While COVID-19 will take a significant toll on 2020 tax receipts, Peter Vale suggests that the figures should return to current levels at some point next year. At the time of writing, the coronavirus pandemic looks likely to have a significant adverse bearing on global economic growth, in addition to the substantial societal impact we are all experiencing. We know from experience that an economic downturn can dramatically affect exchequer receipts – there was a 40% decline in corporate tax receipts alone between 2007 and 2009. So, what impact will COVID-19 have on tax receipts by year-end and what will that mean for our economy? Corporation tax Large companies make their first tax payment six months into their financial year, with a further payment one month before year-end. In Ireland, May and June tend to be the first key months in the year for corporation tax payments. A company has the option to base its first payment on either current year estimates or the prior year actual liability. Given the expected impact of the virus on the economic activity and profitability of most companies, you can expect that many will choose to base their first payments on current year estimates. It may not be possible to assess the full 2020 impact of the virus by May/June, however; some large companies may take a conservative view and make payments based on the prior year position. Assuming the virus continues to cause economic disruption through to the end of the year, there could be significantly smaller second instalment payments later in the year or large refunds due to companies in 2021. For many smaller companies, November is the critical month with the ability again to assess the liability based on the current year estimates. All of this means that we could see significantly smaller corporate tax payments this year, likely first evidenced in May/June with a further reduction in November returns, if the virus disrupts economic activity through to year-end. It is challenging to assess the scale of the potential reduction in corporate tax receipts. In this author’s view, it will be significant and could also impact on 2021 figures. But on the positive side, one would hope that the figures would return to current levels perhaps late next year. This would contrast with a more gradual increase in receipts following the economic crash. COVID-19 will also impact other tax heads. VAT Restrictions on travel and movement, plus enforced closures, will likely have a significant impact on consumer spending and a consequent downward impact on VAT receipts. While online spending could continue, supply chain issues are likely to mean even that option will be curtailed. Discretionary high street spending may be impacted most, with many shopping trips confined to the purchase of essential goods. Again, one would expect that any resultant downturn in VAT receipts would be temporary. Still, it could last for the rest of the year and trickle into early 2021 receipts if Christmas spending is impacted. Income tax and capital taxes Income tax receipts will also suffer, with seasonal and temporary roles likely to be hit hardest, and a reduction in profits generally for the self-employed seeing tax receipts fall. While not as significant, capital taxes will also suffer with deal volumes expected to fall across many asset classes, impacting both capital gains tax and stamp duty receipts.  Impact The impact of most of the above will be seen before the October Budget, leaving the Minister for Finance facing some difficult decisions, assuming there is no mini-Budget before then. There may be a need for some temporary tax-raising measures in addition to dipping into cash reserves and a considerable increase in borrowing. While significant on many fronts, COVID-19 is expected to be something we recover from, with many governments already launching initiatives to help individuals and businesses get through the crisis. The Republic of Ireland is lucky to be home to many large multinational companies that use Ireland as a hub for global activity. It is almost inevitable that COVID-19 will see the profits and tax receipts of these groups fall substantially, with a decrease in domestic economic activity generally also fuelling a significant dip in tax receipts. While I believe the decrease in 2020 tax receipts will be significant, the figures should return to current levels once the worst of the crisis is over. A best estimate of when this will be is likely at some point next year. Peter Vale FCA is Tax Partner at Grant Thornton.

Apr 01, 2020

Kim Doyle considers the best course of action for businesses that are strained financially as a result of the impact of COVID-19. COVID-19, a term that was not part of most members’ vocabulary a mere two months ago, is now the unwanted commandeer of conversations. Self-isolation, social distancing, WFH (working from home) and CC (conference call) have become part of our basic business language. But we must not forget to keep talking about the old reliable, tax. Continue to talk to Revenue, as early as possible, if you are now experiencing timely tax payment difficulties. This is one of their key messages. The other is to get tax returns in on time. At the time of writing, Revenue’s message to businesses strained financially as a result of the impact of COVID-19 is that they will work to resolve tax payment difficulties. Viable businesses that experience cash flow difficulties have long been encouraged by Revenue to engage with them as early as possible. Often, entering a phased payment arrangement is the appropriate practical step to deal with outstanding tax payments. In fact, at the end of 2019, over 6,300 business had such arrangements in place covering €73 million in tax debt, according to Revenue. Revenue will only agree to a phased payment arrangement provided the relevant tax returns are filed with them, the tax due is fully calculated, the business is viable and there is early and honest engagement. Applications for such an arrangement can be made via the Revenue Online Service (ROS). Supporting documents will be required; the volume of documentation depends on the level of outstanding tax payments. A down-payment must be made, which can range from 25-40% of the total tax payment, which may include interest. Agents can apply on behalf of their clients via ROS. Applications are typically responded to within two weeks; in many cases, arrangements are up and running in a matter of days. Responding to the difficulties arising from the impacts of COVID-19, Revenue has implemented specific measures for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) experiencing trading difficulties. Perhaps the most important being that interest will not be applied to late tax payments of VAT for the January/February period (due by 23 March) or employer PAYE liabilities for the months of February and March. Any future similar suspension will be considered at the relevant time, Revenue say. For other businesses experiencing temporary cash flow or trading difficulties, the advice from Revenue is to contact the Collector-General’s office directly or the appropriate Revenue division. Revenue has also suspended all debt enforcement activity, for now. Current tax clearance status is expected to remain in place for all businesses over the coming months.  And in an effort to ease the burden on households, Revenue also announced the deferral of certain local tax payments (annual Debit Instruction/Single Debit Authority) to 21 May from 21 March. As of now, there is no statement from Revenue on dealing with other taxes such as corporation tax. In this unprecedented turbulent environment, protecting the tax receipts must be one of the priorities for Government. It is hoped that any dip in tax receipts will be confined to 2020. However, as long as we continue to talk about COVID-19 and suffer the impacts, we must also continue to talk to Revenue. Kim Doyle FCA, AITI-CTA, is Tax Manager at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Apr 01, 2020

