Leadership advice

Working ‘in the trenches’ during a pandemic

Advice from Jill Geisler, Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity, Loyola University Chicago and Freedom Forum Fellow in Women’s Leadership

In the trenches.

That’s where some of our best work relationships were formed.

  • On field assignments where we got to know each other’s beliefs, strengths and quirks.
  • On big events and breaking news where our focus and purpose led to teamwork, not turf protection.
  • On overnight or weekend shifts where our smaller crews were more self-directed and interdependent.
  • On task forces or skunk work teams where we created something new and meaningful.

Those “in the trenches” experiences forced us to reveal more of ourselves while learning more about others. When we liked what we learned, we looked for more opportunities to work together. We built trust, which is the heartbeat of great work teams. We still tell stories about our shared adventures.

Today, as the pandemic has dispersed and separated us, the trenches aren’t the same. We may work the same shifts and on the same projects or programs, but it’s much easier to detach from each other. Our communication and connections are virtual, often scheduled.

We may default to commiserating with our old trench-mates and not develop new ones. Imagine how that will affect employees who are hired during the pandemic and how, if we’re not thoughtful, they may feel like outsiders.

Managers can create events and assignments that bring people together across the virtual space, but that’s just setting the scene. They can’t force people to tune in more closely to each other or to build personal backchannel conversations apart from scheduled meetings. That responsibility, that opportunity falls to all of us. 

The pandemic has forced us all into a big socially distant trench. With intention and creativity, we can keep it from weakening our all-important working relationships. 

Imagine the stories you’ll someday tell about this adventure. Who will be your co-stars?

Click here to read Jill’s previous posts. Click here to subscribe to Covering Coronavirus.


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