FreeAgent
Tax

With international tax reform progressing at unprecedented speed, Susan Kilty explains why Irish businesses must continue to participate actively in the discussion. With all the global uncertainty that Ireland is facing due to COVID-19 and Brexit, there is a risk that the OECD global tax reforms – the other major threat to Irish business and the economy – will be pushed further down the corporate agenda. But to do so would be very risky. Ireland must engage with this process now, at both the political and corporate level. The world of international tax is in a state of extreme flux as governments grapple with changes in the way multinationals do business. It is worth reiterating that Ireland has attracted healthy levels of foreign direct investment (FDI) over the past 30 years, and the multinational community has contributed significantly to our economic success. According to the OECD, Ireland received more foreign direct investment in the first half of this year than any other country. Along with Ireland’s near-iconic 12.5% tax rate, a crucial element in our continuing ability to attract international investment is the stability and transparency of the corporate tax regime here. Investors from abroad who establish activities in Ireland tend to be quite sensitive to changes in the taxation system. They like certainty and stability in a tax code, which is why Ireland presents such an attractive proposition. Ireland cannot afford to lose FDI as a result of turbulence in the global tax landscape at this time. As corporation tax accounts for almost 18% of Ireland’s total tax take, any change to the regime threatens to seriously undermine the attractiveness of our FDI model and negatively impact our revenue-raising ability. The crux of the matter is that we, and many other countries, apply 20th century tax systems to 21st century e-commerce business models. Businesses have an increasingly digital presence, and many no longer trade out of brick and mortar locations. This is not limited to so-called technology companies, but can be seen across industries and in businesses of all sizes. Businesses sell freely across borders without ever needing to set up operations abroad. This new digital way of trading is not always captured in our analogue tax rules, and the rules must be realigned with the reality of modern e-commerce. However, to tax a multinational business, you need a multinational set of rules. This is where the OECD comes in, but the uncertain shape that the new rules might take brings more uncertainty for businesses at a time when it is least needed. Many clients cite the changing international tax environment as one of the top threats to potential revenue growth. And although countries now face enormous bills for COVID-19, one sure thing is that BEPS, OECD and tax reform will not go away. International corporate tax reform is happening, and it will impact many businesses and our economy. Companies need to stay on top of these changes and prioritise the issues that will affect them. OECD proposals The OECD proposals offer a two-pillar solution: one pillar to re-allocate taxing rights and ensure that profits are recorded where sales take place, and a second pillar to ensure that a minimum tax rate is paid. At the time of writing, a public consultation is open for stakeholders to share their views with the OECD on the proposals that were recently summarised by way of two “blueprint” documents, one for each pillar. Pillar One seeks to give market jurisdictions increased taxing rights (and, therefore, increased taxable income and revenues). It aims to attribute a portion of the profits of certain multinational groups to the jurisdictions in which their customers are based. It does this by introducing a new formulaic allocation mechanism for profits while ensuring that limited risk distributors take a fair share of profits. Several questions remain as to how the Pillar One proposals, which constitute a significant change from the current rules, will be applied. Pillar Two, on the other hand, seeks to impose a floor for minimum tax rates across the globe. This proposal is very complicated. It is much more than a case of setting a minimum rate of tax. It is made up partially of a system that requires shareholders of companies that pay low or no tax to “tax back” the profits to ensure that they are subject to a minimum rate. At the same time, rules will apply to ensure that payments made to related parties in low-tax-paying or no-tax-paying countries are subject to a withholding tax. Finally, it can alter the application of double tax treaty relief for companies in low-tax-paying or no-tax-paying countries. Agreeing on the application and implementation of this pillar will be incredibly difficult from a global consensus point of view. Several supposed “safety nets” in Pillar Two are also likely to be of limited application. For example, assuming that the minimum tax rate is set at 12.5%, this does not mean that businesses subject to tax in Ireland will escape further tax. Similarly, assuming that the US GILTI (global intangible low-taxed income) rules are grandfathered in the OECD’s proposal, this does not mean that the US GILTI tax applies as a tax-in-kind tax for Pillar Two purposes. Pillar Two poses a significant threat to Ireland, as it reduces the competitiveness of our 12.5% rate to attract FDI and, coupled with the Pillar One profit re-allocations, could reduce our corporate tax take. The OECD estimates that once one or both of the pillars are introduced, companies will pay more tax overall at a global level, but where this tax falls is up for negotiation – and this is why early engagement by all stakeholders is critical. While the new proposals will undoubtedly have an impact, it is not certain that Ireland’s corporation tax receipts will fall off a cliff. Ireland has already gained significantly in terms of investment from the first phase of OECD tax reform, and this has helped to drive a significant increase in corporate tax revenue. But the risks must nevertheless be addressed. There is, of course, the risk that the redistribution of tax under the rules directly under Pillar One and indirectly via Pillar Two will impact our corporate tax take. But even if the rules have no impact on a company’s tax bill, they could still impose a considerable burden from an administrative perspective, and the complexity of the rules cannot be overestimated. At a time when businesses are grappling with other tax changes, led by the EU and domestic policy changes, this would be a substantial additional burden on the business community. The OECD is progressing the rules at unprecedented speed in terms of international tax reform. The momentum behind the process comes from a political desire for a fair tax system that works for modern business. However, does this rapidity risk the international political process marching ahead of the technical tax work? This is where Ireland, both government and corporate, needs to play a vital role. While the consultation period on both pillars is open, the focus for stakeholders should be on consulting with the OECD on the technical