How to deal with coronavirus and your team if it hits your workplace

- March 12, 2020 4 MIN READ
Photo: AdobeStock
Covid-19 is here, and it’s affecting our communities in different ways.

Businesses throughout Asia have been experiencing significant challenges that are only now appearing in Australia, Europe and America. With events being canceled, staff shifting suddenly to remote work and normal operating procedures being disrupted, there are new challenges for companies to face.

While the tech industry at large has slowly begun to acknowledge hustle culture isn’t sustainable, we need to accelerate changes to ensure our startup teams are actually healthy, taken care of and thriving; not just now with a public health crisis, but in every single way.

When Covid shows that there are stress points in your company and in its systems, it’s an opportunity to fix them, to better care for your people, and to change what isn’t working.  It’s time for radical empathy and flexibility but also time to take a step back and make some hard logistical decisions about what it means to manage a team in the middle of a public health crisis.

How do you acknowledge the global health crisis for your team?

If your team or their loved ones don’t contract Covid-19, their community will. And they will still feel it’s impact. Whether it’s getting caught up in the 24/7 news cycle, the stress of staying ever-vigilant, or concerns about whether their local store will have the groceries they need, this is affecting their everyday lives.

That stress will be brought to work and it will impact their productivity.  As business leaders you need to give individuals a safe space to talk about it. Let them voice their concerns, and seek support in their colleagues. Giving your team space to share will help reduce their stress and any feelings of isolation.

Your role will be to listen, and set good guidelines about the purpose of the forum to ensure it remains a calm, comforting place, not an additional channel for stress.

Make a plan

Sally calls you at 8am Monday saying she has tested positive to Covid-19, what will you do? 

Currently in Australia the chances your business will get affected are low, but the situation is evolving quickly, and if you don’t have a contingency plan – your business revenue could take a serious hit. You need to know:

1) How and when you will communicate updates?

Your team is counting on you. Ensure you approach communication with a sense of calm and responsibility.

Consistently update your team, using your local government bodies, and scientific data to back your decisions. 

Many large organisations are assessing their position daily and communicating with employees if there is any significant update, while individual teams work to ensure they are ready for any changes.


2) What precautions you’re putting in place to minimise their exposure?

When you’re constantly striving for the next revenue target or product release it can be hard to remember that having one person out of action is far better than the whole team. Be explicit and unapologetic with your team, if you are sick? Don’t. Come. In. 

Show, don’t just tell, if you go in with sniffles and tell the team you’re soldiering on you’re quietly telling them that they should too.

Even if you don’t suspect it’s Covid-19, exposing the team puts them at risk of passing it on their family members and it knocks their immune system around leaving them less able to protect themselves against anything else. 


3) What is expected of an individual or people they’re in close contact with tests positive? 

Should they post in the group slack channel? 

Should their manager send a group email naming the individual?

No. The individual’s privacy is still important, you need at least one dedicated contact person that will share the news appropriately keeping the employee’s privacy intact. Your messaging needs to:

  • Provide team members enough information (again, using local government guidelines) to understand what they need to do to minimise their personal exposure
  • Explain what needs to be done for any guests of the office
  • Tell them what’s expected for work for the day, and ongoing.
  • Give them comfort that you’re supporting everyone involved.


Should everyone work from home? 

I’m biased, I’ve been running a fully remote team for a long time. If Covid-19 impacts Australia heavily, you need to think about going fully remote. That means it needs to be in your action plan and you need to work out the details now. 

It’s not as hard as you think, if you’ve got offices across many locations or have employees that work while travelling, you’re already dipping your toes into the remote work world. If it’s time to go hard at it, you’re a startup – you can make it happen.

Communicating via Slack, limiting time wasting meetings, letting staff have focus time in their own spaces, and following the same workflows and procedures you’d keep to in the office, will all make a difference. This is absolutely achievable!

It’s also a stress test for a change to remote work for everyone, and it’s an immediate and pressing reason to test it out. If it works – and honestly, it probably will – you’ll have upgraded your entire experience for your company and culture.

If remote working is a part of your DNA post-Covid, you’ll have a workplace that’s more accessible to diverse team members, better for working parents, saves costly office space and remains productive. That’s a huge benefit. 

Great leaders can galvanise a team through times of adversity.

Focussing on empathy, transparent communication, and being a source of calm in these complex times can see your team grow closer and stronger than ever.


* Hilary Callaghan is the director of startup HRebel, which helps businesses achieve better culture, hiring and HR outcomes.