Julia Rowan shares her six simple steps for a digital networking strategy that will help you connect with the right people, build your network, and raise your profile with minimum fuss. First of all, let’s consider why you might network: it’s because networks offer opportunities at every stage in your career. Early in your career, they help you stay abreast of professional developments, acquire clients, find help, and know what’s current. Networks can also help you find a job or move to another employer. (As an aside, estimates about the number of jobs that are never publicly advertised differ – but they are all much, much higher than you might expect. At a very conservative estimate, at least 50% of jobs are filled without their availability being publicly advertised. And how are these unadvertised jobs filled? Through networks, of course!) As your career develops, your network may be useful in helping you move to a new role, find clients (or, indeed, recruits for your team), and identify experts or consultants. Working as a coach, I constantly see the value that developing good relationships and networks can bring. Shatter the stereotype What’s your idea of a great networker? A shiny, smiley person working the room? A cheerful word for everyone and a handful of business cards – given and received? Finding precisely the right moment to land and engage – and then move on to the next group before they get stuck? Or is it a more thoughtful and generous person who sincerely engages with a small number of people; one who is interested in who they are, what they need, and how they can help? Whatever the stereotype says, they are much more likely to be in the second category because networking is a long-term, ‘fees up-front’ activity – credits first, then debits. And while the current pandemic prevents us from meeting in crowded rooms, social media is a great leveller. It favours younger people who tend to be more tech-savvy. Your simple strategy Your online presence tells a story about you, and your story must be coherent (or, even better, compelling). Like anything worth doing, having a strategy is essential – but don’t let the word put you off. ‘Strategy’ is just a fancy word for planning which, in turn, is a fancy word for thinking. Here are some pointers: The starting point is to work out what you want. It’s back to the useful, if clichéd, question: where do you want to be in three years? But it’s a cliché for a reason – because it’s a great question. Do you want to work in practice? In industry? In financial services? In tax? In M&A? In Ireland? And if so, where? Or abroad? Talking about goals can seem scary, but working out what you want (which can sometimes be done by working out what you don’t want) is a great way to focus your attention on what is important to you. You will probably be very clear about some of what you want, and there will also be little whispers that are worth listening to. Some people have been asked by their employer to build their network, so consider how to make that a win for all three sides – you, your employer, and your contacts. Next, reflect on what you can offer. What knowledge, skills, interests, and experiences do you bring to the table? It’s unlikely to be a significant amount of accountancy experience and contacts if you are in the early stages of your career. You will nevertheless have up-to-date accountancy skills, not to mention other skills picked up in part-time jobs. Know your strengths: perhaps you are flexible, a problem-solver, good at defusing tension, or are comfortable with ambiguity. Early career professionals are often full of energy, enthusiasm, curiosity, and new ways of looking at things. Be realistic and reasonable with yourself. A small network of the right people is much more valuable than 2,000 followers or connections. There is little harm in playing the numbers game, but not much benefit either. Get your head straight. Are you conscious of your internal story? We all have internal stories and we are often not even aware of them, but they drive the permission we give ourselves – to be active on social media, to apply for a job or a promotion, to take a risk. “I don’t have much to offer” and “I am the greatest” are not useful internal stories. A good internal story combines realism and optimism. Get active on LinkedIn. It’s an essential digital networking platform and the first stop for recruiters. Create a compelling profile with a good photo. When you invite people to connect, always write a personalised message. Be honest and explain why you would like to connect. For example, “I am interested in moving into financial services and would find it helpful to see what senior people in that sector are posting about” or “I saw your post about IFRS 17, which is an area I’m really interested in”. Update your profile regularly and post short, chunky takeaways from CPD events. Follow company pages, relevant groups, and hashtags. Consistency is critical; liking or commenting once or twice a day will give you far more reach than a weekly or monthly ‘blast’. (Lots of specialists post excellent information on YouTube and other platforms about how to work the algorithms and make the best use of such sites). After qualification, building your network is probably the most important thing you will do in developing your career. As your career evolves, so too should your network. Good networks take time and energy to create and sustain, but they repay the investment in spades. Julia Rowan is Founder of Performance Matters.

