In previous chapters:

Sarah joined TESSA & Co., a training and consulting company with EUR 4M yearly turnover, as marketing director shortly before the onset of the pandemic. Just as she was getting to know her team, the virus hit. As result, all activity except executive coaching stopped, threatening to bring the company down. Now, Vincent, the CEO, and his leadership team are sprinting to save the business.

9pm

The only sound that resonated in the winter night was the rhythmic clap of Sarah’s running shoes hitting the dark pavement. This was her 18th run this month, the longest streak she had achieved so far. She was so proud. In her lungs, the air was heavy with moisture; in her ears were her favourite songs - on repeat. This was more than a run. It was a rebirth, every step of the effort bringing her back to herself, closer to who she was.

Otherwise, she started losing the sense of who she was. Insidiously and without warning, like a tiny wrinkle forming on smooth skin, her life in its current online version was suffocating her. So she slipped out every evening into the often-chilly outdoors, and by the time she got back, she was drenched in rain and sweat, the cold of the night pouring over her like thick molasses, overpowering, numbing every other feeling except the one of feeling alive again.

10am

Sarah had always been good at relationships. But the never-ending online interactions, with everyone reduced to a tiny icon on the screen, made her doubt her ability to read the room.

In addition, on her team and in her friends’ circles, she noted exhaustion. People were tired of how the rules shifted constantly: whether it was possible to travel, to go to the office, see friends, go for a stroll in the park. There was also palpable disenchantment on TESSA’s teams, which most notably manifested itself in two high-level resignations from the leadership team. Vincent, the CEO of TESSA & Co., was recruiting replacements for those who had left.

The phone buzzed. It was Mike, TESSA’s content director. Sarah had known he’d be calling. Mike was not happy with Sarah’s text for a mailing they were planned to send to clients about new training programmes on resilience and influencing. Mike had put a lot of work into these programmes: he involved the whole management team in interviewing historical clients, he researched the market, and even filmed short movie teasers. Sarah, meanwhile, had rallied the executive team around the idea of inviting their top clients for a half day of fun and strategy discussions. This was a major win for her: ever since she had arrived, she had advocated for clients being present when strategy was discussed. Finally she felt her efforts were bearing fruit.

Now Mike was keen to get the information out in front of clients – in his own style, which was not like hers. Sarah wrote with finesse and directness, while Mike preferred to craft messages that read like Russian dolls. There were notes within notes, with the meaning unveiled only to those who had the key. Sarah was tired of seeing multiple layers of meaning, each encapsulated beneath another: they made her feel like she was reading cues from a New York City escape room. As much as she appreciated Mike’s efforts, she was concerned about whether TESSA’s public would have the patience to follow. She wished she could help Mike conceive of communication that could be fully received by those who read it.

4pm

After months of quiet consultations and discussions with clients and partners, Vincent, the CEO of TESSA summoned his leadership team to a meeting.

We are going all out,” he told them. “We are our best brand managers. We will show courage in a world where everyone’s strategy seems to be postponing decisions and avoiding conversations. This is the type of message we will be putting out on social media and communicating about and integrating into our products. I need you to go back to your teams and think about what this means for you.”

He turned to the flat screen and pressed "ON". The film was just under ninety seconds. Sarah’s heart skipped a beat: she’d participated in its creation, and now she was seeing the final cut.

7pm

In front of her, the evening sky revealed its blue and rose beauty, the late light swirling through it. In the distance, the picturesque horizon was closing in on the dark line of her surroundings.

She stopped, breathing heavily. Her earphones buzzed with the cheerful voice of her running app commenting on her effort:

“Workout completed. Distance: four point six kilometres; time: thirty-eight minutes, fifteen seconds.

Hey, this is Darren, head coach of Sidney running club. Leave some miles for the rest of us! Just kidding, mate – you’re looking great out there. Keep owning that road.”

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