, “Thanks, I got it,” then the employee likely doesn’t feel like they’re being ignored (although there is still a chance they may not feel like they are really being listened to either). But, if the manager responds by sharing their own opinion and starting a dialogue, this can significantly increase the chance that the employee will share their opinions again in the future.
With the dramatic increase in remote workers, that entire “feedback” process is shifting to digital communication channels. With face-to-face meetings off the table, responding to employees’ emails and chat messages are two primary ways for a manager to generate increased engagement. But, this can be challenging!
Managers’ inboxes are already overloaded. Typing long, thoughtful responses is often the last thing on their minds when they are trying to clear out their unread emails before the end of the day. Furthermore, having an engaged conversation where both parties share ideas and opinions is easier and more natural in person. Unfortunately, we don’t have the same social cues or norms in digital interactions. Managers need to make an effort to be more thoughtful and comprehensive when they respond to their teams via digital channels so they can match the level of attention typically achieved during face-to-face conversation.
However, to help keep their teams engaged and productive while remote, managers should consider prioritizing responding to team member opinions more thoughtfully. This might require setting aside time specifically to respond to messages, and sharing their own opinions. While it’s hard to add another “To-Do” item to the day, this may help employees feel more engaged and valued during a time when some could be struggling with this new work from home situation.
Joseph Freed is the CEO and co-founder. In addition to leading Cultivate, Joe enjoys writing about the future of work, teaching about startups and product management at UC Berkeley Extension, and occasionally running a marathon.