It is now time to consider the UK tax relief available on building projects, writes Eugene Moore. To stimulate international investment in the UK, the then-Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, presented his 2018 Autumn Budget to the House of Commons. In it, he announced the introduction of capital allowances for capital expenditure incurred on the construction, renovation or conversion of most UK and overseas buildings and structures. The Structures and Building Allowance (SBA) applies to contracts entered into on or after 29 October 2018. Construction projects that may qualify for the SBA are now starting to be completed, with the structures and buildings coming into use. It is now, therefore, time for the current owners and their advisors to consider the significant tax relief available on such capital projects and how best to mitigate the risks of making an invalid claim. The relief Relief is available for UK and overseas structures and buildings where the claiming business is within the charge to UK tax. The SBA was introduced at a rate of 2% straight-line basis on qualifying expenditure over 50 years. The rate was increased to 3% in the Budget and the change will take effect from 1 April 2020 for UK corporation tax and 6 April 2020 for UK income tax. The relief commences with the later of: The day the building or structure is first brought into non-residential use; or The day the qualifying expenditure is incurred. Once qualifying expenditure is incurred, the first use of the structure or building must be non-residential. Subsequent events, such as change of use to residential or the demolition of the structure or building, will impact the availability of the SBA. A period of non-use immediately after a period of non-residential use is deemed as non-residential use, and the SBA continues to be available. Qualifying activities The structure or building must be for a qualifying activity carried out by the person who holds the relevant interest. Qualifying activities include: trade; an ordinary UK property business; an ordinary overseas property business; a profession or vocation; the carrying on of a concern listed in ITTOIA05/S12(4) or CTA09/S39(4) (mines, quarries and other concerns); or managing the investments of a company with investment business. Qualifying expenditure Capital expenditure incurred on the construction or purchase of a structure or building (including professional fees and site preparation costs) is qualifying expenditure. Excluded expenditure covers: the cost of the land or rights over the land; the cost of obtaining planning permission; financing costs; or the cost of land remediation, drainage and reclamation. Abortive costs, such as architect’s fees associated with a structure or building that is not completed, do not qualify for the SBA. Commencement date As the SBA was introduced to stimulate investment from 29 October 2018, allowances are not available on structures or buildings where the contract for the physical construction work was entered into before 29 October 2018. For projects under a construction contract, the commencement date for the SBA will be the date of that contract. HMRC is of the opinion that contracts can take different forms; it gives the example of email exchanges, which confirm that works will take place. Where no contract is in place, the date of the commencement of physical works represents the commencement date for the SBA. This is also the case where physical works commence, and a contract is subsequently put in place. Site preparation According to HMRC, the cost incurred in preparing land as a site is treated as expenditure on the construction of the structure or building that is then built upon that site. This includes cutting, tunnelling or levelling land. On the plus side, these costs are not excluded as expenditure for the SBA. On the downside, the timing of these costs could drag the entire construction project into an invalid claim position for the SBA if they are incurred before 29 October 2018. HMRC states that the following does not impact the commencement date: separate preparation and construction contracts; replacement of preparation contracts; preparation works ceased then recommenced; and preparation work redone. Demolition or enabling works incurred before 29 October 2018 do not in themselves make the entire claim invalid for the SBA unless explicitly linked to the actual structure or building. Practical issues Before an SBA claim can be made on a UK income tax or UK corporation tax return, the current owner of the relevant interest in a structure or building must create and maintain an allowance statement. Where the current owner incurred the qualifying expenditure in relation to the structure or building, the current owner creates the allowance statement. Where the current owner acquired the relevant interest in the structure or building from another person, they must obtain the allowance statement from the previous owner. An allowance statement means a written statement, which must include the following information: information to identify the building to which it relates; the date of the earliest written contract for the construction of the building; the amount of qualifying expenditure incurred on its construction or purchase; and the date the building is first brought into non-residential use. CPSE.1 (Ver. 3.8) General Pre-Contacts Enquiries for all Commercial Property Transactions now contains questions concerning the SBA and requests explicitly the allowance statement. In summary The SBA may result in significant tax relief for UK businesses that construct or purchase non-residential structures and buildings where previously, there was none on such expenditure. Careful consideration should be given to the commencement date of the project, and detailed evidence must be created and maintained by way of an allowance statement to avoid invalid claims.   Eugene Moore ACA is Corporate Tax Manager at BDO Northern Ireland.

Apr 01, 2020

David Duffy discusses recent Irish, EU and UK VAT developments. Irish VAT updates VAT compensation scheme for charities eBrief 21/20 contains updated guidance in respect of the VAT compensation scheme for charities. This scheme is now open in respect of VAT incurred by charities in 2019. The deadline for submitting such claims is 30 June 2020. Charities must satisfy various conditions to make a valid claim and there is a formula for calculating the claim. The total fund available for all claims is capped at €5 million and, if exceeded, this amount will be allocated between valid claims on a pro rata basis. There have been no changes to the scheme, but the guidance provides further details on the terms “total income” and “qualifying income”, which are relevant to the calculation of claims under the scheme. VAT on telecom services On 31 January 2020, the Tax Appeals Commission (TAC) published a determination in a case (16TACD2020) involving a mobile telephone operator (the appellant). The case considered the VAT treatment of the appellant’s cancellation charges, unused data, and non-EU roaming on bill-pay mobile phone services, as well as the time limit for making VAT reclaims. The appellant was unsuccessful in arguing for a VAT refund on three counts but did succeed in a claim for a VAT refund on non-EU roaming services. The key points of TAC’s determination were as follows: The appellant was liable for VAT on cancellation charges to bill-pay customers for early termination of their contracts. This followed a similar decision by the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) in MEO (C-295/17). The appellant was also liable for VAT in respect of customers’ unused data included in the price of their bundle. The appellant’s argument that VAT refunds should extend back further than four years was also rejected. The appellant had sought to argue that it should be equivalent to the five-year refund period available for other taxes, but this was rejected. The appellant was successful in arguing for a VAT refund to the extent that its bill-pay customers used its telecom services outside the EU. Revenue had sought to argue that refunds for non-EU roaming should only be available for pre-pay customers, but this was rejected by the TAC. While the case is principally relevant to the telecoms sector, some of the principles regarding cancellation charges and equal treatment could have wider application. The determination (which is available on the TAC’s website) is, therefore, a useful read. Time limits The question of time limits for VAT refunds was also the subject of a TAC determination (03TACD2020). The taxpayer was engaged in a VAT-exempt business but was entitled to partial VAT recovery on its dual-use input costs to the extent that its services were to non-EU recipients. However, during 2009, the taxpayer had not been aware of its entitlement to partial VAT recovery and therefore had not taken any VAT recovery on its costs. Upon becoming aware of this entitlement, the taxpayer submitted a claim on 31 December 2013, which included VAT incurred before 1 November 2009, which would ordinarily be outside the four-year time limit. The taxpayer sought to argue that this VAT was still within the four-year time limit because, in the taxpayer’s view, it was an adjustment of its partial exemption VAT recovery rate review for 2009 (which fell due after 31 December 2009). However, the TAC disagreed as the taxpayer had not applied any VAT recovery rate to dual-use inputs during 2009. The TAC concluded that only VAT incurred from 1 November 2009 onwards was correctly included in the claim submitted on 31 December 2013. While the facts of the case are quite specific, it emphasises the importance of following the appropriate procedures and paying close attention to time limits when submitting a claim for any historic VAT. EU VAT updates VAT treatment of boat moorings Segler (C-715/18) was a German non-profit-making association whose objective was to promote sailing and motorised water sports. It maintained boat moorings, some of which were used by members of the association and others were used by guests. Segler applied the reduced rate of German VAT as it believed the letting of the moorings fell within the meaning of “accommodation provided in hotels and similar establishments, including the provision of holiday accommodation and the letting of places on camping or caravan sites”. The German tax authorities argued that the standard rate of VAT should instead apply. The CJEU concluded that the reduced rate could not apply, as the letting of the boat mooring was not intrinsically linked to the concept of “accommodation”. UK VAT updates Budget 2020 The UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer announced several VAT measures in Budget 2020, which was presented to the UK parliament on 11 March 2020. The key updates are summarised below: The 0% rate of VAT will apply to e-books and online newspapers, magazines and journals with effect from 1 December 2020, bringing them in line with the rate applying in the UK to physical books and publications. The standard 20% rate has applied heretofore. Interestingly, however, the UK Upper Tribunal had already held that the 0% rate correctly applied to such publications in the Newscorp decision, but HMRC has indicated an intention to appeal that decision. Consequently, the position applying before 1 December 2020 remains to be clarified. As a cash flow-relieving measure following the implementation of Brexit, postponed accounting for import VAT will be introduced for all goods imported into the UK with effect from 1 January 2021. Postponed VAT accounting will enable UK VAT-registered businesses to self-account for import VAT under the reverse charge mechanism. From January 2021, 0% VAT will apply to women’s sanitary products. David Duffy FCA, AITI Chartered Tax Advisor, is Indirect Tax Partner at KPMG.

