Leading in challenging times

Staying focused on the big story and keeping a virtual news team motivated, while the world is in crisis and your home life is disrupted, is a huge challenge for many right now. And with little hope of things ‘normalising’ anytime soon, if ever, the strain of holding everything together may be showing.

What skills can you draw on while everything is uncertain and changing daily?

The first and perhaps most difficult task is to manage yourself. That means your schedule, your emotional health and the balance in your life. Harvard Business Review offers plenty of advice. First and foremost, eat well, exercise and get plenty of sleep, and set goals for the day.

Fear drives uncertainty – and there are plenty of legitimate reasons right now that you might be fearful. So ensure you have a virtual support network to talk to about your worries. If you get anxious, make use of your Women In News network!

Federica Cherubini, Head of Leadership Development at the Reuters Institute for Journalism at Oxford University said: “We need to acknowledge the emotional toll journalists and newsroom managers have been dealing in these difficult times, from the global pandemic, to our own industry layoffs and now the incredibly challenging situation of the protests and violence in the US.”

“For many, newsrooms have been disrupted and we have had  to adapt in terms of workflows, tech and communication. All this while our personal lives, and those of most others, have been affected by the need to take care of family, home-schooling and being separated by our friends and loved ones.”

 “These are very challenging times and I think we should remind ourselves that we are doing our best,” said Cherubini.

So if your kids and extended family are at home with you, you need to try and put up a few boundaries that will enable you to keep doing your job. That means securing somewhere you can make calls, if at all possible, without interruption.  Some have resorted to taking meetings in cupboards!

Dr. Inas Abu Yussef, lead media management trainer in the Middle East, said knowing how to put boundaries might be one of the main challenges of this unprecedented time. “In Egypt, for example, it is not easy to put boundaries when people think that, if you are working from home, you will be working 24/7, and that they feel free to call at anytime, day or at night. One of the problems is to know how to be a leader and put a plan for the team, and tell them that even though they are working from home, they still need to have their own space, time, and working hours. 

“For women in leadership positions, it is sometimes particularly difficult to find a balance. Her children and family are seeing her at home all the time and they have their own demands. Going to work used to help her to distance herself from home duties. Now, she has to manage two very demanding places: the workplace and home,” said Dr. Yussef. 

If you are running a team, structure to the day is important. It’s key that you project confidence to your team, but be realistic in your expectations: you can’t do everything you did before.

Meetings are important and routine will help bring your team together and keep them motivated. The Distributed Newsroom Playbook advises you “Establish a regular meeting schedule from the top down. Daily news conferences held at the same time will show a clear purpose and give your team a sense of being in control. Basic good meeting etiquette still holds: an agenda, minutes and action points.’’ Time keeping is important – don’t let meetings drag on. And give your team members time out if they are overwhelmed.

Clear communication, and listening actively to your team members is critical. Use language that is honest. Don’t make things out to be okay when clearly they are not. But it is also your responsibility to keep the team motivated. So choose your words with care.

Watch out for those who are not talking. Video communication masks behaviour and with no clear body language signals to read, some newsroom leaders are finding that their introverted journalists are becoming more introverted, while their extroverts are loving the screen time.

“Physical distancing means we lack face to face interactions in the office where we can get  physical cues that our staff are okay or even for others to see that we are okay. We must take extra steps to check in with one another. Online meetings are not enough … sometimes we need to move away from the work and simply chat over a cup of coffee online,” said WIN Trainer Paula Fray.

“This is the biggest story of our lives but it cannot be done at the expense of our mental health,” Fray added.

When interacting with your team make sure you allow space for new ideas and feedback that might make the current situation easier.

Have a continuity plan. There is a high risk you or your colleagues could become ill. Are you able to continue producing your news product if either of you is indisposed?

There is little doubt that COVID-19 will change the way newsrooms operate. Make sure you get through this crisis healthy and ready to rethink and reset your newsroom for the new reality.

WIN Africa 2020 Accelerator participants  – 93 in total and a record to date for Women in News – will enrol in the WIN/FrayIntermedia Foundations of Media Management online programme in July. This certified media management training programme was created exclusively for Women in News by FrayIntermedia, drawing on Paula Fray’s more than 35 years in the industry as a former editor and now acclaimed trainer. For more: http://www.womeninnews.org/certification

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