elements of its plan. Considering the OECD’s stated objective to have a political consensus by mid-2021, this could be one of the last opportunities for stakeholders to have a say in writing the rules. The interplay between the OECD and the US Treasury cannot be ignored when considering the OECD’s ability to get the proposals over the line. The US Treasury decided to step away from the consultation process with the OECD for a period in mid-2020. This, of course, raised questions around whether the OECD proposals could generate a solution that countries would be willing to implement. Added to this, the OECD has always positioned Pillar One and Pillar Two as an overall package of measures and has stressed that one pillar would not be able to move forward without the other. The “nothing is decided until everything is decided” basis of moving forward is a risky move, but the OECD recently rowed back on this stance. If the OECD fails to reach a political consensus by 2021, we could very well see the EU act ‘en bloc’ to introduce a tax on companies with “digital” activities. This could result in differing rules within, and outside of, the EU. It would also increase global trade tensions, all of which would not be good for our competitiveness. As a small open economy, Ireland will always be susceptible to any barriers to global trade. A multilateral deal brokered by the OECD therefore remains the best option – the last thing we want to see is the EU accelerating its own tax reform or, worse still, countries taking unilateral action. For the Irish Government, providing certainty where possible about the future direction of tax is critical. Where we have a lead is in how we provide that stability and guidance where we can. The upcoming Corporate Tax Roadmap from the Department of Finance will be an opportunity to give assurances in these uncertain times. Next steps for business The public consultation will be critical for businesses to have their say in shaping the rules. Ireland Inc. must continue to engage constructively with the OECD to try to shape the outcome so that we maintain a corporate tax system that is fit for purpose, is at the forefront of global standards, and works for businesses located here. Doing so would ensure that we articulate the position of small open economies like our own. Each impacted business must take the opportunity to comment on the proposals, as this may be the last chance to have a say. Indeed, what comes out of the consultation period may be the architecture of the rules for the future. We know that difficult decisions must be made at home and abroad in terms of the new tax landscape, and made with additional pressures we could not have foreseen 12 months ago. Although it may seem that much is out of our control, Irish businesses must continue to participate actively in the discussions and ensure that their concerns are heard. The game may be in the final quarter, but the ball is in our hands. Susan Kilty is a Partner at PwC Ireland and leads the firm’s tax practice. Point of view: Fergal O'Brien Since the start of the BEPS process in 2013, Irish business has recognised the importance of the work to our business model and the country’s future prosperity. At its core, BEPS has seen a further alignment of business substance and tax structures at a global level. This has resulted in an often under-appreciated surge in business investment, quality job creation and, ultimately, higher tax revenue for the Irish State. With its strong history as a successful location for foreign direct investment, and substance in world-class manufacturing and international services, Ireland was well-placed to benefit from the new global order. The boom in business investment, which last year reached over €3 billion every week, and increase in the corporate tax yield from €4 billion in 2013 to €11 billion in 2019, are evidence of the further embedding of business substance in the Irish economy. The current round of BEPS negotiations will have further significant implications for the Irish economy, and particularly for the rapidly growing digital economy. Ibec is working directly with the OECD to ensure that any further changes to corporation tax recognise the central role of business substance and locations of real value creation. Fergal O’Brien is Director of Policy and Public Affairs at Ibec.  Point of view: Norah Collender The OECD’s proposals to address the challenges of the digitalised economy will have a disproportionate negative impact on small, open exporter economies like Ireland. Earlier consultation papers issued by the OECD on taxing the digitalised economy suggested that smaller economies could benefit from international tax reform emanating from the OECD. However, the OECD now openly admits that bigger countries stand to benefit from its proposals more than smaller countries, and the carrot has turned into the stick in terms of what will happen if smaller countries do not support the OECD. Ireland is acutely aware of the dangers ahead if countries take unilateral action to achieve their vision of international tax reform. But that does not mean that countries like Ireland should be rushed into accepting international tax rules that fundamentally hamstring Irish taxing rights. Genuine consensus must be reached to ensure that international tax reform is sustainable in the long-term. Likewise, the new tax rules must be manageable from the multinational’s perspective and from the perspective of the tax authority tasked with administrating the rules. A rushed outcome to the important work of the OECD will make for tax laws that participating countries, tax authorities, and the all-important taxpayer may not be able to withstand in the long-term. Norah Collender is Professional Tax Leader at Chartered Accountants Ireland. Point of view: Seamus Coffey How Pillar One and Pillar Two of the OECD BEPS Project will ultimately impact Ireland is uncertain. One sure thing, however, is that there will be changes to tax payments. This will be a combination of a change in the location of where taxes are paid and perhaps also an increase in tax payments in some instances. But there will likely be both winners and losers. From an Irish perspective, there might have been some comfort in that the loser could have been the residual claimant – the country at the end of the chain that gets to claim taxing rights on the profits left after other countries have made their claim. As US companies are the largest source of Irish corporation tax revenue, it might have been felt that most of the losses would fall on the US. However, significant amounts of intellectual property have been on-shored here. Ireland, therefore, has become a residual claimant for the taxing rights to some of the profits of these companies. At present, Ireland is not collecting significant taxes from these profits as capital allowances are claimed. If BEPS results in a significant reallocation of these profits, we might never collect much tax on them. Seamus Coffey is a lecturer in the Department of Economics in University College Cork and former Chair of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council.