Apr 01, 2020

How can leaders stay connected to their teams while working remotely? Communication and understanding, explains Patrick Gallen, is key to successfully navigating these uncertain times. The current global pandemic has the majority of us working from home and, for some, this is a new practice. However, remote working has been around for years in certain sectors, and those leaders have learned lessons, sometimes the hard way, about what works and doesn’t. How can we fast-track our development to quickly adapt our remote leadership skills to lead in the current situation? Adjust your mindset First, it is important for leaders to adjust their mindset, and resist the temptation to rule out certain activities just because you can no longer see your team in front of you. Do you normally have a quick morning meeting in the office? Don't cancel it – use technology to connect virtually instead. We all know that a lot of interaction in the office happens at the coffee machine or staff kitchen, so a leader has to think differently about creating opportunities for informal check-ins, as well. Acknowledge the change With schools out, many team members will be juggling work and parenting responsibilities, so make it clear that it’s OK to have some evidence of family life during your calls. This could also be a topic for informal discussion – sharing tips on home schooling, exercise, and keeping sane during this crisis! Sharing hobbies and activities can inject some fun into team discussions. Accommodate flexible time schedules Asking your team about the best time to schedule calls is also a consideration – working patterns have changed in response to this situation, so the regular nine-to-five is no longer the norm. A leader who has spent time thinking about what their team are going through will be much more considerate and accommodating. Understand the tech Those who have been leading remote teams for years know that the technology is critical to their success. Firms that have invested in the tools to connect virtual teams before this crisis are certainly a step ahead of those that are reactively scrambling to try new systems. If you have easy access to Teams, Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts, or other collaborative tools, then use them! Give business updates A quick check-in and update from everyone on the team helps to avoid duplication of effort, and keeps the team on track and connected with projects. A business update from the leader can also be very reassuring for the team during this time of uncertainty. People are worried about the state of the economy, the business, and the impact on their jobs, so a leader needs to inform the team about how the organisation is coping, provide client updates, etc. An optimistic and honest response is best. Keep it short and sweet To keep everyone fully engaged during virtual team meetings, you may want to keep the meeting shorter and to the point, and vary the speaker. Turn on the webcams, if possible, so that people are not tempted to ‘multi-task’ during the meeting. And, while it is great to connect the entire team, don’t forget about one-to-ones during this period. Having a check-in with each member on their own is very important and provides an opportunity to listen, so that communication is not only one way. Communication is key to successful team working, and this is still the case while working remotely. This takes extra effort on the part of the leader, but will pay dividends to get through this crisis – and you may just find that many of the new ways of working are worth continuing when we eventually get back to a new normal. Patrick Gallen is Partner of People & Change Consulting in Grant Thornton Northern Ireland.

Mar 26, 2020

These uncertain times have brought a big change to the way we work, but that shouldn’t stop you from using your leadership skills to successfully manage your team remotely. Moira Dunne tells us how. We’ve all been taken by surprise by the speed of events in relation to COVID-19. Most people are working from home, and for leaders and managers this means a shift in style and approach. However, the skills required are the same leadership skills you use every day in the office, just with a slight adjustment. Use these pointers to help lead your team from a distance. Provide focus As you streamline your business to essentials activities, many decisions will be made at a senior level. Help people adjust to these changes by explaining the reasons behind them and how the changes will impact everyone’s responsibilities.   Discuss priorities with each person. Listen carefully to their ideas and suggestions and agree weekly and daily targets. This will help people stay on track, and is particularly useful if people are finding it hard to focus while working at home. A target combined with a daily check-in will give people a sense of accountability. It can also provide a sense of achievement and productivity as those targets are reached. Provide connection Being available by phone and email to discuss questions or concerns is key. Consider using video for daily check-ins. Group video calls keep everyone connected and can help keep morale up. Tools like Zoom or Whereby are easy to set up and manage. Perhaps someone in your team would take this on as a mini project to get everyone connected. Collaborative tools like Microsoft Teams, Trello or Slack can also be used for updates on group projects and to track the status of tasks.  Provide flexibility Flexibility is key right now. We are all adjusting to these uncertain times and it is important to help your team manage their stress. Adjust your expectations as you set targets. People can’t be expected to work at the same rate or pace as they did in the office. Some may find they get more work done, as they have fewer distractions. But for most, there will be more demands on their time right now, particularly with children off school. Your people may not be available during usual business hours. Be flexible. Allow them to work at different times if the demands of your business can support it. The new normal For many companies and leaders, this transition to remote working will be tough. But there may be some insights into new ways of working for your business in the future. Keep an open mind and an open ear during these uncertain times. Moira Dunne is the Founder of beproductive.ie.

Mar 26, 2020

Can you influence from a distance? Without a doubt, but first you need to consider your environment and what triggers those around you. Liam Dillon tells us how. In a normal working environment, we interact frequently. With the current ongoing crisis, we find ourselves having to work from home and meet up with people virtually to discuss plans and projects. While everyone has their quirks, managing and influencing effectively from a distance can present its own set of problems. Here are five actions managers can take while trying to influence from a distance. This is simple and intuitive stuff but sometimes bad habits surface, especially when faced with such unexpected circumstances. You do not need to be centre stage Take an interest in what your team is saying about projects. It’s important to remember that you will get to say your piece before the conversation is over, but other people need to be heard even if they aren’t leading the team. Listen to the conversation, take in what they’ve said and add to it, passing the turn back to them to elaborate further. By encouraging conversation, you are relaxing the environment for everyone, especially those who can’t see you face-to-face over camera. In fact, studies have shown that those who express an interest in what someone is saying and then follows-up with questions to encourage debate have a higher chance of influencing those around them. Remember personal details Forgetting someone’s name – especially someone on your team – can ruin rapport. Remembering someone’s name has been shown to make people more likely to help you, buy from you, and is seen as a compliment. Let people talk about themselves Whether we want to admit it or not, we love to talk about ourselves, and the last thing anyone wants is to be cut down, especially when they can’t see your face to judge your emotions. The lesson here is that if you want to make those you are trying to influence feel good, get them talking about themselves and their interests. Focus on others When introducing someone to a group, make them feel important by highlighting their skillsets and placing value on their thoughts and opinions. Try asking questions to delve deeper into their thoughts to get a better picture of who they are and what they can bring to the team; by doing this, you are encouraging each person to engage more in the conversation. Find the similarities We prefer people who are like us. We are more likely to become friends with people who we perceive as being similar to us. So, the rationale should be that we are more likely to listen and take into account the opinions of these people.Find the similarities with the people you are influencing: they are more likely to listen and take your opinions into account if they perceive you as being the same as them. To influence is to know the other party, even if you can’t see them for the time being. Liam Dillon is a Senior Consultant with Turlon & Associates.

