What happens when a team member gets COVID-19?

05 May 2020 -

What happens when a team member gets Covid-19?If one of your team members gets Covid-19 – or you get it – the impacts on workload, stress and employee health can be significant. So how do you keep things on track?

Mark Rowland

Andrew Mawson, the founder and MD of Advanced Workplace Associates, has recently recovered from Covid-19. It hit him hard – work was impossible.

“I couldn't think. I was exhausted. I had a fever. I ached incessantly. I lost my appetite completely,” he explains. “When I forced myself to eat, I couldn’t taste anything. You’re encouraged to drink as much as you can but even that’s an effort. I couldn’t do much of anything for the best part of two and a half weeks. It wiped me out. So I basically put the tools down. And I slept, and slept, and slept.”

Trying to do any work, let alone attempting to make business-critical decisions, was impossible. Andrew could worry all he wanted about the business, but it was no use. “It would be foolish [to make decisions] because you need all your cognitive resources to fight this thing.”

Keep things positive

Sara Hawthorn, the owner of a PR firm, experienced the same thing. She was ill enough with Covid-19 that she needed to visit the hospital. Her biggest concern was her team’s anxiety levels, “especially after the hospital visit. I kept them updated, but I didn't want to panic them unduly and despite feeling ill, I knew I needed to provide that calmness and confidence for them.”

Sara did try to work while she was ill “probably too much”, but finally stopped when she realised that her team had it under control. “They were fantastic. They stepped up for client work and checked in to see how I was, kept me amused with funny pics on the WhatsApp group.”

Empower your people

Sara was able to step back – and her team was able to step up – because of her management style. Specifically, she has empowered her team to get their work done – in the way in which they work best.

For example, she worked collaboratively with team members to figure out a way for everyone to work in lockdown. “I'm continuing to make sure we have practical and open discussions each week around workload, practicalities of working at home and training. We've implemented more flexibility in hours, as some are finding it easier to work in the morning or evening with others in the house.” As businesses start to develop their new protocols for working post-lockdown under the new government guidance, this ability for teams to flex their work patterns will become even more important.

For Sara, the key so far has been maintaining a balance between communication and self-management; providing staff with regular updates on the week’s work and the company’s position, making sure staff aren’t getting too stressed, and letting them get work done on their own terms.

Make a plan

Andrew Mawson recommends that managers ensure they are fully prepared for a Covid-19 case on their team, ensuring a solid plan is in place in case a team member, or you, end up sick. “You have to know that your people are competent, capable and that they have the equipment to work in this new way.”

Like Sara, he recommends that you stay calm, and keep things positive. “It’s also wise to provide some clarity and certainty.” Think about your cost base, what business is going to continue and what isn’t. And tighten things up to make sure that you're not wasting energy and resources on non-valuable activities or business pursuits. “You have to rethink and repurpose your service offer accordingly.”

And think long term

Business leaders should also use the lockdown to consider the longer-term impacts of the pandemic. “People have already begun to realise that there are options other than having central London offices with huge costs,” says Andrew. “For most chief executives, this would be a good time to think deeply about what they actually need in terms of infrastructure as opposed to following conventional wisdom.”

For more content related to Covid-19 and how to manage through it, visit our Leading Through Uncertainty hub.