Jul 16, 2020

By Teresa Campbell The last few months have been a difficult time for employers and their teams. Many employers had to avail of government incentives as businesses were forced to deal with the lockdown brought about by COVID-19. Some employees working from home have struggled with feelings of isolation; others have experienced pressure due to crèches and schools being closed, and those caring for elderly or less able relatives have found that many of their usual supports were unavailable during the lockdown. Workplaces that remained open, or are now reopening as restrictions ease, have had to implement changes to keep staff, clients and other visitors as safe as possible as we learn to live with COVID-19. Concern about the impact of the pandemic, along with the emotional and economic pressures that many people are experiencing at present, makes it more important than ever for leaders to reassure, inspire and motivate their teams. The six Cs of confidence, clarity, communication, cooperation, community involvement and celebrating success all have a role to play in this regard.   Confidence: to successfully motivate your team, you must inspire confidence. With so much uncertainty and change at present, it is important to be flexible so that you can adapt quickly to overcome challenges and grasp opportunities. While you may have fears about the impact of the pandemic, it is vital to remain calm and show that you have a realistic plan to take your business forward. Prioritise wellbeing by implementing effective health and safety protocols, both in the workplace and for employees working from home. Clarity: set clear, short-term goals and empower your team to manage their own contributions. Recognise that people are working in a changed environment, and be open to allowing people to find new ways to solve problems. Monitor performance, and seek and give regular feedback to ensure everyone stays on track. Communication: clarity and consistency are essential when it comes to communication. This helps ensure that employees, clients and other stakeholders share the same understanding of how your business is responding to the changes ahead. Don’t over-rely on email. Face-to-face, voice and video communication channels should also be part of your communications mix. Cooperation: when we work together, everyone achieves more. Teamwork, collaboration and a shared sense of purpose are great motivators. Organising virtual coffee breaks for remote teams and encouraging individuals to share tips on how they motivate themselves is as relevant now as it was at the start of the pandemic. Community involvement: many leaders today want their businesses to be socially responsible. They recognise that encouraging teams to give something back to their community enhances motivation and helps strengthen employees’ pride in the organisation they work for. Celebrate success: recognise and reward successes – whether that’s achieving a goal, winning a new client, raising funds for charity, or individual achievements, such as passing an exam. People are at the heart of every business and leaders need to be supported by teams that are committed to their individual roles, focused on exceeding client expectations and capable of identifying future business opportunities. Now, more than ever, motivating your team is crucial as you adapt and drive your business forward. Teresa Campbell is a Director at PKF-FPM Accountants Ltd.

Jul 09, 2020

By Moira Dunne Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, many people are still working from home over the summer months. Staying focused can be difficult, as home working presents many distractions. In last month’s article, I gave some tips for managing distractions at home. The summer introduces a new set of distractions, however, such as good weather and school holidays. In this article, I will outline some strategies to help maintain motivation and productivity in the months ahead. The challenge is to stay focused so you can get your work done. There are two things you can do: manage yourself and manage others. Manage yourself Managing yourself means understanding what impacts on your productivity while placing a high value on your time. Think of your workday as a simple equation: you have X amount of work to do in Y amount of time. Be clear about the work you should prioritise each week and each day. Then, protect your time for those priorities by negotiating when asked to do additional pieces of work and saying no to non-essential activities. This can be hard to do, but it is essential to stay on track. If you find that summer weather affects your productivity, turn this distraction into a motivator. By setting a goal to finish on time, you will be more inclined to stay on track during the day. You will procrastinate less and not be as distracted by time-wasting activities. Instead, you will be focused on the prize of getting out into that good weather. Be strategic and adjust your plan if you know the forecast is good, for example, starting earlier than usual so you can get through all your work to finish early. Manage others Working at home while minding children is hard. Now that the school term is finished, your homework routine is probably gone. Is it time for a new plan? Involve your kids in coming up with ideas and create a summer routine together. Design the plan to incorporate your work hours. One approach is to work in time blocks to take advantage of the quiet times in your house. To optimise your productivity, plan to work on your priority tasks during these high-focus time blocks. Save your low-level, administrative tasks for periods when there will be more noise and distraction. Here is a sample schedule that may help you plan your alternative workday: 6am to 8am: high-focus work. 8am to 8:30am: breakfast with the kids. 8:30am to 10am: kids’ activities while you do low-focus tasks like email responses or attend an online meeting. 10am to 12pm: outdoor activity with the kids. 12 noon to 2pm: high-focus work while your kids have some downtime and a lunch picnic. 2pm to 3pm: time away from work for an activity with the kids. 3pm to 5pm: low-focus tasks like email responses or online meetings. If necessary, do a short time block later to complete some administrative tasks. Design a plan that suits your parenting and working responsibilities. Perhaps you can avail of a summer camp or childminding by a relative to increase your options and flexibility. Be productive To be productive, you must be pragmatic about your circumstances and do what you can to optimise your working time. By using a well-planned routine, you can give yourself a higher chance of managing your time and productivity. Have a great summer! Moira Dunne is a productivity consultant and Founder and Director at BeProductive.ie.

