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The Importance of Workplace Feedback During a Global Pandemic

Uncategorized Oct 11, 2019

Several people have recently expressed concerns to me about the appropriateness of delivering feedback during the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.  How can we frame feedback in an appropriate and sensitive way during this difficult time? Is it even okay to offer “constructive” feedback right now? Last week I facilitated a webinar on how to deliver feedback in a way that fosters connection and drives engagement in the virtual workplace.  Here are the top three takeaways:

  1. Offering regular, appropriate and sensitive feedback builds psychological safety. Many of us are familiar with the Google study, Project Aristotle, which concluded that the number one characteristic of effective teams is psychological safety.  Psychological safety means that “team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other”.  When we create a feedback rich environment in which managers and staff regularly tell one another how they are doing in a sensitive and appropriate way, we create psychological safety.  In other words, when offering feedback becomes an organic part of worker’s daily interactions with one another, people feel more secure to share creative ideas and won’t feel like it’s an affront if someone counters an idea they share.  Feedback drives engagement in which people are encouraged to challenge one another, share their opinions and in the end do better work.  In a feedback rich environment, when we do need to offer redirecting feedback it can be taken to heart in a non-defensive manner.  Which leads me to my next point about why feedback is even more important in a virtual workplace environment which many of us are finding ourselves in for the first time ever.
  2. Virtual workplaces lack informal face-to-face interactions which build trust and connection. Pretty much everyone engages in casual conversations with our colleagues about our families, what we did over the weekend or non-professional interests such as sport, music or movies.  When we enter the office each day we talk about these things as a way of transitioning from our home life to our work life.  These informal conversations humanize workers in a way that builds a sense of trust, connection and belonging.  In a virtual workplace when we have to go through the motions of setting up a Zoom call to engage with our colleagues, maybe the first couple minutes will be spent on non-work related items but it’s not the same as shooting the breeze with our colleagues when we see them in the office kitchen every day.  This is why picking up the phone or sending an email to let a colleague, direct report or even boss know how they are doing is all the more important right
  3. Feedback is more important than ever during the Covid crisis because people are engaged in professional “soul searching”. Given that most of our lives have slowed down for the first time in a long while people have time for self-reflection.  Workers are finding themselves looking inward and asking whether they are satisfied in their current jobs, considering if they want to make a career change when this is all over, and generally wondering about the stability and fulfillment of their professional lives.  Offering feedback while people are looking inward can help them to answer these questions.   Feedback lets people know what their professional strengths are, their areas for growth, and what their professional “blind spots” may be.  But feedback doesn’t always have to be profound.  I urge people to offer feedback to their peers, their direct reports and they managers regularly.  The feedback can be simple, as long as it is sincere, timely and delivered with care.  For more tips on feedback delivery watch the webinar recording here.
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