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Part II - Through the fog


Remote management: an example of a transformation in a period of health crisis. Experience and tools.

Sarah had been a digital nomad for most of her career, to the point that she had never even logged onto the desktop in her office, relying on her Mac laptop for all work tools. She frequently felt bewildered seeing her colleagues manipulate large, clumsy computer screens and the myriad of smaller devices – mouse, keyboard, portable camera – attached to them by thin, unruly cables that seemed to tangle up on purpose.

It was the same sensation as hearing the printer work: the sound transported her instantly into the past.

The company, TESSA, had 400 m2 of squeaky-new office space in the heart of the city, overlooking the river. Sarah loved to walk to it in the crisp early morning air, her thoughts flowing to the rhythm of her long stride. It was too early to be on the phone. Everyone she passed on her way was deep in their thoughts, as though participating in a collective meditation session, taking delight in the physical effort of walking. This was the best time to dream of the day ahead.

She was almost sad to arrive at the office and interrupt the process. Just before the tall gate leading to the courtyard and TESSA’s front door, she would turn left and enter the café. The red and black counter would be busy with early morning walkers seeking coffee. The owner greeted her with a smile, handing her an allongé with extra hot water, no sugar.

Sarah was a regular.

TESSA & Co. employees enjoyed the right to work from home one day per week. The five members of Sarah’s marketing team were thrilled about remote work, saying it allowed them to have an “uninterrupted” day of work. Sarah could relate to that – she also appreciated her day of remote work, even though it often meant eight uninterrupted hours of virtual calls at her kitchen counter. They had Slack and Teams, a shared drive, a WhatsApp group and a secure connection – and could indeed work from anywhere.

But that was before.

As it turned out, no previous amount of work from home could have prepared Sarah and her team for what came after that email from Vincent, the CEO, on the Sunday evening responding to the national lockdown announcement.

Sarah went through the following week on autopilot, as if making her way through a thick fog, striving to follow instructions. That ominous weekend, Vincent had been on the phone with TESSA’s seven largest client accounts.

Later, Sarah listened to Vincent’s voice coming through her mobile phone loudspeaker, his tone heavy with the weight of a sleepless night.

“I spoke with Tim and Vivian: they have no visibility beyond the next couple of days. Everything is on hold until they figure out what to do next. I also spoke with Logan and Jake, and they are shutting down until the week-end, maybe longer.”

He paused, letting the information sink in. “Likely over 85% of our order book is gone.”

He paused again.

Tim and Vivian were the CEOs of two of TESSA’s longest standing clients-turned-friends, in leisure and travel and in financial consulting, respectively. Logan, the CEO of PolarBear, operated a network of warehouses. Sarah breathed in deeply, staving off the fear she felt creeping up her body. Vincent was not the kind to sugar-coat bad news. Why did she have the feeling there was something he wasn’t telling them?

The phone conversations from her kitchen continued over the next fourteen hours as Sarah, Vincent, Jeanne (chief sales officer) and two other leadership team members (head of customer operations and CFO) discussed safety measures for team members and next steps to take with trusted clients, whose CEOs, HR heads and other executives were all pale with uncertainty over companies they had helped develop, in some cases over decades.

In parallel, she had to send a meeting invite to her team for the next working day, the second day of lockdown. Her team needed instructions and reassurance, but Sarah felt deep concern about her department. Everything would go on hold: the client focus groups, which they had been working on for months, would have to be abruptly cancelled. Fiona, the CRM manager, had already disactivated two large campaigns, painstakingly parametered and ready to go out that very morning. The summer offer, a masterpiece they had been putting together, might never see the light of the day.

Sarah’s team members were dedicated professionals, excellent with customers. She knew they would be as concerned as she was, if not more. Three of them had young children at home whom they would need to take care of, and all had elderly parents to think about.

Sarah addressed them the next day, trying hard to sound more convincing than her own manager some hours prior:

“We will adapt as well as we can. We have no choice. We will use these events to make important changes. I need you all to take care of yourselves and to remain focused as we work through the weeks to come.”

In the background, through the shut windows of Sarah’s flat, sirens howled. The streets, void of traffic and deserted by pedestrians, amplified the piercing sound, taking it up the walls of the buildings. The blue sky stared back, as if unaware that the familiar face of the neighbourhood had changed forever.

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Part III - Falling stars : coming soon!