Dec 01, 2020
Feature Interview

Six Chartered Accountants assess the events of the past year and consider what could lie ahead as the New Year approaches.2020 has changed the trajectory of many lives. Some have seen their careers go in unexpected directions while others have adjusted to the new working world around them. No-one can say that they have escaped unscathed by the events of this year, personally or professionally. Patrick O’Sullivan Greene, Jude Fay, Declan Walsh, Fiona Byrne, Henry Duggan and Jennifer Harrison explain their challenges and triumphs from 2020, the changes to their personal and professional lives during the pandemic, and their predictions for the New Year. Remote working goes mainstream For Patrick O’Sullivan Greene, author and activist shareholder, 2020 has taken him away from the office, colleagues, family and friends, but a changing business world had prepared him for remote working. When COVID-19 announced itself on the world, I had already been a member of the remote working community for a number of years. When I started working in my native Killarney after returning from London, I was able to take advantage of the strong communication network in Kerry, the two direct flights a day to London and a good rail connection to Dublin. As a director of an activist fund that has invested in quoted companies across Europe and being involved in a number of early-stage businesses in Ireland and France, I was still able to conduct business from a distance.  Remote working, of course, has now become more mainstream. This has been facilitated by the rapid growth in shared office providers across the country and the ‘internationalisation’ of rural Ireland. The opening of the Box CoWork space in Killarney, combined with an emerging coffee culture in the town, has given me access to a community of similar-minded people. The enforced lockdowns have brought a major change to my work life; no office, no travel, no coffee. Of course, this is a minor inconvenience next to the impact the pandemic has had on many other people’s lives. But, COVID-19 has not just impacted negatively on my work life. I have not met some close friends and colleagues in nearly ten months, including the parents of one of my godchildren, and I am unlikely to meet them for another six.  However, there have been compensations. I was able to put the final touches to my first book – Crowdfunding the Revolution: The First Dáil Loan and the Battle for Irish Independence, the story of the founding and funding of the well-known start-up called Ireland. Going forward, I expect some structural changes in the post-pandemic world; more remote working, less international travel and a greater appreciation for the environment. Humans are social animals and we will adapt as necessary.  It is important that the Government continues to provide support to SMEs, in particular the retail, pub, restaurant and wider tourism sector. We need to ensure those businesses make it through to the other side. Embrace transformation Jude Fay, a psychotherapist and supervisor in private practice in Co. Kildare, considers the challenges and opportunities faced by the mental health sector this year and outlines the important changes she plans to make in the years ahead. Previously, psychotherapy services, therapist training and CPD were mostly delivered in person. Like other industries, we have had to adapt to providing services online. Psychotherapy can be delivered online, but it is not the same. We lose some of the visual clues, such as body language. However, the transformations are not all bad. There is greater awareness of the importance of mental health. For some, online access makes it easier to engage, both practically and emotionally. Services online do not rely on physical proximity. For practitioners or clients in rural areas, this offers greater choice. But since the pandemic began, I have been very aware of a free-floating grief, and hear others in the profession saying the same. A sense of confidence and certainty has been lost. While, intellectually, we know the future is always uncertain, the pandemic has brought that uncertainty much closer. COVID-19 losses are not just the obvious ones. I believe this pandemic is an opportunity to reflect on what is important, to look at where our lives have become unmanageable and take action to change that. Personally, the biggest impact has been the inconvenience and a restriction of my normal movements. A couple of friends contracted the virus but, thankfully, I have not lost anyone to it. A good friend died in April, and I was unable to attend the funeral. My mother was hospitalised shortly before, and again during, the lockdown, and the family was unable to visit her. Those experiences were very hard.  On a lighter note, I turned 60 this year and had many plans for celebrating, most of which had to be shelved. I should be preparing to travel to South America, but clearly that’s not going to happen! Going forward, I will look for the joy in each day and be mindful of my many blessings. I will connect more with loved ones, let small things go, and appreciate my good health.  Adjust accordingly Declan Walsh, founder of Deferno Solutions, the Chartered Accountants Northwest Society and The Neurology Support Centre, reflects on the drastic changes the charity sector was forced to undertake in 2020 and what all organisations should look forward to in 2021. COVID-19 has, and will continue to, negatively impact the charity sector. Not only has it had an impact on the charities’ ability to fundraise, but the more direct impact has been on the actual provision of services to the end user. Over the next 12 months, charities will have to think differently about how services can be provided. New service delivery platforms will become the new short-term norm. While not ideal, the move to online service provision is becoming necessary and differing skillsets are needed. At the Neurology Support Centre, we have just launched, in conjunction with Spectrum Life, an online counselling and wellbeing service for users and their families, which provides 24/7 confidential access to a range of services. Strategic planning, both from a business and charity perspective, has been turned upside down over the past year. The five-year plan is now often replaced by a five-month or five-week plan. However, it is critical that board and management teams review their long-term goals and make sure that the short-terms goals are equally aligned. The near future will continue to be uniquely challenging as we emerge slowly from COVID-19 restrictions, restart the economy, and deal with Brexit. However, this change to a new norm has, in many cases, provided time to reflect on what may be a person’s main motivator in life. Ultimately, it is all about people, connecting directly, listening, understanding and being more empathic and, perhaps, relegating the necessary, but invisible, forms of instant communication and social media to a more secondary place. Whether as the founder of a charity, or as a financial advisor, the same rules apply. You must not only listen, but also hear what is being said, and adapt accordingly. Find value in community relationships Fiona Byrne, Director of James Byrne & Company, has found that, while this year has presented challenges, it has also strengthened her relationships with her clients, community and colleagues, and given her a better work-life balance. Our industry was transformed overnight – the move to remote working has definitely been the most significant challenge. The majority of our team had previously operated entirely from the office, so there was an immediate need for IT infrastructure to be mobilised to our teams’ homes. This added to the uncertainty and stress at the time. Luckily, we had already begun the process before COVID-19 hit. It is incredible how people across the age spectrum and industries have been able to adapt and demonstrate an agility that, perhaps, we knew we had but never truly tested before.  