Jul 09, 2020

By Louise Molloy We are transitioning to the next phase of COVID-19 survival. We have proven that we can work from home, pivot, virtually engage and bounce back. In a crisis, we do what needs to be done. As we face into a ‘new normal’, economic uncertainty and a looming Brexit, our ability to choose our commitments and complete them has never been more challenged. I am increasingly having conversations on how to manage priorities, relationships and commitments. It occurred to me that we Northern Europeans squirm at the thought of saying no, having become addicted to the way the pleasure centres in our brains fire up when we are wanted and our talents are recognised. Now is the time to redefine caring, to redefine empathy and to deliver real, long-term support. We all accept that there are times when we have to say yes. However, there is no point in overcommitting to prop-up a broken system or inappropriate solution. I worked with a significantly challenged project manager who couldn’t say no. Once they reframed asks in the context of overall business deliverables, however, they found their voice and delivered better business outcomes. Saying no is about understanding (yourself, your situation and the asking party) and practice. Self What are my boundaries and values? What am I prepared, and able, to commit to while honouring my health and existing professional and personal commitments? How does the request affect my energy? To do a good job, it needs to inspire, not drain, my energy so that I can fully commit to it and persist when challenged. What decisions am I making when I say yes/no? If I am saying yes to avoid unpleasantness, what is the price? Human beings have finite energy and mental capacity, so investing in this request means taking from another or turning down something else in the future. Am I okay with that? Your situation Clarify the context: why is this ask being presented to you? Understand the ask; confirm the desired outcome and whether the question is the right one. For example, it is common to request more people on a project when, in fact, more ‘bodies’ isn’t the answer. More sponsorship for momentum may be more effective. What conditions are needed to make this a successful fit, and is there evidence that such conditions exist? Identify the reciprocity: put your project manager hat on and assess what you need to invest (time, effort, your advocacy) and what you will get out of it (money, promotion or, less obviously, new skills/networks/brand redefinition). We are often on the receiving end of requests, but there is always something to bargain for. Be clear on how an ask can work for you, and be confident about negotiating it. Others If you never say no, how can someone trust your yes? Be explicit about this, that it is your personal value to only say yes to things you can undoubtedly complete or achieve. You will gain respect and brand authenticity. Give this approach a go. You may find that no becomes redundant as the question becomes a different question, or you are happier to say yes. And if you do have to say no, be clear, direct and give a concise reason. This shows conviction, and that you have respectfully considered the ask. Less is more. Practice on small asks and watch the impact – you might find that the right no is far more supportive than the wrong yes! Louise Molloy is an executive coach, facilitator and independent director.