Mar 26, 2020

Working from home has become necessary for many people due to COVID-19. But how can you manage when it comes to working remotely? Eric Fitzpatrick gives us nine tips on how to successfully work remotely without going stir-crazy or losing productivity. The Coronavirus is forcing organisations and workforces to reconsider their current work practices. Non-essential travel has been cancelled, events are being postponed or moved to online platforms and companies and organisations have their staff work remotely from home.   At first glance, working from home can be appealing, but there is a downside to it as well. As someone who has worked from home for more than ten years, the following are worth noting when it comes to remote working.  1. Discipline  The key to working at home is discipline. Be clear about what time you will start and finish. Agree these times with your organisation. You might have more flexibility with your hours than you would in your office but it’s important to be clear about your hours. Build in the times and duration of your breaks. Know that you’ll take a break at 11am for 15 minutes. If you’re not disciplined, 15 minutes could easily become 30 minutes or longer.  2. Get dressed If how you dress is too casual, how you work might be, too. Wear work clothes. Working from home might mean dressing as you would for casual Friday in the office, but dressing for work gets you in the frame of mind for work.  3. Designate a workspace  If you have a home office where you can close the door behind you at the end of the day, great. If not, work from a space where you must be clear at the end of the work day, such as the family dining table. By removing access to the workspace, you remove the temptation to go back to work for a couple of hours in the evening.  4. Work in a room that is bright and airy Working in a dark office with no natural light can reduce productivity and enjoyment.  Create a tidy workspace and an environment that is conducive to effective working. Have a place for everything and place only that which you will need in that workspace. 5. Ditch your mobile Be without your mobile for as much as possible, if not needed for work. Leave it in another room if you’re working on a project from which you don’t want to be interrupted. You can lose up to an hour a day picking up your phone to check social media platforms. Remove the temptation.    6. Skip the chores During your working day, don’t put on a wash, do the weekly shopping, vacuum, change the bed covers, paint the kitchen or replace that lock. You’re being paid to work, not to get ahead of the housework.   7. Keep healthy  If you walk or cycle to work, working from home takes away the opportunity to get that exercise. Can you make time elsewhere to get in some activity? Your kitchen will probably be closer to your workspace that the office canteen is to your office desk. It can be very tempting to take 10 seconds to walk to the kitchen to grab a snack. Working from home, you might find yourself doing less exercise and eating more – a bad combination. Try to manage your activity levels and snack time. 8. Don’t go stir-crazy  Working from home can take a bit of getting used to. You go from working in a busy, noisy office to working in quiet isolation. At first, it seems great, then slowly the walls start to close in. The silence becomes too loud and you find you need people to interact with. Don’t go more than two days without speaking to colleagues or clients. Design your calendar to ensure you have regular contact with the outside world.  9. Turn on the radio Music can be a positive contribution to an effective workspace at home. Played in the background, it can replace the noise of the office and remove some of the quiet isolation.  Working from home can increase productivity, improve your quality of life and may become necessary for many people over the coming weeks or months. Knowing how to manage it can make it as successful as possible.   Eric Fitzpatrick is owner of ARK Speaking and Training.  

Mar 20, 2020

Working remotely can be a struggle, but the best way to manage it is to figure out what works best for you to be productive. Neil Kelders explains.  You are not alone. We are all facing the same struggles. We need to manage these struggles by taking action. Find what the best ingredients are for you to be productive during an uncertain and stressful time.  Communicate  Ask yourself: what is going to stress me out while working at home? Write out your list and get your partner and kids to do the same and discuss. Address the issues and conflicts that come up and plan to overcome those obstacles.  Calm the storm When you wake up, spend a few minutes sitting with yourself. I meditate but if this isn’t for you, just sit and let your thoughts come, recognise them and let them go, focus on your breathing and the calm around you. Schedule your day around your energy levels  To ensure you don’t stress, you need to work with your body. Some of us are ‘early birds’ so our energy peaks in the morning. Others are ‘night owls’ who achieve more and focus better in the evening. Which are you?  If you’re an early bird, the morning is best for analytical work (figuring problems and planning). As an early bird, energy levels are lower in the late afternoon and evening so use that time for creativity and coming up with new ideas. Night owls work the opposite. Meetings and calls are best scheduled for when you know you’ll have low energy because connecting with people raises energy levels. Use distractions to your advantage Our brain craves novelty. When something unexpected happens (like our phones buzzing, for example) it immediately captures our attention, right? Try to build productivity-enhancing distractions into your day, such as making your: 1. To-do list more visible. Put your to-do list on a brightly coloured pad, so that your eyes are regularly drawn to it throughout the day. When you look away from your monitor, you’ll see the pad and your eyes are immediately drawn to your next goal. 2. Alarm as your assistant. Do you lose yourself in something you love doing and need to be reminded to stop and start doing another task? Your alarm is now your reminder to stay on track. Set end times for your activities. I set my timer for 45-minute sessions. I then take a break, reset the timer and go again for 45 minutes. Try it with your kids, build their structure into yours and take breaks together. Sleep better Better sleep does not start at bedtime. It starts with the choices you make during the day.  Improve sleep by:  replacing your afternoon coffee with a post-lunch walk with family (if not isolating); or using your garden to exercise after work. From a sleep perspective, the ideal time for exercising is five to six hours before bed.  Over the coming days (weeks? months?) you will head a lot of advice, but you need to explore what works for you. We all differ, so don’t become frustrated when advice is not working. Remember to adjust to what will work for you. Consistency is key. This is our reality for now, so do things today that make more time tomorrow. Neil Kelders is a coach and advocate for mental wellness and physical fitness. To receive a free eBook on working from home, email Neil.  