Despite this, we all miss the social aspects of the traditional office environment, of course. Although technology keeps us in touch, the lack of daily in-person contact has been tough and I am very conscious of the mental health and wellbeing of our team. Assuming this is the new normal, we need to work on how we can continue to build our office culture while taking in these new ways of working. The current circumstances have really demonstrated the value in relationships, and I take great pride in the fact that my company has offered support to both our clients and community.  Looking at my own life, remote working allows for additional flexibility, less time is spent commuting and more time is spent with my family. I have noticed that as our professional and personal worlds have become blurred, people were extremely accepting and understanding. At the end of the day, we all have various family commitments and the fact that everyone went through this together meant that we all learned a little bit more about each other.  2021 looks challenging but, hopefully, the New Year will bring a fresh sense of optimism and new ideas. As we approach Christmas, I am mindful that we will need to be focused on people taking a break – it is clear we all need to refresh.  On the whole, the combination of virtual working and people’s adaptability is a positive development for our industry, and new innovative ideas will emerge that allow us to be fully compliant and work more efficiently. I believe remote working is here to stay and, if used properly, will allow accountants to become more efficient and have a better work-life balance.  Secure a different future Jennifer Harrison, sole practitioner at Jennifer Harrison Chartered Accountants, left the security of a “guaranteed monthly income” to set out on her own in September, leading her to walk down a more fulfilling professional path. The pandemic has probably been one of the biggest life-changing events for me professionally. Like many others, 2020 started full of optimism, working in full-time employment with the opportunity of promotion in sight. This pandemic threw a spanner in the works with cutbacks, increased workload and home-schooling. I was forced to re-evaluate the priorities in my life, allowing me the opportunity to see a different future professionally. I was a firm believer that security was in the form of a guaranteed monthly income, but this year has proven that nothing is guaranteed. Life is full of curve balls and we need to learn to change and adapt as they come.   This change in perspective encouraged me to set up my own practice. It has only been a few months since I opened my doors, but I can already see the benefits along with a steady increase in interest and commitment from new and future clients. Although the pandemic has prevented the face-to-face interaction with clients, it has allowed many clients to experiment with online communication, expanding my customer base. It has also allowed me to work alongside some amazing organisations, offering online support to businesses in Donegal. This is something I really enjoy doing and now, I hope to expand my business to include online training and support as a standard service (but it’s early days).   I have to say, this year has been challenging personally. Restricting movements, fear for the health of my loved ones, reducing my social life and so on, but it has taken me down another, more fulfilling path professionally. This is a big step for me, which is scary and exciting all at once. Utilise the tools you have Henry Duggan, Managing Director of EMEA Financial Services at FTI Consulting, has found that the agile nature of his job was ready-made for remote working, leading to greater collaboration and creativity on his team. COVID-19 has highlighted the need for flexible solutions to meet client demands. My work primarily focuses on sensitive, multi-jurisdictional investigations relating to money laundering, terrorist financing and breaches of international sanctions. My organisation has been extremely proactive in exploring how technology can facilitate such investigations during the current pandemic and been very successful in that respect. My team is leading multiple remote investigations across many jurisdictions, and COVID-19 has emphasised the need to embrace new ways of working and think about more creative tools and solutions. I relocated from the Middle East in March, so I have worked from home since then. FTI Consulting has invested in forensic technology, which has ensured that I (and my team) have been able to continue conducting our investigations work since then. Notwithstanding the inability to socialise and travel, I have found that my ability to respond to client needs has been unaffected due to advances in this firm’s forensic technology. And, while normal face-to-face interaction has been lost during the pandemic, I have found that many colleagues have embraced virtual meetings, and this has led to greater collaboration and creativity. Sure, the casual coffee chats and unexpected catch-ups have been lost, but productivity has increased in my view. Personally, given the agile nature of the work that I conduct, I don’t anticipate any major changes in the coming year. The biggest change that I have experienced so far is in relation to conferences and seminars. Previously, I would travel to other countries to deliver lectures on financial crime and money laundering. However, the increased prevalence of webinars has been refreshing and has reinforced the importance of distance and blended learning. The tools are there if you’re prepared to adapt and use them.

Dec 01, 2020
Careers

Julia Rowan answers your management, leadership, and team development questions. Nine months after we started to work from home, I’m beginning to worry that my team is becoming fragmented. How can I stop that happening? Since September, I have noticed a significant change. Up to the end of the summer, lots of people were delighted that they didn’t have to commute or buy expensive lunches. Now, many long to be with their colleagues and have those informal catch-ups that knit teams together. They want to ‘go home’ rather than ‘be at home’. We have mostly defaulted to online options but meeting outside for a ‘walk and talk’ meeting (guidelines permitting) is still possible. Some find that the change in setting and activity can lead to deeper conversation and connection. If online is the only (or primary) option, think about how you can create a connection. Online picnics, coffees, or beers are nice – but think about your scheduled meetings and make space for people to talk about how they are doing. You want real discussion as opposed to ‘false positive’ engagement, which can be stressful. And the leader goes first because being honest about your experience permits the team to be honest about theirs. Don’t get stressed about the things you can’t fix. You can create a connection, and you can listen. Your one-to-one meetings are also important, so make sure that the ‘How are you?’ conversation is always high on the agenda. I was recently put in charge of a team. I love the extra responsibility, but I hate giving feedback. How can I shake this fear? Being in a position where you are leading, making decisions, distributing work, and giving feedback is both exciting and challenging. Remember that your team members have a right to know how they are doing. Their development is important, and your feedback counts. One reason why managers don’t give feedback is that they feel they don’t have permission. So, here is a framework for a conversation that can help you do just that: Context: provide the rationale for giving feedback. For example, “You’ve taken on some challenging projects” or “There is a lot of change happening” or “It’s going to be particularly busy coming up to year-end”. Conversation: outline the conversation you want to have. For example, “For that reason, it will be important for us to stay close; to talk about what’s working well and adding value, and what’s not working well and could be changed”. Consent: clear the path to provide your feedback. For example, “Would that be okay with you?” Your team members want, expect, and have a right to feedback. Reflect on how sharing feedback will be useful for both of you, and find the positives. Intention always wins out! Julia Rowan is Principal Consultant at Performance Matters, a leadership and team development consultancy. To send a question to Julia, email julia@performancematters.ie 

Nov 30, 2020
Careers