Jul 09, 2020

By Mark Kennedy As we begin to emerge from the COVID-19 restrictions, minds inevitably turn to restoring trading to a semblance of normality. Our trade with the UK will not, however, return to what we have long considered normal. We sell approximately €34 billion worth of goods and services to the UK annually and import approximately €30 billion in return. Today, it appears that the UK Government is determined to proceed with its planned separation from the EU at the end of this year, whether a deal is agreed with the EU or not. Time will tell if this serves the UK. It certainly seems short-sighted to abruptly discard very effective arrangements with its largest trading partner. It may, of course, simply be a negotiating stance – but one European leaders seem determined to dismiss. More than one European leader has made it clear that in their view, Britain would have to “live with” the consequences of Brexit, as Mrs Merkel rather pointedly put it. Meanwhile, back in the UK, things seem to be moving on. The general population seems, if one follows a recent survey by the Guardian newspaper, more inclined to seek an extension, allowing more time for a deal to be done. But that message hasn’t reached Government, where everyone seems to be hunting for the nearest and earliest possible exit. Notably, the opposition doesn’t seem too inclined to make any last-ditch attempt to change that view in any meaningful way. So, what does that mean for an Irish business? As regards Brexit, it looks like our fears of a very shaky series of trade arrangements with the UK may replace the current seamless relationship. Of course, politics will wend its windy way and that may change things, but it looks more likely than ever that not much will be agreed by Christmas. The impact of that will be felt sector by sector. As an example, 30 June 2020 was the planned date for the exchange of a full assessment of the financial services regulatory regimes in Europe and the UK. This date passed without the data requirements being met by the UK, which means that the continuation of existing cross-border arrangements with the City of London is less and less likely and will ultimately impact the broader sector. We will likely see the same uncertainty re-emerge in other sectors in the months ahead. And what of COVID-19? What consequences does that have for us as a (relatively) small, open economy? Two scenarios beckon. In the first, the UK, Ireland and the rest of the world – or at least the countries we trade energetically with – will enjoy a V-shaped recovery from the “Great Interruption”. The second is that we, the UK and many more will suffer from a resurgence of the virus – the so-called “second wave” of infections. This will be akin to a re-run of the 2009-10 recession, albeit with an entirely different cause and, potentially, consequences. In the former, Brexit is a headache and, for some businesses, a potentially devastating one. In the latter, we face a much more generalised slowdown. On top of that, as the emerging decisions on Ireland’s status as a travel ‘partner’ for European countries have shown, the rest of the EU will not necessarily and spontaneously act in a way that suits our strategy. The confluence of the pandemic, geography and economic recession may mean that we are about to enter the most challenging period, economically speaking, of our long process of disentangling from the UK. The answer? In both cases, and in the short-term: a robust stimulus package to encourage recovery. The Government should not delay in implementing as-large-as-possible a package of measures to support challenged business in dealing with both COVID-19 and Brexit. We should lean heavily on the EU in this regard – the departure of the UK is as significant an event for the EU as the reunification of Germany, and budget needs to be made available to manage the process. The EU needs to ensure that impacts are substantially absorbed as a collective exercise, but all of that is really about recovery. For Irish businesses, the first challenge is to survive both Brexit and COVID-19. The next is to take on something we should have done before now: to diversify our trading partnerships, both within and outside the EU, so we are no longer dependent on the UK for almost 20% of our trading activity. Mark Kennedy is Managing Partner at Mazars Ireland.

