May 19, 2020

This article originally appeared in an issue of The Cohort, Poynter’s newsletter for women kicking ass in digital media. Join the conversation here.

In the midst of covering the coronavirus pandemic and working from home, I’ve found myself in a surprising situation: I’m more confident in my job than I was before this all started.

Don’t get me wrong, I have loads of anxiety about the coronavirus just like anyone else. In my role as senior producer for social discovery at CNN, I’ve been interviewing dozens of people who lost family members to the disease. Hundreds of thousands of people are dying and I wish none of this happened.

During this difficult time, though, working remotely has enabled me to embrace a new level of assertiveness in the workplace. I started speaking up in large meetings within the first couple of weeks. On a conference call with hundreds of people, I asked the president of CNN a question. As an introvert, I never would have done that in person.

I am someone who wants to put myself out there, though. I do plenty of public speaking, from teaching guest lectures at universities to hosting workshops for teen journalists. But when you put me in a big, group meeting, my introverted self wants other people to do the talking. I hate being the center of attention, so when people single me out, I turn bright red and nerves rise in my chest. I like to mull a thought before I share it aloud. The little girl who never raised her hand in class grew up to be the woman who hesitates speaking up in big meetings.

Yet there’s something about the power dynamic of video conference calls that’s given me a larger voice while working remotely. We’re all equal on the screen. Each face occupies the same amount of space. No one is any more powerful when we’re all rectangles on the screen, so it feels like I’m not drawing as much attention to myself. The power dynamic has shifted.

I know that not everyone is having the same burst of empowerment. The video conferences can mimic the feelings I’ve had at in-person meetings where men tend to dominate the conversation and women tend to speak less. Some women in journalism are being drowned out in video calls, finding it harder to jump in during meetings because you can’t see faces well and read the room, as The New York Times reported. And plenty of my friends and colleagues are reporting “Zoom fatigue” that comes from staring at a screen.

For me, though, the distance has been empowering.

I didn’t fully understand why that was the case until I talked with mentor and all-around leadership guru Jill Geisler, who is the Bill Plante Chair in Leadership and Media Integrity at Loyola University Chicago. Geisler helped me see that the pandemic has forced me to become a more independent worker — someone who trusts and then follows my gut instincts.

“There’s a lot more autonomy going on” during this work-from-home moment, Geisler told me. “You don’t have somebody sitting right next to you all the time to say, ‘Hey, does this make sense and should I do this?’ You do it.”

Throw in a ratcheted-up sense of purpose — I’m reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic and consider that work to be a public service — and you have a recipe for speaking up.

The big question I have right now is where does this leave me? I look forward to going back to the newsroom and I miss my colleagues. But I have this lingering uncertainty of whether I can continue being assertive like I have been remotely.

I would hope that I could bring this sense of autonomy and purpose to the next in-person gathering. When I feel quiet, I’ll think back to this emboldened Christina who asked a question in front of hundreds of people and moved the conversation forward. I will remind myself, “Yeah, you’ve got this. Your thoughts are important.”

I’ll also ask you all to think about what great ideas likely are not being shared in the meetings you’re hosting. Everyone keeps saying now is the time to redefine how we work and make changes to newsrooms. Let’s start with these oft-intimidating meetings and take the lessons we learned while communicating in quarantine to make these spaces more inclusive.

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