Torunn Dahl and Glenn Gillard share the secrets to purposeful inclusion, which in these challenging times is more important than ever. Good leadership has never been easy. If it were, we would all be good leaders most of the time and organisations would not need to spend millions each year developing leadership skills. In reality, leadership is always a delicate balance of making the best decisions possible given the information to hand while taking into account the context, the strategic imperatives of the organisation, and the stakeholders involved in or impacted by the decisions being made. Operating in an environment of enormous unpredictability, wrought by a pandemic, makes this challenging task even harder. Never before has that well-worn phrase from financial services advertisements, ‘past performance does not guarantee future success’, been truer. There is no quick guide to leadership for these times. We can choose many possible routes to survive or thrive in the period ahead, as we learn to operate in an environment of ongoing uncertainty and volatility. This article will outline some steps you can take to ensure the route you choose is one of inclusive leadership, to the benefit of all your key stakeholders. A new social contract In the August issue of Accountancy Ireland, our colleagues outlined how people at the start of their accountancy careers seek a broad sense of purpose in the work they do. Similarly, in society, we have seen a significant change in people’s awareness of – and lack of tolerance for – the inequalities that exist in society. There is an opportunity to reset the path we are on as a society, to reduce systemic inequalities and become more purpose-led. Last year, 200 global CEOs, including Punit Renjen of Deloitte, signed a statement of purpose. It confirmed that a corporation’s purpose is to serve all its stakeholders – employees, clients and society. The COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement have reinforced the message from the general public that business cannot be a neutral bystander. Business should, and can, be at the heart of this new social contract, and business leaders need to embrace this change. This reset to how society operates and meets the expectations of its citizens will require different types of leaders to navigate and drive the changes. In addition to the critical skills associated with good leaders such as strategic thinking, commercial acumen, decisiveness and effective communication, leaders will need to understand how to be genuinely inclusive in a broad sense. They will need to understand how a change to the social contract could impact their talent pipelines, customer relationships and supply chains. How will the decisions they make today impact their ability to retain customers, attract staff, reduce their carbon impact and sustain their business viability into the future? A model of inclusive leadership provides a framework for leaders to think about the thought process and the actions they need to consider to navigate the difficult decisions they now face. In the section below, we outline the six signature traits of an inclusive leader, as identified by Deloitte, and some suggested practical steps a leader can take to operate inclusively. The six signature traits Inclusive leadership is about treating people fairly and leveraging the thinking of diverse groups of people. While leaders must treat their people fairly, a genuinely inclusive leader in a new social contract will seek to ensure that people outside the organisation are also treated fairly. They will do this by providing opportunities for them to join the organisation or sell their goods/services to the organisation on fair terms. The examples below focus on what an inclusive leader can do inside their organisation. 1. Commitment. Highly inclusive leaders are committed to the inclusion agenda because these objectives align with their personal value systems and because they believe in the business case and moral case for inclusion. Practical steps: Put inclusion on the agenda at your meetings and hold people to account on actions agreed. Set targets, and encourage debate and discussion around what the right targets are and how to meet them. Attend diversity and inclusion events within and outside your organisation. Share new knowledge with your teams and outline the actions you will take. Reference an inclusion story or moment as part of every presentation you make. 2. Courage. Highly inclusive leaders speak up and challenge the status quo. They don’t walk past inequality; they challenge it. They are willing to admit to their own vulnerabilities and remain humble about their strengths and weaknesses. Practical steps: Speak up and challenge any inappropriate behaviour you see or hear. Others may feel equally uncomfortable and are likely watching to see whether you condone (through silence) or challenge the behaviour. Apply a diversity lens to everything you do – use a checklist if necessary as a prompt. Think about your next event or meeting. Who is talking? What images are being presented? Which metrics are being used? Do they all support an inclusive environment? 3. Cognisance. Highly inclusive leaders are aware that they, and everyone else, have biases that impact their judgement. They seek to ensure that processes are put in place to manage and overcome these blind spots and to create fairer opportunities for all. Practical steps: Seek to identify your own biases. Take the Harvard Implicit Association Test or pay attention to who you naturally gravitate towards and with whom you feel less comfortable. Pay attention to your inner voice and initial judgements and ask yourself whether biases are coming into play. We all have them! Use structured processes and criteria when making decisions that relate to people (hiring, promotions or performance, for example) to ensure objective criteria are used rather than generalised impressions. 4. Curiosity. Highly inclusive leaders keep an open mind and have a desire to learn more about others. They want to understand how they view and experience the world. They also demonstrate tolerance for ambiguity and change. Practical steps: Seek out someone on your team you don’t know well or who has a different background to yours. Put in time for coffee to connect and learn more about them. They could be the perfect person for your next project or have valuable perspectives on a problem you’re grappling with. Invite different people to present to your team or organisation to broaden everyone’s perspective. Remember to suspend judgement when listening to other perspectives; seek to listen actively and understand. Acknowledge what they are saying and respect their viewpoint. 5. Cultural intelligence. Highly inclusive leaders are confident and effective in cross-cultural interactions. They may feel uncomfortable in the situation but are willing to move out of their comfort zone and focus on learning, seeking to build their cultural intelligence. Practical steps: Start by focusing on a culture or area that interests you. Search for articles and podcasts that will broaden your understanding and seek out people who can answer your questions and build on what you have learnt. Encourage people within your teams and organisation to build out their cultural intelligence, supporting mobility opportunities where relevant. 