Jul 02, 2020

By Paul Rodgers and Simon MacAllister The Withdrawal Agreement of 17 October 2019 brought a wave of optimism after the tedious doom and gloom surrounding Brexit. It bought time and goodwill, as it seemed that the dreaded hard Brexit had been avoided. Fast-forward to today and time is running out, goodwill is in short supply, and a hard Brexit still looms on the horizon. So, what has been decided and what remains unclear as we approach 2021? Quick recap The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020. However, the transition period has meant a continuation of the status quo to allow time for the future relationship to be agreed. The UK Government has categorically stated that it will not seek an extension of the transition period, which means 1 January 2021 is a hard deadline. The goal of a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (FTA) by the end of the year looks as far away as ever, with both sides still disagreeing on several critical issues. If no FTA is agreed, the new relationship will be based on WTO rules – the dreaded “hard” Brexit. What is clear From 1 January 2021, there will be a customs border in effect between the UK and EU for the first time in over 25 years. Customs formalities (import/export declarations, presentation of documents, customs checks) will take place for movements between the UK and EU. Regardless of the outcome, trade compliance processes and procedures should be in place for 1 January 2021. What isn’t clear Hard Brexit or FTA?: In the case of a hard Brexit, WTO tariffs will apply to trade between the EU and UK. In some sectors, such as agri-food and apparel, high duty rates will have a material impact on landed costs. An FTA would mean that UK- and EU-originating goods could, subject to specific criteria, clear customs at a 0% duty rate. This would be a significant cost saving for traders in the high duty sectors mentioned above. However, there is a compliance burden and cost associated with FTA management. Customs easements: The UK has announced that it will ease the customs impact of Brexit for imports from the EU for the first six months of Brexit until 30 June 2021. Depending on the type of goods, there may be significant clearance simplifications and cash-flow benefits available to traders. The operational details are still being worked out. At the time of writing, Ireland has not yet confirmed any reciprocal arrangements. Northern Ireland: Despite the Northern Ireland Protocol, the customs and operational treatment of goods to/from Northern Ireland and Great Britain are still being worked out. Squaring the circle of Northern Ireland being part of the customs territory of the UK, while simultaneously being subject to EU customs and regulatory laws to keep it aligned with the EU customs union and single market, is proving as difficult as it sounds. However, one point is clear: there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland. Get ready There will be no more delays or extensions, and the transition period will end on 1 January 2021. Irish companies trading with the UK must put measures in place now to ensure that they are operationally ready to import/export and to prepare for the additional compliance costs, and potential additional duty costs, of a hard Brexit. Paul Rodgers is Global Trade Director at EY and Simon MacAllister is EY Brexit Lead - Island of Ireland.

Jul 02, 2020

By Carol Lynch As we know, the UK left the EU on 31 January 2020. While the UK is currently a non-EU country, the transition period means that importers and exporters have experienced no change in trade with the UK to date. Earlier this year, discussions started on a Free Trade Agreement, which is to be concluded between the parties before the end of the transition period (31 December 2020). The impact of COVID-19 severely hampered negotiations and as most people will be aware, these talks have not progressed particularly well with serious differences emerging over the ‘level playing field’ requirement of the EU, among other things. To add additional pressure, the UK decided not to request an extension to the transition period (the deadline for which was 30 June 2020) and a full economic Brexit will now come into effect on 1 January 2021. Negotiations are now back on, but the UK insists that they must be complete by the end of the summer. There is additional pressure in this regard as David Frost, the UK’s Brexit negotiator is due to move on from the Brexit talks to assume the position of Chief Security Advisor around September. So where does that leave us from a Customs perspective? There will be no frictionless trade from 1 January 2021. At that point, Customs formalities and procedures will come into effect. An open question, however, is whether a Free Trade Agreement will be concluded in time. This would mean, for the most part, no customs duties between the UK and Ireland, but additional documentary requirements for importers in terms of proving and verifying the origin of their goods. These two aspects, along with an update on Northern Ireland, are summarised below. Customs compliance Customs declarations will be required on export from Ireland and import into Ireland. This will involve companies lodging their declarations directly with the Customs authorities or engaging a customs clearance agent to lodge these declarations on their behalf. A simplification on the lodging of customs declarations on import into the UK was introduced to allow particular importers to defer the lodging of a declaration until July 2021. The full import details must nevertheless be provided. Export declarations will also need to be lodged. It is important to be aware of the information to be supplied to the revenue authorities in both jurisdictions, as the importer/exporter of record is liable for the quality and accuracy of the information provided. Customs duty rates If a Free Trade Agreement is not reached, customs duties will apply on imports into Ireland and on imports into the UK. For the UK, this payment may be deferred until July for specific importers but will be payable at that point. Importantly, the new UK tariff was published in May. While last year’s proposed tariff introduced mostly 0% import rates across the board, this has now been scrapped with positive duty rates applied to most products. If there is a Free Trade Agreement, importers must be able to comply with the rules of origin in the agreement and register with Revenue to issue a confirmation of the origin status of the goods. Northern Ireland The Northern Ireland Protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement provides for no customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. If you buy goods from Northern Ireland or sell goods into Northern Ireland under this agreement, there will be no customs formalities. However, there are several complexities in the agreement which are currently being discussed by the Joint Committee, particularly concerning imports to Northern Ireland from Great Britain, transit through the Republic of Ireland to Great Britain, and access to EU/UK Free Trade Agreements. What should importers and exporters do? I recommend that businesses continue to take all steps to:   Ensure that they have the procedures in place to import and export goods post-Brexit. Have all necessary documents and authorisations in place. Decide on how to clear goods, either in-house or through a third-party. Become familiar with the free trade rules. Become familiar with the talks regarding Northern Ireland, where relevant. Carol Lynch is Partner, Customs and Trade, at BDO.

