Learning how to give feedback to colleagues can be a challenge. How specific should I be? How do I balance sensitivity and directness? How can I promote a productive conversation that will leave my colleague feeling empowered and optimistic? 

A remote working environment can amplify those challenges. Body language or subtle cues that may be readily perceived in-person may be more difficult to perceive remotely. And so, when it comes to offering constructive feedback, positive or not, wires get crossed, and people may not be in the best state of mind to hear what you have to say. 

But feedback, with all its complications and vulnerabilities, is a necessary part of teamwork. You can’t simply hope that your team magically closes the gap on those areas of improvement; nor can your team continue its work indefinitely without leadership support and encouragement. 

While video and collaboration tools can improve productivity and efficiency at work, nothing beats effective feedback when it comes to inhibiting genuine collaboration and professional growth. 

So, in this article, we’ll share a few best practices to help improve your feedback with colleagues at work. Let’s dive in.

How to give constructive feedback

Consider the method of delivery

With all the modes of communication at your disposal, remember to choose wisely. Make a habit of asking new team members (or current team members) how they prefer to communicate, and how they prefer to receive feedback.

While your workplace may standardize annual reviews, feedback can occur at any time and you’ll want to make sure your team members are fully present and comfortable to receive it. That might mean turning off the camera or sending out a thoughtful email, or booking more frequent 1:1s depending on their comfort-level and goals within the company.

Create a safe environment

In a physical office, there are plenty of ways to set a tone through your surroundings. You could invite a colleague out for coffee and unpack how they felt about a big client meeting that didn’t go so well, or go to a boardroom for serious discussions, or stop them in the hallway for a quick high five. But in a remote world, it’s harder to choose the best setting for whatever you want to discuss. Instead, you’ll have to set up psychologically safety cues.

That could include ensuring that your meeting time is one where they won’t have external distractions or work pressures, dressing for the occasion (a casual look goes a long way to make people feel relaxed), or even proposing a camera-off or phone conversation to give people a break from screen fatigue. A voice-only meeting also scales down the intimidation factor and encourages active listening on both sides. Which brings us to our next point. 

Listen (but don’t pry!)

In a distributed workforce where communication patterns are constantly shifting and the boundaries between work-life are less opaque, active listening builds trust and confidence. Active listening gives you situational awareness of what your teammates are going through outside of work, and which factors are impacting their performance. Listening gives you opportunities to improve feedback delivery, understand what’s not working, and how to create a better working environment for your team members.

Start with the good rather than the bad

It’s been long established that the compliment sandwich—in which critical feedback is sandwiched between two positives—is an effective way to deliver difficult news. However, positive feedback has taken on a new urgency these days. Most people are stressed on many personal fronts (like family, health, social, existential, and, despite your best efforts, probably also professional) and could really benefit from positive reinforcement. 

Out of these conflicting life stressors comes what psychologists called negativity bias, which is the tendency to focus and dwell on negative criticism over positive feedback. This means that employers have to work extra-hard to reinforce the good over the bad.  No matter how critical the feedback may be, it’s best to start from a place of empathy and kindness, and acknowledge all the hard work that your team members have put in through this difficult time.

Be specific and actionable with your feedback

To help counter negativity bias, it’s best to keep your feedback specific, actionable insights rather than general comments on confidence and attitude, work ethic or conflict resolution skills, which could be easily misinterpreted or unhelpful.

Good feedback isn’t just a performance review, it’s also an opportunity for growth and goal-setting. The most effective feedback is when you have a specific goal and expectation in mind, and can clearly communicate what this person could work on to help them get there. 

You can also tie feedback to action and impact: How their strategic thinking directly led to a specific positive income, or how an oversight or lack of communication led to another colleague having to re-do certain tasks and how it might be better handled next time.

Prioritize your feedback to address the most important points

Rather than saving up a laundry list of critiques or compliments to unload over a meeting, consider prioritizing your feedback to address points that would make the biggest impact where it matters.

People have short attention spans, especially when it comes to video and zoom fatigue, so focusing on the top three or four feedback items will yield more effective results than a list of 10 or 15.

Go through key takeaways together

At the end of your meeting, ask them to go over the key points. You can either brainstorm with them how they can overcome gaps in performance and/or continue growing in their role (and how you might be able to support them) or ask them to offer up their summary of the feedback meeting if they feel confident enough to do so. The goal is to make sure you’re both aligned and that you can make sure information has landed as intended.

Follow up

A few weeks or months after your feedback meeting, check in with them to see how they’re doing. You can either use this opportunity to continue building trust, make sure they’re able to balance their shifting responsibilities, and reinforce positive feedback.

Video tips for collaboration and feedback

Use video to record presentations for feedback

Consider using video and recorded presentations to collaborate and solicit feedback. You’ll be able to communicate your vision and your supporting materials much more clearly, replace many unnecessary meetings, and people will be able to absorb the materials on their own time. Discussions can then take place over the comment sections of your workflow platform, by email or at one planned synced meeting.

Pre-record post-mortem thoughts and group feedback

When it comes to giving feedback to a group, or closing up a project, consider recording an asynchronous video with screen recordings and invite project members to do the same. That way, people can emotionally prepare themselves to receive the feedback; meanwhile you can also get granular and reference specific items, they can respond, take notes, and save it to refer back to on the next project.  

How to give feedback FAQs

What are some examples of positive feedback?

Example of positive feedback: “Sarah has done an amazing job of taking unwanted tasks and building useful tools for the team. We would love to see her continue to expand her knowledge by continuing to tackle new tasks and sharing her knowledge and skills through presentations and other tools.”

How do you write peer feedback?

Couch constructive feedback with positive feedback. Make your feedback actionable and specific, as well as tied to a specific goal. Create opportunities for team members to respond. Listen with empathy and offer support where needed.

What is an example of constructive feedback?

Example of constructive feedback: “Phil has managed a workload that was 10% higher than in the previous year with enthusiasm, running his programs efficiently while maintaining timelines. The one challenge that I would present to him for the following year is to increase his level of communication with stakeholders to maintain transparency throughout his project’s life cycle in order to keep ahead of potential roadblocks.”

Learn more ways to engage your remote and hybrid workforce