6. Collaboration. Highly inclusive leaders empower individuals to deliver their best, in addition to working across diverse groups of people to drive better solutions built from a diversity of thought. Practical steps: Let others speak first. Ensure that you have heard from everyone in the group, actively encouraging people to contribute if they haven’t already done so. Find common ground and articulate a shared purpose and objective for the group that everyone can rally around. Create physical and/or virtual opportunities for interactions that encourage sharing and collaboration. Purposeful inclusion in a pandemic The COVID-19 pandemic presents both challenges and opportunities in building an inclusive culture and following-up on commitments our businesses have made to be more inclusive. The last few months have stretched everyone and how we act as leaders, now and in the months ahead, will influence how well our organisations, our people, and we personally come through this pandemic. It may be tempting to take a short-term view and focus solely on profits and cash flow to the detriment of suppliers, employees and the local community. But those who take a longer and more inclusive view are likely to reap the rewards, as will their communities. As organisations transition to being more purpose-led than solely profit-focused, their ability to navigate the current environment inclusively to the benefit of society more broadly will be a real test of their authentic commitment to this cause. Using the traits above, we will now explore some of these challenges and opportunities. Commitment: In the short-term, it is easy to step away from the commitments we have made. Many organisations have implemented, or are looking at, measures such as reducing headcount, suspending bonuses and promotions, and deferring hiring decisions. It is important to consider these decisions in the context of inclusion and look at how these measures are implemented and affect the future shape of the organisation. During the last recession, we saw a significant reversal of some of our key diversity measures, as women stepped away from the workforce to work in the home and as many employers reverted to traditional talent pools for staff. Cognisance: Biases can quickly step back into our thinking when faced with tough decisions or working under pressure. In the working from home environment, anecdotal research already indicates biases towards female participation. As women are traditionally viewed as the primary home-maker the risk of ‘killing with kindness’ escalates as individuals make assumptions as to whether someone can handle the workload or should be given specific work because of their family situation. While having progressive policies to support people during the pandemic has been important, this must be monitored so that it does not feed through to future decisions around performance, promotion and recognition. We must recognise, and seek to work through, these potential biases. Collaboration: During this pandemic, many organisations have reported increased engagement from staff and a greater sense of belonging. However, as the lockdown measures persist and remote working is more prolonged, maintaining a sense of ‘team’ and keeping people connected becomes a more significant challenge. Through organisation-wide collaboration, new models and methods for engagement, networking and social interaction can be developed. Indeed, there is a real opportunity to break away from our default methods of corporate social interaction in Ireland, which focus heavily on the dinner and pub scene and favour those willing (and able) to socialise after hours. Capturing new ways of interacting and building them into a new, more inclusive culture is an opportunity to redefine the workplace for many that traditionally felt excluded. Courage: Undoubtedly, the forced working from home arrangement arising from the pandemic presents a real opportunity to rethink how we look at biases around presenteeism, flexible working, and the office culture, and to re-imagine fundamentals like the daily commute and international travel. While these benefits seem obvious at this point, it will require courage to stay the course and implement the necessary changes so that these benefits can be retained as we move out of the pandemic. For example, if we are to move to more hybrid models with a greater level of remote working mixed with in-office teams, maintaining the inclusiveness of a meeting for those in-office and those at home will need to be supported by real leadership. The fear that we fall back into the old ways, where if you are not in the room you are not really participating, is already being expressed by many as they assess whether they could continue to work remotely into the future. Redefined leadership The relationship between community, employees and businesses has changed, and as leaders, we will be held accountable by our people. Truly inclusive leaders will thrive in this environment and make an impact not just within their own business, but across the community. The pandemic has challenged the way we look at the world and our role within it. We now need to seize the opportunities presented, and avoid the pitfalls, to create more inclusive organisations.  Torunn Dahl is Head of Talent, Learning and Inclusion at Deloitte. Glenn Gillard is a Partner at Deloitte and member of Council at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Nov 30, 2020
Comment

Rachel Hussey explains how well-defined and inclusive work allocation practices can boost your colleagues’ career potential. One of the most common and unconscious ways in which old hierarchies are preserved in professional services firms is through the allocation of work, often at the early stage of careers. A well-defined work allocation process ensures a balanced portfolio of experience for future progression. But suppose a person is consistently allocated more challenging projects involving novel issues or premium clients. In that case, their career path is likely to take quite a different course to that of a person assigned more routine tasks, which can result in tremendous and unintended damage to the career paths of individuals. Research conducted by McKinsey in the UK in 2012 across professional services firms found that a man was three times more likely to be made a partner in an accountancy firm than a woman and ten times more likely in a law firm. McKinsey made several recommendations to address the imbalance, one of which was that women have equal access to the right career development opportunities through a systematic work allocation process based on objective criteria, such as competencies or experience. Work allocation goes to the very heart of the operation of a professional services firm. Changes to work allocation practices are hard to implement, but can have a considerable impact on the progression of female talent. McKinsey conducted follow-up research in 2015 and found that work allocation was an ongoing challenge. 70% of women in both law and accounting firms said that their firm’s work allocation process was unfair, and 86% of law firms had no formal work allocation process in place. In the absence of a systematic process, work allocation is a subtle concept that can be difficult to do in a way that promotes diversity and creates a level playing field for men and women. In deciding to whom work should be allocated, partners can make assumptions about women’s desire or capacity to do certain kinds of work or transactions. The result can be to ‘kill women with kindness’ by allocating the more challenging work to men on the team so as not to put too much pressure on a woman. A woman can ultimately end up with less experience, weaker client relationships, and lower revenue – all of which are career-limiting in a professional services firm. This phenomenon is also referred to as unconscious benevolence. Research conducted by the 30% Club in Ireland across 14 of the top Irish professional services firms in December 2019 contained some fascinating findings. For example, 21% of equity partners in accountancy firms are women, and that figure is 40% at the non-equity partner level. The research found that only four of the 14 firms that participated in the research had a formal work allocation process in place. On foot of that research, the 30% Club recommends that where firms have not adopted work allocation policies, they should pilot the introduction of such policies. They should also review work allocation practices to ensure that equal opportunities to gain expertise and experience are available to all. Finally, it urges firms to ensure that family-related absence does not impact work allocation and recognise leaders who successfully manage work allocation on their teams. Across professional services firms internationally, work allocation processes are becoming more formal and technology-enabled. Many resource management consultancies provide services and systems to firms to assist in this critical aspect of a firm’s work. Formal processes can have a significant impact on the development of female talent in firms and should, therefore, be considered as part of a firm’s diversity strategy.     Rachel Hussey is Chair of 30% Club Ireland and a Partner at Arthur Cox.