Jul 01, 2020

How can we support the LGBTQ+ community in the workplace? Alexandra Kane details what it means to be an ally and how it can make a huge difference. “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken” – Oscar Wilde The quote above sits among the desks on the fourth floor of the Grant Thornton Dublin building. It’s a poignant reminder and struck me a little differently reflecting on this year’s Pride month. What would it feel like if I couldn’t be myself in the office, that I had to hide a part of my life from my colleagues? What if I were afraid that a part of my life would create a backlash, negative reaction or possible career repercussion? The place we spend most of our time, albeit virtually and on video calls in the current climate, should be one of welcoming and support. To me, as a LGBTQ+ ally, there is not a single reason that anyone should feel that they can’t be who they want to be, who they identify as, and not face any adversity in doing so. In my organisation, there is a huge drive to stand as an ally with our friends and colleagues through our Ally Programme and Embrace initiative. We have marched in the Dublin Pride Parade for the last four years and, took part in BelongTo's ‘Come In’ campaign last year. This initiative flipped ‘coming out’ on its head by promoting the positive message that everyone should be able to come in and feel welcome as they are, rather than having to ‘come out’ as anyone other than themselves. To be an ally An ally can come in many forms, but should always come from a place of support, openness, kindness and ready to do the work. From recent global events in the Black Lives Matter movement, I have learned that it is safe to speak out and say that I didn’t know how to support or say the right things – and that is accepted when it is accompanied by a willingness and promise to learn, educate and support. It’s never too late to educate yourself, even if you have to start at the beginning. Learning about the Stonewall Riots, listening to the experiences of LGBTQ+ people of colour, and asking how you can support others is an important step to allyship. We can never under estimate the power of support in any form that it comes in, be it going for a coffee to listen to someone’s concerns, wearing rainbow colours in solidarity, attending the Pride Parade, and actively showing support to colleagues and friends in the workplace. Some recommended viewing for allies: Disclosure, found on Netflix. I recently attended a webinar ‘The L to A LGBTIQCAPGNGFNBA’ which explored the ‘lesser known’ letters of the LGBTQ+ community. It discussed why gender identity and sexuality are intrinsically linked. The key take away I received from the webinar is that language is ever changing and our identity is a personal preference. The pronouns or letters we choose is exactly that: our choice. If being an ally makes one person feel more comfortable, supported and accepted as their true selves, I couldn’t encourage being an active ally more. Alexandra Kane ACA is a Manager in Financial Services Advisory at Grant Thornton, a Grant Thornton Ally and member of the Grant Thornton Ally Programme.