Mar 20, 2020

We all know that stress is bad for us. Given the current global situation, it is essential that we reduce our stress and improve our wellbeing. Tim France tells us how. The current crisis is stressful. We’re worried about ourselves and the people we love getting sick. We’re worried about the economic impact. We’re worried about practical issues, like how to work from home effectively or whether we will have enough milk, bread… or toilet roll. The trouble is, stress is bad for us. Amongst other things, sustained stress compromises our immune systems. So, it’s not just preferable to be able to reduce stress, it’s essential if we are going to fight off a virus. Here are some simple things we can do to reduce stress and improve wellbeing: Limit negative intake Watching endless news about the virus with emotive graphics, graphs and images feeds our fear. It’s important to limit our exposure to all this negativity to maybe just once or twice a day (just not the first thing or last thing!), and to balance negative stories with positive ones. Follow @goodnews_movement on Instagram for some inspirational stories. Get organised Organising your time and work space, planning ahead and scheduling calls and workload removes stress and makes the working day more manageable and enjoyable. Taking time to plan at the beginning of the day or week is one of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce stress down the line.  Create new routines Whether working from home or working with social distancing, we all have to find new ways to live and work. We find routine reassuring and uncertainty stressful. It’s important to create new routines quickly. Look for the positives Human beings always manage to find gold in the dirt. Whether war time or natural disaster, history is full of examples of people creating good things from bad situations. So, whether it’s forging stronger bonds with colleagues, spending more time with family, or becoming a video conferencing ninja, focus on and celebrate the positives that are emerging from this crisis. Stay away from conflict In stressful times, it’s easy for conflicts to arise. If you feel your buttons being pushed, take time to think and cool down before responding. Deal with the facts, not emotions, and work to see the other perspective. Stress breeds conflict and conflict creates more stress. It pays to break that cycle. Take time for yourself “You can’t fill a cup from an empty jug” the saying goes. Much is going to be asked of us all, both personally and professionally over the coming weeks and months, but we can’t keep giving without taking time to refill. Listen carefully to your own needs: do you need to rest? Eat? Exercise? Sleep? Drink water? Simply stare out of the window? Whatever it is, give yourself permission to do it. Make sure you meet your own needs so that you can continue to meet the needs of others. There may be some very challenging times ahead, but by following these simple suggestions, we can reduce stress and boost our immune systems. Tim France is the CEO of Transformative Mind & Body Wellbeing Centre.

Mar 19, 2020

Businesses will face unexpected and unprecedented challenges in the months ahead. Conor Devine explains what some can do to stay afloat. You would be forgiven, after watching or listening to the news over the last couple of weeks, for thinking that we are fast approaching the end of the world. Yes, I am referring to the outbreak of COVID-19, which, and as a direct result of the rapid spread of the disease, has led to the lockdown of 26 countries (and rising), and some 190 million people under quarantine. There is no doubt that this virus and its impact across the board is unprecedented. It has, however, illuminated the fact that we are living in a connected world that operates in real-time. For example, doctors and nurses on the front line in places like China, Italy and the US are live-tweeting updates from intensive care units. News updates state the actual numbers of those infected. At the same time, messages from friends and communities alert us to lockdowns of schools and public spaces, creating volatile reactions in markets around the world. It’s an incredible turn of events and one that few saw coming. Here are some of the economic tremors that rocked the world in the last week: US stock markets had their worst day in 30 years, falling 10%. In Europe, equity lost 10% of its value. In London, the FTSE 100 fell 11%. All of this has increased concern regarding a global recession and a severe credit crunch. However, there are a few things business owners can do in the weeks ahead to ensure that they are prepared for an immediate downturn in turnover, which now looks unavoidable. So, what can business owners do today? And what should they look at and consider if, as some maintain, turnover could drop by more than 50% for some businesses immediately? Here are some measures business owners could consider in light of recent events: Business owners and managers to take a pay cut for the next six months. All remaining staff to take a pay cut for the next six months. Cut staffing levels to reduce costs immediately. Engage with landlords and propose a reduction in rent over the next three months, to be reviewed quarterly. Put business investment on hold and review quarterly. Engage with local authorities and propose that you hold back your business rates. Engage with business groups and government representatives to insist on a VAT holiday for the next six months. On a personal level, I firmly believe that it is more important to start by looking after ourselves and those closest to us. We can fix our financial challenges with the right level of expertise and advice in due course. COVID-19 will pass, and things will return to some form of normality in the next six to 12 months. But it’s what you do today, and in the weeks ahead, that will have a real impact on you and your business’s ability to navigate the tough terrain that faces us all. Conor Devine MRICS is founding partner of Clearpath Finance.

Mar 13, 2020

The Irish economy is facing difficult tests, but the key challenge may not come from the shocks we have to endure but from the urgent need to forge policies that deliver greater domestic stability, says Austin Hughes. Recently, a possible ‘crash out’ Brexit presented a clear and present danger to the Irish economy. Now, the focus is almost entirely and understandably on COVID-19, a months-old name for a major risk that wasn’t on most people’s radar a mere two months ago. Once we get through this crisis, we will return to more 'normal' worries like trade wars and mooted changes to global tax regimes that threaten further near-term economic storms. It’s important to remember, though, that a threatening external backdrop didn’t derail the Irish economy in 2019. Instead, GDP growth of 5.5% and an extra 65,000 at work might suggest boom conditions.  Left behind Sustained and substantial improvements in key measures of economic performance haven’t fuelled any sense of ‘feel good’ among Irish consumers. Instead, the trend in consumer sentiment has weakened over the past couple of years. A recent KBC Bank study suggested widely-felt concerns are weighing on subjective measures of wellbeing. In part, a problematic contrast between ‘macro’ strength and ‘micro’ strains simply reflects the fact that there are more people working and living in Ireland. Total household disposable income is now about 15% above the previous early-2008 peak but, adjusted for an increased number of households, it transpires that the average household has 2% less disposable income than in 2008. A growing population and workforce are also putting massive strains on Ireland’s infrastructure, to a degree unparalleled elsewhere in Europe. Whereas it had been suggested that Ireland would be knocking down rather than building homes for decades, ‘rightsizing’ construction for a strong recovery has proven beyond markets, policymakers or planners. The consequences, whether measured in terms of affordability, long commutes, homelessness or other forms of exclusion, may not show up in conventional measures such as GDP but they do figure forcefully in various barometers of the public mood. More generally, though, an Irish recovery is seeing substantial differences in the scale and spread of improvement between sectors, places and individuals. In turn, this has prompted widespread feelings of being left behind.     Building a stable framework The Irish economy faces major challenges from an increasingly unpredictable global economy, but as is the case with the current health crisis, the key test lies in how we respond. We need a greater test to build a new domestic framework that is seen to fairly share gains and pains along a likely bumpy economic road while delivering the key policy outcomes that a healthy society needs. Fiscal policy will play the primary role in this regard and must change radically if it is to be fit for purpose. We must move from an unproductive preoccupation with decimal points in Government balances to a focus on delivering plausible policy outcomes in areas such as housing and healthcare. Equally, for fiscal policy to be sustainable, we must avoid the view that instant solutions require no more than political will and an open chequebook. In terms of economic progress, as well as current challenges, the old adage 'ní neart go cur le chéile' holds true. Building a coherent framework that enhances economic stability and social inclusion may be the major test facing Ireland’s policymakers and broader population in coming years. Austin Hughes is the Chief Economist for KBC Bank Ireland.