Nov 30, 2020
Careers

A lot of work today simply can’t be done well without high-touch collaboration – a challenge when many people are working from home. New tools are helping, though, write Ryan Kaiser, David Schatsky and Robin Jones. The pandemic, with an impact lasting far longer than initially expected, is forcing organisations to rethink how their teams can collaborate from a distance. Some widely used digital tools make certain forms of collaboration – such as sharing and editing documents – easy. But other, critically important types of collaboration remain challenging when colleagues are not sharing physical space, or even time zones. Organisations can experiment with a newer breed of tools, some still experimental, that aim to support remote, high-touch collaboration. In view but out of sync “Did he hear what I just said?” “Was that a smirk?” “She’s looking down – is she texting?” It’s safe to assume that these questions cross the minds of many workers during days of endless video calls. The concentration required to process these virtual interactions can be taxing, leaving workers exhausted. But with so many professionals working from home due to the pandemic, it’s imperative that organisations find effective ways for remote workers to collaborate. New technologies are answering this call: from immersive environments to virtualised offices that facilitate casual interactions, organisations may soon have many more options for helping their teams collaborate effectively at a distance. Collaboration is key, but challenged by remote work Most organisations accept that effective collaboration is essential for high performance. Apple leaders considered collaboration to be so important that they designed its headquarters building to promote creativity and collaboration. Even workers’ perceptions that they are working collectively, according to a 2014 study, can enhance their performance. Thus, collaboration activities are pervasive in the modern office. Indeed, some researchers believe “collaboration is taking over the workplace”, with time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities increasing by 50% or more in recent years. It’s no surprise that collaboration is among the soft skills that employers seek most. But with the pandemic forcing millions of people to work from home, collaboration has become more challenging. Remote working obscures body language and distorts verbal cues that can be crucial to understanding intent. Formal, scheduled video calls – or more frequent instant messages or texts – are no substitute for quick, spontaneous exchanges of information. Professionals working in sales, customer service, management, design, and other roles in which impromptu and collaborative interactions are integral to the job may be particularly challenged. Some workers feel isolated. Managers are struggling to onboard, integrate, and teach office norms to new staffers, and building and sustaining an organisation’s culture has rarely been more difficult. Even when the crisis is behind us, the need for better remote collaboration will persist. High-touch collaboration still works best in person Of course, many, even most collaborative activities don’t require face-to-face interaction. A wide range of digital communication and project management tools support sharing files, editing documents, and communicating project status. But other valuable collaborative activities – scrum meetings for coordinating software development, brainstorming sessions to generate product ideas, hallway conversations to quickly exchange useful information – have tended to rely on face-to-face interactions. We call such activities high-touch collaboration. High-touch collaboration activities are typically synchronous, spontaneous, or sensory. Synchronous means two or more people are present in the moment when the activity is conducted, allowing for a free-flowing exchange of information. Spontaneous means unscheduled, low-overhead interactions that may occur outside the confines of a formally scheduled meeting. Some of the best ideas, and even businesses, started as impromptu thoughts or interactions between colleagues. Sensory refers to the non-verbal communication or body language we unconsciously decipher when interacting with others. Arm positions, posture, and tone of voice can influence how or when others choose to engage with or respond to us. Leaders can use this simple three-S model to identify the high-touch collaboration activities in their organisation that remote working arrangements may impair. Below are some common examples. They are important in our work and the work of many of our clients – and they can be difficult to perform when collaborators are just faces on a screen. Structured, interactive sessions. Some types of workshops or labs, employing techniques such as design thinking, aim to solve complex problems or help a group achieve consensus on a designated topic. In addition to typically needing a skilled facilitator, participants often need to read the room to assess group understanding, alignment, and engagement. Example: a lab may be used to forge consensus about the vision of a new firm-wide initiative. Ideation and co-creation. Many workers need to brainstorm and exchange information spontaneously, typically in a shared space with a visual aid such as whiteboards or sticky notes. Example: co-creation may be useful for brainstorming new product features to include in future releases. Spontaneous information exchanges. Employees may need to exchange information directly outside a formally scheduled meeting – perhaps as quickly and casually as poking one’s head in an office to ask a brief question. Example: spontaneously exchanging information with colleagues can be helpful when finalising an important client presentation. Informal connections. Conversations that typically take place in the elevator, office kitchen, or other common areas can foster a sense of connection and community; walking the halls can help cultivate relationships with clients and co-workers. Informal connections tend to rely on interpreting sensory and contextual information. Example: managers may informally check in with teams during a stressful time period to gauge well-being and engagement. To bolster collaboration among remote workers, we need tools that provide better support for these kinds of activities. Collaboration tools are proliferating A new crop of digital collaboration tools has emerged in response to the needs of companies with remote workforces. Vendors launched or enhanced at least 100 digital remote collaboration products in the first eight months of 2020, compared to the 24 product introductions we tallied in the fourth quarter of 2019. Established collaboration vendors are rapidly rolling out new features in response to user requests, and some have released free versions of products in an effort to gain market share. Some of this activity involves familiar categories of collaboration tools such as video-conferencing. Other types of tools – such as digital whiteboards, virtual offices, and immersive environments – may be less familiar, but they can provide crucial support to synchronous, spontaneous, and sensory collaboration activities. We scanned the offerings of hundreds of vendors and spoke with more than a dozen of them to learn more about their capabilities. Video-conferencing. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of workers to work from home, many companies responded by substantially increasing their use of video-conferencing Google, Microsoft, and Zoom have all reported a surge in usage of their platforms. Allowing colleagues, clients, and partners to see each other over video can mitigate the feeling of isolation that some remote workers feel and can build and maintain the rapport crucial for collaborative efforts. Recent innovations in this category include the use of artificial intelligence to frame a caller’s face, background obfuscation to prevent distractions, and the use of avatars. But video-conferencing has its drawbacks. Not all work interactions occur in the confines of a formal meeting. Any given video-conference likely includes at least one participant battling audio and video quality issues, including lags that can jumble non-verbal cues and distracting background noise – especially for people sharing space with partners and children. Workers also report feeling exhausted at the end of a day filled with numerous video calls due to the mental focus required to concentrate on a grid of colleagues. Ideation and whiteboarding. Because it supports problem-solving, design, and strategic planning, ideation can be a critically important collaboration activity. A classic setting features a blank whiteboard, markers, and a team with ideas to share. Vendors such as Microsoft, Miro, and Mural offer digital tools that aim to provide the benefits of in-person ideation in a remote environment. Such tools typically feature an interactive workspace designed for visually oriented ideation and problem-solving. They are best suited for co-creation and ideation activities but can also be used to facilitate labs and similar sessions. A variety of features help spur thinking. For example, users may have access to templates or frameworks tailored to a variety of meeting types such as a scrum call or a