Jun 25, 2020

With no party or march this year, how are businesses showing meaningful support for the Pride movement? John McNamara tell us how can we adapt to actively support the LGBTQ+ community in a virtual space.  So how did you celebrate Pride this year? Yes, we are approaching the end of June, the month where people from all demographics, race, religion and, of course, sexual orientation take to the streets to come together and celebrate acceptance, and agitate for the rights still being fought for. (Unless you live in one of the 73 countries where that is still illegal.) Except, of course, we didn’t march this year thanks to the non-discriminatory nature and reach of COVID-19. Most businesses quickly scrambled to develop virtual programmes to keep staff awareness and engagement alive. Another Zoom call, another webinar, why not? But there are lessons still to be learned that are applicable across the full inclusion agenda, many of which will have the potential for positive enduring business impact. Year-round support Every year there is heated debate on the ‘corporatisation’ of what is, essentially, a protest movement. It will now be very clear which businesses do little else in this space except throw money at Pride parade participation. Now is the time for employees to call out this performative participation in the movement and encourage their organisations to refocus budgets on both active staff collaboration and engagement and support of community organisations throughout the year. LGBTQ+ young people are four times more likely to experience anxiety and depression, three times more likely to experience suicidal ideation and that happens in December as well as June. Creating long-term change If there is no party this year, there is the opportunity to develop meaningful digital messaging, to focus more on staff connection and conversations and to place a stronger focus on advocacy. We have shown more curiosity, shared more of our own lives, and our understanding about our colleagues’ personal circumstances is much deeper than when we sat in the office together. I have heard more conversations on mental health recently than at any time I can think of. The pace of change in many of these issues has historically been too slow. In recent months, however, we have shown our ability to quickly build new business models and our flexibility in remote working. How can we sustain these new ways of working that can, for example, access more women working from home rather than leaving the workforce or accept that highly talented people with neurodiversity need not be present in an office environment to shine in their roles? Intersectionality This year also brings greater awareness of intersectionality which, simply put, means we are complex beings that cannot be defined by one characteristic alone and, depending on the hand you have been dealt, can be disadvantaged by multiple forms of oppression, isolation or exclusion or, conversely, benefit from white privilege. Black Lives Matter is here to stay. The LGBTQ+ community is acutely able to recognise inequality of treatment, that sense of not belonging, and our allyship is evident through activism, protest and sharing the platforms we have through the month and beyond. Do better Most of us do not wish to emerge from this crisis without changing something for the better. We have perfected banana bread, know too much about Joe Wicks and got as far as we could on Duolingo. How about we become proactive in making a personal commitment to ourselves to do more? Become a volunteer, train as a mental health ambassador, develop charity trustee or board experience or become a visible LGBTQ+ ally at work. Do it and you won’t look back. Now that would be something worth celebrating. John McNamara FCA is Managing Director of Canada Life International and a member of the Chartered Accountants Diversity and Inclusion Committee. He is chairperson of the NGO behind SpunOut.ie and 50808.ie, the newly launched free crisis text messaging service funded by the HSE. He a member of the fundraising committee of BelongTo, which supports young LGBTQ+ people.

Jun 25, 2020

To truly embrace diversity, businesses must view inclusion through an intersectional lens. Deborah Somorin explains why this is so important, both personally and professionally. Intersectionality was first coined by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw back in 1989, and has gained common usage since. According to Womankind Worldwide, a global women’s rights organisation, intersectionality is “the concept that all oppression is linked… Intersectionality is the acknowledgement that everyone has their own unique experiences of discrimination and oppression and we must consider everything and anything that can marginalise people – gender, race, class, sexual orientation, physical ability, etc..”. In 2015, ‘intersectionality’ was added to the Oxford Dictionary as “the interconnected nature of social categorisations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage”. What does that mean? While Pride is a celebration of the LGBTQ+ community, it is also a protest, and intersectional Pride continues the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, as well as the rights of all marginalised communities in Ireland and around the world. Intersectional Pride Flag You’ll notice the Pride flag on the street and in some corporate Pride logos, such as LinkedIn and Chartered Accountants Ireland, look a little different this year. In 2018, designer Daniel Quasar started a movement to reboot the pride flag to make it more inclusive and representative of the LGBTQ+ rights we are still fighting for. According to Dezeen magazine, “Graphic designer Daniel Quasar has added a five-coloured chevron to the LGBT Rainbow Flag to place a greater emphasis on ‘inclusion and progression’. The flag includes black and brown stripes to represent marginalised LGBT communities of colour, along with the colours pink, light blue and white, which are used on the Transgender Pride Flag. Quasar’s design builds on a design adopted by the city of Philadelphia in June 2017.” Intersectional allyship To quote a recent GLAAD (formerly the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) statement: “There can be no Pride if it is not intersectional”. If we want to celebrate Pride in our profession in an inclusive way, we must make an intentional effort to celebrate intersectional Pride. If Pride doesn’t include the acknowledgement of other marginalised other communities, it is performative. The LGBTQ+ movement doesn’t need performative allies – it needs authentic allies who care about making the communities we work and live in more inclusive of all races, genders, class, physical advantage and sexual orientations. I’m a gay, black woman who happens to be a Chartered Accountant. If your organisation or community is choosing not to view inclusion through an intersectional lens, you are unintentionally choosing not to include people like me. Deborah Somorin ACA is a Management Consultant at PwC, a member of the Chartered Accountants Ireland Diversity and Inclusion Committee and founder of Empower the Family.