Mar 12, 2020

COVID-19 is a serious concern for everyone. How can businesses in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK cope with the inevitable disruption this virus will bring? Businesses in Northern Ireland have had to contend with many difficult situations over the years. Each time they have demonstrated their resilience and determination by overcoming these challenges and ‘getting on with it’. This resilience and determination will be a key factor in the local business community’s response to the threat of COVID-19. The virus has already had a serious impact on other countries, and it is inevitable that Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom will also be impacted materially.  COVID-19 is a serious concern for us all as individuals, for our families, and for the wider community. As well as guidance on the appropriate precautions we should all be taking, the UK Government has given assurances that resources are being applied to ensure that appropriate medical treatment will be available for those who succumb to the virus. This is a welcome and necessary statement and should provide a degree of comfort. While businesses are proactively engaging in the recommended practices to minimise its spread, it is likely that there will be some form of business disruption in the coming weeks. Most businesses already have contingency plans for such scenarios and through the implementation of these, the impact on business continuity can be reduced. Planning, anticipation and level-headed leadership is critical to the success of this process and it is essential that businesses are proactive and ensure they have practical and deliverable contingency plans in place. If, as in other countries, more extensive restrictions are imposed, the impact on businesses will inevitably worsen. Any protracted periods of restricted movement will ultimately lead to a dramatic impact on output and productivity. The priority is to address the medical issue and to ensure that the spread of the virus is curtailed as quickly as possible, but the knock-on impact on businesses cannot be ignored. The Government has acknowledged the concerns of the business community and has introduced special provisions in last week’s Budget, which will go some way to meet the inevitable cash-flow pressures that will arise.  Unfortunately, all business sectors have the potential to be impacted by the current situation. Staff absences, cash flow and supply chain disruption are all factors that will need to be considered. Northern Ireland has a strong and growing tourism, leisure and hospitality sector. The rates relief announced in the Budget will help this sector, so long as the NI Executive introduces these measures locally, as currently they only extend to England. This sector looks certain to be hit further as we move to the delay phase. These measures could be critical in helping vulnerable businesses to survive. Businesses will need to engage with all stakeholders, including banks and financial institutions, and will need to move to protect their supply chains. Stakeholders within the business community will have to work together to overcome this challenge. Leaders need to adopt a people first approach as businesses cannot survive or re-emerge without their workforce. In the meantime, we all have an obligation and duty to adhere to the Government’s recommendations and, by doing so, hopefully bring a speedy conclusion to the outbreak. Brian Murphy is Managing Partner at BDO Northern Ireland.

Mar 12, 2020

To achieve high performance in business, teams need to learn how to work together. Maeve Hunt outlines how to ensure challenges stop standing in the way of good collaboration. After a period of a lot of uncertainty, the Northern Ireland government is back up and running in Stormont and we have seen the need for parties with very different views and strategies to work together in order to achieve results. In every walk of life, the need for good collaborative skills is required in order to achieve high performance. It is true in sport, the arts and it is especially true in business. It is well known that people and businesses thrive and grow when they are free to communicate and work together, but this does bring its own challenges. Effective teamwork is hard to get right. In most organisations, it is difficult to pinpoint a team that is a shining example of excellent teamwork. The lack of a goal to work towards, role uncertainty, personality conflicts and having optimal working conditions can all lead to ineffective teams. How do we ensure these challenges stop standing in the way of good collaboration? Communication Increased flexibility with remote working is a fantastic benefit for employees, but research shows it can lead to lack of communication within teams. In my experience, regular video calls instead of phone calls work well in remote working environments and richly benefit overall team communication. Collaborative goal setting Team leaders should ensure that strategies and end goals are constantly reviewed and communicated, and make goal-setting a two-way process to achieve buy-in from all parties. Define roles The larger the team, the more potential there is for confusion of roles and responsibilities. Time spent defining and communicating roles, especially at the start of a project, can help mitigate this issue. Celebrate the differences Collaboration of different personalities and skillsets can help foster a sense of teamwork in an organisation but it can also lead to conflict if not properly managed. Self-awareness is important for all team members, and the leader’s role is to ensure that team members respect each other and are prepared to collaborate to succeed. Promote and celebrate team members with differing views and strengths by sharing their ideas. This leads to a more insightful, creative and effective team. Work environments are complex. If you focus on the connections between team members, building trust, communicating purpose, and encouraging collaboration, the team can achieve high performance. After all, teamwork makes the dream work. Maeve Hunt is an Associate Director of Audit and Assurance in Grant Thornton Northern Ireland.

Mar 08, 2020

Some people just don’t work well with others. Orla Brosnan explains how you can still deliver a successful project on time while working with a difficult colleague. One of the most important hiring criteria is the ability to work as a team player. A department or team that works well together has the most success, yet so many of us have colleagues who don’t work well with others. Here are some tips on how you can work together with a difficult colleague. Set an expectation of collaboration Management must assess the staff’s contribution to teamwork as part of the annual performance review process. If that is not set out from the very beginning and consistently followed through, it will not be seen as a priority. Spend some time away from the office A difficult employee who refuses to be a team player can derail a project. This can be an expensive mistake, and it has the potential to harm the company's reputation and cost the business clients. It may be that they don't have the aptitude or don't have the training necessary to do a great job. When colleagues don't get along or don't work well together, it simply might be that they don't really know each other well.  The best way to get to know a colleague that you have difficulty working with is to spend some time with them away from the office. Offer to take them out to lunch or meet for a drink after work to develop a rapport; this will make working together more pleasant and productive. Outline responsibilities A manager should always be really clear about what the person should be doing, the quality of the work that should be delivered and the time in which that should happen. Issue clear, step-by-step directives to your difficult employee. Put these directives in writing and go through them with the team member. If there are personality conflicts within the group, address the difficult employee and their colleagues to sort out the differences swiftly. Assign independent tasks Sometimes, independent tasks are better for difficult employees than group projects if deadlines aren't being met or if the difficult person is not completing tasks that are necessary for others in the group to move the project forward. Document every interaction with the difficult employee to create a record of how the issue is being handled. When you enjoy working with your colleagues and look forward to interacting with them, everyone benefits. Morale is high, which leads to better productivity and results, and a much more pleasant work environment for everyone. Orla Brosnan is the Founder of The Etiquette School of Ireland and Professional Training Centre.