design thinking session, time-keeping features to keep a group focused, virtual sticky notes to jot down ideas, and polling to streamline the decision-making process. These tools share little contextual information about users, however, making it hard for facilitators to read a room and determine how to best engage participants. Legibility can sometimes be difficult, and employees may need to consider a touchscreen, stylus, or other peripheral to maximise their capabilities. Virtual offices. Other types of tools attempt to replicate office spaces on your computer screen. Virtual offices are intended to run continuously in the background, showing in real-time what your colleagues are doing through the medium of digital aerial views of office floor plans, avatars, or even 3D worlds. And they aim to emulate the natural, rapid types of interactions that frequently take place in a physical workplace like tapping someone’s shoulder to ask a question. These platforms display context about colleagues – are they meeting with a client right now, or are they listening to music? – and they provide multiple pathways by which co-workers can informally connect. Sample virtual office vendors include Pragli, Sococo, Virbela, and Wurkr. Virtual offices typically allow significant customisation (avatars, floor layout, branding, etc.) and integrate with a growing list of social and collaboration applications one might use throughout the workday, such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Spotify. These vendors also enable informal interactions through emotive digital gestures such as high-fives or dance movements, allow users to tap each other to instantly join a virtual meeting room, and offer the ability to lock spaces for more private conversations. Many also allow screen-sharing and the uploading of files. Some virtual offices currently lack the ability to integrate with common office software such as Google or Microsoft and may lack common ideation mediums such as whiteboards. Some tools use much of a laptop’s processing power when rendering a 3D office, potentially affecting other applications. Immersive environments. This is an emerging category of tools that aim to enable workers to connect, share experiences, and participate in simulated real-life scenarios using augmented or virtual reality (AR/VR) technologies. Some studies have shown that VR is a promising medium for remote collaborative work. Users experience a 3D shared environment where they can see representations of themselves and colleagues and conduct meetings. Immersive environments are best suited for interactive sessions and co-creation/ideation. The virtual environments provided by tools such as Arthur, HoloMeeting, and Spatial can range from basic rooms to non-cubical architecturally complex spaces that expand creative possibilities. Some vendors make it possible for users to take a selfie and upload and wrap the image around an avatar for a personalised, life-like presence. Combined with spatial audio and visible mouth or hand movements, these technologies can give one the impression of being in the same space as a colleague. Interacting with the environment and accessing menus using one’s hands or controllers is highly intuitive. Typical features include 2D or 3D whiteboarding options, 3D process flows, and the ability to access content from the web, including images and 3D models. While some platforms are accessible by smartphones and laptops, the full experience is typically only available with the use of an AR/VR headset – a factor that may limit adoption in the near term. Early-stage tools may suffer from distracting latency – or lags in refreshing the display – or lack integration with other applications, which limits the type of work one can do, such as co-edit a PowerPoint slide, and most have smaller capacities (usually under 20 participants) when compared to virtual offices. What to watch The descriptions above are a snapshot of a rapidly moving market. Progress in the underlying technology of AR/VR, and increasingly affordable hardware, will likely boost the appeal of immersive environments over the next couple of years, for instance. Other developments in the domain of remote collaboration are worth watching. New features. With so many workers affected by the pandemic, collaboration vendors are quickly responding to user needs and rolling out new features. For instance, Microsoft recently deployed ‘Together mode’, using AI to place meeting participants side-by-side as if they were sitting in a virtual auditorium. Other advances include attention tracking, which alerts a host if an attendee goes more than a few seconds without having an application open; intelligent capture, which can make a person’s video image transparent so users can see content being written or drawn on a whiteboard as it happens; and real-time translation. Organisations should take note of this rapid pace and consider product road maps when evaluating tools. New mediums and uses. Remote collaboration tools are evolving, and organisations are likely to experiment with them in various ways. Some executives have used popular video games such as Animal Crossing, Grand Theft Auto, and Minecraft to conduct meetings, for instance. While some may not be inclined to use video games for collaboration or are unfamiliar with the format, others feel they help people think differently and bond with colleagues. The education sector may be another testing ground as teachers, students, and parents around the globe are now being forced to learn how to use virtual collaboration tools. Other formats are likely to emerge. New insights. Collaborating via software enables novel analytical applications not possible with conventional in-person conversations. For example, Gong uses speech recognition and natural language understanding technology to transcribe, annotate, and analyse data from sales calls to coach salespeople toward better performance. YVA.ai uses artificial intelligence to predict burnout and enhance employee engagement. Talent leaders may want to consider how data within these tools can help inform their talent strategies or improve employee performance. New shortcomings. Improved tools may eventually solve the video-conference fatigue problem, but it’s possible that emerging remote collaboration technologies may give rise to other unpleasant technology-induced side effects such as the dizziness or nausea that can accompany immersive environments. When choosing a collaboration tool, organisations should take these into account and design mitigation strategies such as time limits where applicable. New risks. As workers migrated to home networks and personal devices after the onset of the pandemic, firms faced an increase in hacking attempts, and many are enhancing their cybersecurity posture accordingly. The amount and type of information generated by remote collaboration tools could be especially sensitive, and companies should strive to ensure that such data is secure while meeting workers’ reasonable expectations of privacy. Preparing for a (somewhat more) remote future Many workers will not return to the office or may work from a company office only part of the time. According to a June 2020 Fortune/Deloitte CEO survey, CEOs expect 36% of their employees on average to still be working remotely by January 2022, three times as many as before the pandemic. One forecast suggests that through 2024, around 30% of all employees currently working remotely will permanently work at home. Many organisations are likely to need effective remote collaboration tools and approaches. Managers, particularly those in industries where remote working is already familiar, such as technology, financial services, and business and professional services, should begin exploring the use of remote high-touch collaboration tools, especially for collaborative activities that are synchronous, spontaneous, or sensory. As workers’ exposure to, and comfort with, these tools varies, organisations should consider implementing effective training and adoption strategies as well as policies guiding effective use. It may be helpful to think of remote collaboration as more than just a way of coping with the pandemic. To be sure, the pandemic triggered a surge of interest in remote collaboration and a burst of activity in the market for remote collaboration tools. But even after the crisis subsides, the need to support high-touch collaboration for remote workers will likely remain. This trend may carry the seeds of new opportunities. It may bring greater flexibility to talent models, offer workers new opportunities to balance professional and personal needs, help reduce the carbon footprint of work, and enable entirely new business models and industries. The development of remote collaboration could eventually change how we work in surprising and beneficial ways. Ryan Kaiser is a senior manager in Deloitte’s US Innovation group, where his efforts focus on digital transformation, strategy, and product/solution incubation. David Schatsky, Managing Director of Deloitte US, analyses emerging technology and business trends for Deloitte’s leaders and clients. Robin Jones is a Principal in Deloitte’s Workforce Transformation division, with 22 years of organisation and workforce transformation consulting experience.

Nov 30, 2020