Sarah could still remember the thrill she felt when she learned that she got the job, back in November 2019. The recruitment process was long, but her initial exhaustion after the interviews soon turned to relief at receiving the job offer and then an email from HR scheduling her arrival.
She felt nervous on her first day. She spent it in meetings with other executive committee members, listening to their fast-paced drills: a flurry of numbers, team roles and processes. They knew their work and the company well, and clearly they expected that soon she would, too. Sarah nodded under her colleagues’ friendly yet observant gaze; several of them had interviewed her for the marketing director role.
Unlike during interviews, this time there was not much chance to ask questions – her peers moved through their day at breakneck speed, immersed in their projects, displaying the characteristic determination of people running a business. Sarah knew she would figure out a lot of the answers herself. That was why they chose her.
She had second thoughts, though, about Mike, the content director. He seemed uneasy during their first meeting, which in turn made her uneasy. He appeared to disapprove of her. Sarah knew they would have to work together, so what was his plan? Had he hoped to get the job himself? He had ended the meeting early: “Something has just come up.”
The company - TESSA &Co. - was set to generate 4M EUR of revenue that year, almost doubling the previous year’s turnover, thanks to its staple product: skills-building workshops for managers. TESSA’s leadership team had nailed it about three years before when they came up with learning programmes that blended coaching, virtual classes, guest interventions and onsite workshops. Each programme was carefully tailored to customer needs as collected and analysed in meetings before each kick-off. As a result, TESSA &Co. was on a hiring spree, aiming to develop this model further.
As if allowing Sarah to learn her marks, Vincent, the CEO, did not send her a meeting invitation until several days later. She was delighted at the prospect of working with him. He exuded confidence and vision, and he smiled a lot. Youthful and lean, he was no newbie to company management, having founded and sold two startups before taking the helm only 12 months earlier. Sarah knew he had his own challenges, as the previous CEO had been there for several years and much of the current success was due to decisions taken then.
“How is it going?” he asked, as Sarah entered his office right on time. She let out an almost inaudible sigh, thinking how busy the end of this year was going to be.
Recalling how events had unrolled, Sarah still felt a sense of powerlessness.
The first news about the disease went almost unnoticed, mentioned only briefly between two more pressing stories. However, such reports kept coming back.
Virus outbreaks were announced in January and February, just as Sarah was focused on getting to know her team.
The government advised limited socialising but reassured people that masks were not necessary, although Sarah noticed they were being worn in some parts of the world. The country was stepping up production of hand sanitizer, just in case.
Then a cluster was found - and contained. Another one followed, closer to home.
They became more frequent.
Reports on new cases went from spots on the evening news to live, round-the-clock coverage.
After that, the infection rate accelerated, like a house fire during the night that left no time to collect belongings.
The CEO communicated new measures in a series of emails to his 50 employees over the course of a few days. The last email, sent on a Sunday, asked them to remain at home until further notice.
It was March 2020.
Part II - Through the fog : coming soon