Mar 08, 2020

Eric Fitzpatrick outlines the steps a leader can take to encourage their teams to work together effectively for the good of the team rather than the good of themselves. Leadership is about building up the people around you, trusting them to do their jobs and supporting their efforts to achieve the desired outcomes. One of the challenges a leader faces is getting their team working effectively together. The following is worth considering to get your team firing on all cylinders. Communicate with clarity Teams want clear instructions and guidance. They want to know what’s expected of them. Be open and upfront. Keep your team updated as much as is possible. Leave no room for ambiguity or misunderstanding. Have a common purpose Successful teams work together to achieve common goals. Include them in the process of agreeing to those goals. Making them part of the decision-making will increase their sense of responsibility and ownership of the goals and make them more inclined to work together to achieve them. Build trust and respect Be consistent in your decision-making. Deliver what you say you’ll deliver. Create an environment where mistakes, creativity and risk-taking are encouraged and not penalised. Make the decisions that must be made even when they are not popular. Provide the right support What does your team need to be able to do their job? Is it training, equipment, coaching, time? Aim to give it to them. Create the right culture What are the ideal values and attributes of your team? Does everyone know what they are? Have the team had input into creating and agreeing them? Give your team responsibility and value Challenge your team to grow and recognise when they perform well and deliver desired outcomes. Celebrate small wins. Listen Great leaders know when to listen. Your team will appreciate knowing that you value their opinion and insights. Recognise the individuals within your team It’s important to recognise that your team is made up of individuals with differing personalities. One of the challenges a leader faces is in marrying the desired outcomes of the team with the needs of the individuals within it. Recognise what each individual brings to the team and play to their strengths. Make sure your team is actually a team Sometimes a leader finds themselves in charge of a collection of individuals and not an actual team. Know if everyone on your team is working together. Do they keep the team goals at the forefront of their thinking or are they focused on personal results? Know when to cut a member of the team Know when a team member is not performing and not prepared to consider the negative impact this has on the rest of the team. Adding a fresh face to your team can generate new ideas and spark new thinking. Finally, constantly test how to keep your team engaged. Provoke new thinking within your team, create an environment that encourages creativity and challenge them to achieve the outcomes they have committed to as a team.    Eric Fitzpatrick is owner of ARK Speaking and Training

Mar 08, 2020

There are many ways companies can ensure women achieve success and advancement. Louise Molloy suggests a more in-depth approach that educates managers and benefits women. Over my career, I’ve coached many talented, committed and ambitious women. In doing so, I’ve developed a theory that I passionately believe in how we can empower women to achieve more. While I don’t have all the answers, I’m making the case for a change in how we support women in companies – not just providing more training or giving maternity leave but listening to their needs and intentionally creating opportunities for them. Here’s my recipe for the support reboot. Overhaul induction day From day one, I challenge companies to raise awareness with young female colleagues that their career journey may be different to their male colleagues. Reflection on breaks in service and the impact on promotion, role continuity, profiling, and branding should be considered. This issue is not exclusively female – it can be open to all. It’s the awareness of the issue and the consideration of how to plan for this that’s important Strategic competency development Make it clear to female colleagues what competencies must be developed to achieve a management role and show how they can seize opportunities to develop them. Challenge all managers of young female staff We must challenge managers to really advocate for, sponsor and mentor female colleagues to build confidence and profile. Ensure these managers get unconscious bias training to bring awareness of the impact of their attitudes and behaviours on their female reports. Project allocation  Companies need to hold themselves to account on how projects are allocated and, assuming equal abilities, ensure an even distribution across men and women. Income-generating projects are the fastest and highest-profile way to position for promotion – tracking the numbers and holding people to account ensures these opportunities are presented to everyone. More frequent role rotation  By rotating young women into different roles, it not only allows them to build their profile within the company but it raises awareness about different leadership styles and ways of working, exposing them to paths that could lead to advancement. Feedback is important Provide training for senior colleagues on how to give honest, constructive, timely feedback to younger female staff. Only with honest feedback on their performance can women really progress. Pre- and post-maternity support There’s great progress being made in terms of maternity support, but there is more to do to support women at this vulnerable and physically challenging time when identity and perspective can be in flight.  Sharing  I’ve witnessed stories of ‘having to work’ on maternity leave, working through miscarriages, IVF and struggling through menopause – and that’s just the women. Men have their own stories of struggle, too. I’m not advocating we let it all out, but I am advocating that we surface some of the wider challenges that people and, particularly, women face and their stories of how they get through it. Only by making it OK to have a circuitous career path, never writing someone off, working hard to include everyone, dealing in facts and dismissing assumptions and labels about people will we really empower women. Women are not victims; they don’t need to be rescued. What they do need is help to frame the landscape in which they operate and guidance on how best to navigate it from people who did it before them. Louise Molloy is Director of Luminosity Consulting & Coaching.

Feb 28, 2020

Caroline McGroary explains how Irish Chartered Accountants can work within the UN sustainable development goals framework to empower women around the world. Recent statistics estimate financial literacy rates of Saudi citizens to be just over 30%, compared with other high-income countries, like Ireland, which have rates in excess of 70%. Within this group, women are at particular risk of financial exclusion, with approximately only 40% of Saudi women holding bank accounts, compared to 93% in other high-income countries. To help address this problem, a number of high-profile campaigns have been launched by the Saudi government in the last year to increase the financial literacy of all citizens, with many framing their campaigns under the umbrella of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In my current role as Lecturer in Accounting at Dublin City University (DCU), I have had the privilege of working in our sister campus at Princess Nourah University, Saudi Arabia for seven years, contributing to the education of nearly 700 Saudi women. Utilising the UN SDGs Both Chartered Accountants Ireland and DCU actively encourage its members and staff to engage with the UN SDGs and, with this in mind, we sought to centre student learning around financial literacy. Using the framework of the UN SDGs, we integrated a financial literacy initiative into a final year module on our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. The initiative had three parts. The first required students to engage in up to five financial literacy workshops, including financial planning, savings, investing, credit reports, money and identify theft. The second part required them to demonstrate how financial education (SDG 4 – quality education) of women in Saudi Arabia could contribute towards gender equality (SDG 5 – gender equality). In doing so, students were asked to consider innovative financial education solutions to help improve the financial literacy levels of four groups in Saudi society: children in schools; women in higher education; women in the workplace; and women in the home. The proposed solutions were showcased at a university-wide event attended by faculty, student peer groups and industry partners. The third part was a hackathon, hosted by Deloitte. At this one-day event, students had the opportunity to develop their financial education solutions further under the guidance of a team of Deloitte mentors. The initiative gained the support and active involvement of a number of high profile industry partners, including the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States, Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, the Rockefeller Foundation, Deloitte, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, the Capital Market Authority, financial planning experts UConsulting and Chartered Accountants Worldwide. Not only have the industry partners endorsed this work, but many refer to it as an example of an ‘impact that matters’. The students have also stated that it has improved their financial literacy skills and knowledge of the UN SDGs – knowledge and skills they can now bring to their families and local communities. This initiative serves as a practical example of how Chartered Accountants can create high-impact initiatives that empower women not just within our own community, but throughout the world.  Caroline McGroary ACA is a lecturer in accounting at Dublin City University.

