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How to support team members during a crisis

June 8, 2020 by The Bearded Team

My step father died from Covid-19 a month ago. Heres what i’ve learnt about how to support team members during a crisis


Small team challenges:

The last 8 weeks have been incredibly traumatic for me which has inevitably had a strain on our company. With only 5 full time staff running the agency, any absence is a challenge. Alongside the inevitable business pressures that Covid 19 has thrown on us – as a collective we have had BIG changes to navigate over the last 3 months: We are looking after lively newborn twins, we’ve welcomed a beautiful lockdown baby, moved & bought houses, dealt with isolation, bereavement, and the general mental head-mashery that lockdown has thrown on us. As a close knit team with foundations built from friendships – working apart has been tough.


Compassionate Leadership:

Despite all of these pressures, I’ve been shown major compassion, empathy, patience & trust from every one of the Bearded Fellows – as a collective unit and as individuals. I am the first full time employee to be welcomed into the company and I’m hugely proud of them for nurturing such a healthy, supportive & open work culture.

As we all know, compassionate leaders nurture a culture of loyal, dedicated, engaged, truthful and competent team members. It’s been a heart warming experience being on the receiving end of this leadership where actions have spoken louder than words. Thanks to their support, understanding & friendship – I’ve been able to start the healing process and to return to work gradually and with confidence, knowing that I’ll be challenged but professionally ‘held.’ Massive kudos to Matthew, Samson, Florin & Joe – you really are wonderful humans.


Supporting team members through crisis:

Here is how I was supported at work and how it impacted us as a team. The key to the support I received was that it was personal to me and my situation but I hope it can help other organisations.

  1. We anticipated and planned for time off as much as was possible. Our transparent management and communication culture ensured that we are all confident to take time off when needed and understand how the business is performing at all times.
  2.  I had a surprise online party for completing my probation period just as the the Covid Crisis hit. This reduced my job security concerns. This could been a perfect opportunity to hold back on making any new team members permanent and to overlook team celebrations but I was welcomed with open arms and a hilarious hand made card. (Not every company is in the position to do this but I recognise and acknowledge this leap.)
  3. When things got real and I was spending time at the hospital (this is possible during end of life care,) I suggested an amount of time that I would take off work. What was offered was double this time with the promise that more time would be granted if I wanted it. I could take what I thought I needed – and I knew they meant it. My preliminary return date was more of a check in date. I was able to clear my head, deal with personal tasks, support my family and return to work stronger and ready
  4. I was  granted the space to grieve freed of any pressure, guilt or concern for the company. As a small team it was difficult at first not to check in, but it was very much needed.
  5. Our social ‘WhatsApp’ group was muted but friendship was there when I missed my team and needed the social connection. Cat memes were on hand.
  6. I was contacted the Friday before my return date to update me on new work won and positive news stories. This helped to relieve any concerns I had about my return to work and I looked forward to Monday morning.
  7. My first day was relaxed and without any pressure. We gave more time for a check in and I was able to ‘land’ gradually.
  8. There was no intimidating ‘back to work’ formal meeting. Just organic, genuine check ins and actions moving forward.
  9. I had a gentle return to work and responsibilities were minimised for a short while – other members of the team stepped in and learnt more about my role and have instigated projects. The burden was shared and team investment & creativity has grown.
  10. I was shown complete trust to take time out and work when and how I could. The team understand the realities of grief related ‘brain fog’ and I feel completely safe to ask for help and to admit when I’m not ‘on it.’ I know that someone else will support without judgement and as a team we will get there.


Productivity and sanity during Lockdown:

No alt text provided for this image

The above picture is wonderful Maff Potts being vulnerable and glorious at the brilliant ‘Meaning‘ Conference 2019.

Here are some things that have helped to keep us sane and productive throughout lockdown. We:

  1. Celebrate the 4 day working week and flexible hours. (But we don’t take the same day off – there’s always people working each week day)
  2. Congratulate and encourage ‘time out’ and we respect each others space
  3. Focus and we take responsibility seriously. If we are not able to be productive, we are honest and we let each other know/ share the burden. There’s no judgement.
  4. Are honest with what we can achieve that day and we hold each other to account. The one thing we need to do is done. There’s no stickers for a morning meeting hero.
  5. Actively listen and notice how each team member is. We ask more questions, listen to the answers and allow time for silence and reflection.
  6. Recognise, congratulate and celebrate small and big wins more.
  7. Are self compassionate. As individual working during a crisis, we can be ‘a bit shit sometimes.’ But we have a great team and so as a company we thrive.
  8. Operate as a ‘we’ more so than ever. We recognise, accept and then invite our ego’s to jog on.
  9. Challenge each other and embrace the uncomfortable. Make mistakes. Step back, review & move forward. We are working towards celebrating failure.
  10. Respect each others time and we consider the language we use. This is crucial in our constant zoom/ slack/ email/ WhatsApp/ dropbox heavy world.
  11. Trust each other.


Moving forward:

Moving forward we will continue to explore creative and experimental ways to encourage and unleash productivity and we all know that this time of crisis has brought out the best in us as a company. We will be kind. Normality will not resume – a better way is emerging.

Big up all those businesses that truly support and welcome their teams individual challenges and that have embraced boundaried freedom. Work and home life are now gloriously intertwined and yes – we are not working from home, but are at home trying to work during a crisis. But we now know how to support team members during a crisis.


🖌️ Illustration by Fay Palmer as part of our Creative Worm Challenge.

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