Remote work has evolved rapidly over the past few years, becoming a necessity rather than a mere work trend. This rapid evolution means the dynamics of workplace communication has undergone significant changes.
The traditional office setting, where immediate feedback was a tap on the shoulder away, has now replaced by digital spaces where employees can sometimes find themselves feeling isolated and disconnected.
Research by Deakin Business School academic Dr Florian Klonek along with colleagues Lisa Handke, Thomas O’Neill and Rudolf Kerschreiter, has highlighted the critical importance of feedback while working in these virtual teams. Drawing from a comprehensive review of nearly 60 studies, the Deakin team has delved into how feedback shapes the performance and functionality of teams navigating the challenges and advantages of remote work.
Feedback isn't just a tool for improvement, it seems, but the glue that holds virtual teams together.
What is feedback?
The concept of remote work has become a norm on an unprecedented scale since the Covid pandemic hit, but it’s been growing in popularity for much longer. Feedback in this environment refers to the information and comments given to employees by their peers, managers, or the organisation to help them assess their performance and align with the team and company's objectives.
What the data tells us about feedback
Senior Lecturer Dr Florian Klonek has extensively reviewed the role of feedback in virtual teams over several years, and he has found that "different types of feedback impacts performance and functioning of virtual teams".
After reviewing about 59 studies from around the world, Dr Klonek says his team found that feedback plays a pivotal role in ensuring that remote workers remain on track, ensuring team functionality and performance.
“Feedback can be for an individual or it can be directed towards the whole team," he says, “And could be about performance, team processes, or even input factors like work scheduling.”
Why is feedback important?
One of the key challenges when working in disparate locations is that employees often don't really know if they are on the right track, says Dr Klonek.
"So we found that feedback is really a critical thing,” he says. “Feedback not only helps workers understand how well they are performing but also offers insights into their coordination and collaborative efforts.”
Dr Klonek says that "objective feedback is better because it reduces the chances of interpretation and miscommunication.
“Leaving out personal opinion is better, and instead focusing on facts, outcome and data about the person’s performance.”
How should managers be giving feedback?
While Dr Klonek acknowledges that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, he says that feedback should be "constructive, timely, specific, and not personal."
Drawing from his research findings, Dr Klonek suggests that feedback offered on team processes and performance combined is most beneficial. He says managers should think about the level of feedback they offer, whether it's an individual or team level, based on the outcome they want to achieve.
He says, “Offering feedback that considers both individual and team performance can help employees better understand their contribution to the team as a whole, and their place in achieving team goals.”
What happens next?
The shift towards a more digital work environment isn’t showing any signs of turning back, despite many big corporates asking their workers to return to the office, at least at a hybrid level.
Dr Klonek says the need for effective feedback mechanisms for remote teams will continue to grow and evolve. Dr Klonek's research will continue to investigate how we can reach optimum working conditions for remote teams. The team is also focusing on understanding the impact of artificial intelligence on team processes.
"It's an interesting piece that we all have to look at collectively," says Dr Klonek. “As technology and work dynamics continue to evolve, so will our understanding and methods of providing feedback, and hopefully ensure a cohesive and productive remote working environment.”