Feb 28, 2020

Empowering women and girls to achieve through technology will secure women’s place in the worlds of finance and STEM in the future, writes Christine Barrett. The research is clear: a diverse workforce leads to increased creativity, innovation and, ultimately, business success. Businesses that ignore the talent of half of the population do so at their peril.  Yet today, over 100 years on from the first ever International Women’s Day, women remain under-represented in STEM and finance-based careers, making up just 30% of Europe’s information and communication technologies (ICT) workforce and only 16.4% of directors in Irish-listed companies are female. More work needs to be done. There are countless examples of plans to improve diversity and promote equal opportunities, but in order to make a real difference there needs to be commitment. To create a truly diversified workforce, we must collectively commit every day to empower women to achieve and in order to do that, it must be an integral part of our business strategy.  At Microsoft, we are committed to cultivating an inclusive environment and empowering all our employees to achieve through technology, no matter their title or position. Diversity is deeply embedded in our culture. We foster diverse teams that are representative of our world today as diversity is the cornerstone of success. Creating equality through technology We have been working at every level of our organisation to increase gender diversity and we understand that in order to improve it, we must increase the profile of women in STEM. That is why in 2019 we hosted the inaugural Hopper Local Dublin to showcase leading women in technology who are helping to create innovations that will frame our digital future. These inspiring women are shattering lingering perceptions that limit women from building meaningful careers in technology. The same can and should be done in finance. To ensure the next generation excels, it’s critical that we empower our future leaders – today’s students – to achieve more using technology and we are committed to expanding digital skills to women and girls all over Ireland. Unfortunately, our research has shown that although girls become interested in technology at around 11 years of age, they lose interest just four years later. This is limiting their future career and life choices as technology is becoming a critical part of every industry. Microsoft is committed to creating a truly inclusive environment and championing gender equality at all levels of the technology sector. We understand that an equal world is an enabled world and diversity and inclusion is core to our ambition to empower everyone to achieve more through technology. Christine Barrett is the Director of Digital Sales Germany in Microsoft.

Feb 27, 2020

BY KEVIN EMPEY “Every company is a software company. You have to start thinking and operating like a digital company.” Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft. Satya Nadella’s quote talks directly to how we see business change today. The opportunity The possibilities and potential being presented by technology are increasing at an exponential rate. It’s not just about what the internet or increased mobile connectivity can do to improve a business’s commercial relationship with its customers. It’s also about what multiple, converging technologies – from drones and 3D printing to robotics and blockchain – can do to change the future of the business itself, and the workplace. Whether your objective is revenue growth, cost reduction, worker efficiency or industry disruption, innovation and digital change are impacting on every sector. And Ireland is boxing above its weight. Take Ireland-based success stories such as Ryanair’s international leadership in online and ticketless travel in the 1990s and more recent examples such as Stripe and Cartrawler competing on the global stage. Or global technology companies choosing Ireland as a location due to the availability of talent and a supportive business environment. For our size, we have an impressive story to tell and a technology ecosystem that can help other Irish companies stay ahead into the future. The problem However, a challenge we often see in traditional organisations that are adapting to the digital world is one of mindset – and the knock-on, limiting consequences this can lead to. For those who have grown up in a managerial context where IT was seen as a separate service function to the ‘business’ and a necessary but inconvenient cost, this can result in some mental baggage being brought into the very different digital world we have today. Employees and executives often treated large IT projects as episodic or ‘one-off’ changes where they needed to install the new system, get trained up and then get on with their jobs. These traditional "analog" ways of thinking about technology-based change may be valid from time-to-time, but they are working against the more open digital approach and mindset needed if we are to avail of the opportunities (and deal with the risks) that a more technology-enabled world will inevitably provide. The solution The organisations we see winning with a digital mindset tend to have the following habits: IT/technology is a core and integral part of the business and not perceived as a separate entity or service partner – a model that reinforces traditional thinking, attitudes and decision-making around technology, financial decision-making and change. Does your technology function report directly into the CEO? Does IT influence business strategy? Collaborative experimentation and innovation are woven into the business and operating model (maybe utilising a separate budget and governance model to encourage product/customer innovation). Do your business teams work with IT to jointly deliver technical innovation? Do you have a product function to streamline this process? There is a clarity of purpose in the business mission, and technology is seen as a vital enabler of that mission. Are technology and digital innovation embedded in the business strategy? Technology is an investment for the future of the business and the workplace, not just a cost to be managed with water-tight business cases required for every spend. Some failures may lead to longer-term successes so long as lessons are learned, and skills increased. How much of your technology budget supports existing business as opposed to new, innovative ways of working? Employees and leaders are fully engaged and invested with the digital journey; they get involved in projects that affect their jobs and futures and embrace more adaptive, agile ways of working. Leaders don’t need to have all the answers, just an openness to allow others to find them. Does your culture encourage full engagement in the digital journey? These early adopters are finding that rather than obsessing about the technology itself, which will inevitably change regardless, developing a digital culture and mindset – as suggested by Satya Nadella – is ultimately the bigger prize in creating the future of business and work. Kevin Empey is Managing Director at WorkMatters Consulting.

Feb 19, 2020

BY SIOBHAN RYAN With robotic process automation (RPA) set to be nearly universal within the next five years, accountants – and the accountancy profession – must be prepared for a change that will revolutionise the sector. Firms often push more administration onto their staff to stay competitive. And this is where new technologies, such as RPA, can help: by automating repetitive and rules-based tasks, employees can spend more time on value-add activities that differentiate accountants from other roles and create a pipeline of much more dynamic business leaders. Accountants are natural leaders in finance functions and tend to migrate towards leadership positions. With the right automation tools, they will be placed higher in the value chain in terms of their skills mix and ability to bring insights back to the business. The ultimate cost of not automating the drudgery is often attrition. At a minimum, the staff covering the day-to-day operations will be unable to get their head above water to analyse the data and contribute to meaningful, insight-driven decisions. After all, accountants do a great deal of work that isn’t accountancy; it’s picking data from different sources, pasting it into spreadsheets, creating sets of tables and gathering data from other sources. There’s a big future for automation in accounting – enabling improved accuracy and customer experience, as well as creating more billable hours. The next generation of technologies is exciting, but it can be daunting – particularly for smaller companies – to consider embracing artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) or RPA. Companies need an outcome-focused solution; one that is compatible with existing IT infrastructure and can deliver immediate return on investment. In an accountancy context, RPA can improve productivity, drive down costs and streamline compliance, thus ensuring that Irish operations are lean and add value. 59% of accounting and finance leaders believe that RPA will make their business more competitive over the next two years, highlighting the scope of the technology in the accountancy profession. The need for automation will be particularly prevalent in the coming years given the widening sector skill gap, according to a recent survey of accounting and finance professionals. 62% of respondents report a ‘significant’ skills gap within the industry, up from 51% in 2016. While skills like accuracy remain important for accountants, technology like RPA will enable accountants to outsource accuracy and effectively create time to become more consultative and add value for clients. After all, accountants’ time and skill shouldn’t be tied up in cutting and pasting and pivoting data in a spreadsheet; it should be spent on meaningful analysis and making better decisions. In this way, RPA will help open up a field of accountancy that doesn’t exist now. Siobhan Ryan is Sales Director, Ireland at UiPath.

Feb 19, 2020
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