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In 1960 Douglas McGregor published his seminal business management book The Human Side of Enterprise, in which he identified two basic types of managers: Theory X managers had a negative view of employees and assumed that they were lazy and untrustworthy. Theory Y managers assumed that employees were trustworthy and highly motivated.  If the pandemic has taught us anything, it has been that Theory Y managers had it right.  A study done by Stanford University found a 13% jump in productivity during the pandemic.  Another study done by ConnectSolutions found that 30% of respondents found they finished more work in the less time than when they were in the office and 24% found that they got more work done in the same amount of time.  How can you continue to harness the power of work-from-home to manage your virtual teams?  Consider these tips:

  1. Manage by phoning around: You have probably heard of Management by Walking Around:  the concept that, as a manager, you spend part of your day, walking to the desk of your direct reports and casually checking in with them on how they are doing.  You can do the same by phone or web-conference call.  Plan a time each week to have a 30-minute check-in call with each team member.  Begin by asking them how they are feeling or what is happening in their personal lives.  The goal here is to connect on a personal level, not to pry.  Connecting at a personal level can help you understand the particular stresses that might be affecting an employee’s productivity while also making them feel like you care about them more than as just someone who gets the work done.  Remember to ask about what roadblocks they need help removing at work, too.
  2. Set clear deadlines: No matter what the task, be explicit about when you expect to receive the deliverable.  While this is always a good management practice, it is even more important to do when managing virtual teams, as it is not as easy for them to see or connect with you.   Follow the call with a written summary of expected deadlines so everyone can see it in writing.  Ask team members to let you know at least three days in advance if they do not think they are going to be able to hit the deadline.  This gives you time to think of and implement a Plan B, if necessary.  Make sure they understand why you want the advanced warning so that they are not afraid to tell you.
  3. Celebrate success: It often feels like the work never stops.  It is so easy to go from one work task to another or from one month to the other without appreciating your team.  Continuing to work without recognizing the team’s accomplishments can lead to burnout or to members feeling undervalued.  Before major holidays or after the accomplishment of major projects, have a virtual celebration.  Do more than just have a personal conversation.  Consider having a theme or a small, fun activity, or even sending a little gift card to team members to say thanks.

For help building better teams or helping your managers adapt a Theory Y mindset, contact Comprehensive Learning Solutions.

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