Jun 25, 2020

Allies play a crucial role in the careers of LGBTQ+ people. Daniel Turley explains the difference they can make to an LGBTQ+ individual’s working environment. “I moved to Dublin with my girlfriend.” I had just started a job in a Big Four accounting firm, and that was my answer to intrigued colleagues that wanted to learn a bit more about the new guy at work. To anyone that knew me outside of work, this was very clearly not true. For one, I didn’t have a girlfriend; two, I am a gay man. However, when faced with a meeting room of partners, managers, and rugby lads, I choked – I didn’t want to give so much away about myself so soon. Saying “my boyfriend” seemed too controversial and “partner” would be a dead giveaway. My experience is not that uncommon – a Vodafone survey conducted by Out Now noted that 78% of LGBTQ+ individuals had hidden their sexual orientation or gender identity at least once in their life. This was mine. A second coming out Over the coming months, I slowly started to set the record (un)straight. To say that I received a positive reaction is an understatement. The responses were a mix of delight, compassion, and outright confusion – primarily as to why I felt the need to lie in the first place. I wondered that myself. What was clear for me, though, was how lucky I felt. Lucky that I had such a warm reception to my news, and lucky that I worked in a firm that was so supportive of its LGBTQ+ individuals. Management had always made it clear that discrimination would not be tolerated in the firm; however, it was the actions I saw beyond the non-discriminatory practices. I was amazed by the additional support that was on offer – a non-LGBTQ+ partner made efforts to introduce me to other LGBTQ+ leaders in the firm, and significant efforts were made to support LGBTQ+ Pride Month every year. With my firm, I got to walk the Dublin Pride parade, and I did it with a partner in the firm and her kids. Allies When I first joined the firm, the term ‘ally’ was a relatively new concept to me. I hadn’t thought of non-LGBTQ+ individuals in this way until then, but the firm had a network available to LGBTQ+ employees and allies. My experience with the network showed me how much of a difference good allies can make to an LGBTQ+ individual’s working environment. There is no one way for someone to be an LGBTQ+ ally. Allies, like gender, can fall on a spectrum, and all types of ally-ship can be equally valid when coming from the right place. This may take the form of marching in Pride parades, actively identifying and removing discriminatory practices from office culture or wearing rainbow colours. However, I also see significance in quieter forms of ally-ship. Some of the most poignant experiences I have had in the workplace have come from conversations with colleagues who aren’t necessarily familiar with the concept of what it meant for me to be gay. Allies have been there to share their experiences, speak of their LGBTQ+ family members and provide understanding. They have also been there to course correct conversations when necessary. These conversations have proven to be insightful, thoughtful and – most importantly – respectful. (They have also proven to be low-key hilarious. One fella still can’t believe that I am not physically attracted to Kelly Brook, but he’s getting there.) I’ve since moved to a different organisation. This time around, I was gay from the first moment it was relevant to the conversation. My confidence going into a new working environment as myself this time and not as a straight man comes from the inclusivity at my first firm in Dublin and the allies I found within it. Daniel Turley is a Financial Accountant in BioMarin and on the Chartered Accountants Ireland Young Professionals committee.

Jun 23, 2020

Differences divide us, and that’s why we need to find the values that unite us, writes Sinead Donovan. It strikes me that, in today’s world, we are constantly putting labels on things or people. We are either male/female, Gen Z/Gen Y, baby boomers, LGBT+/straight. We have the labels of our culture or our creed, and while I am so in favour of diversity, and have pushed the diversity and inclusion concept incredibly hard within my firm and throughout the work I have done in Chartered Accountants Ireland, I sometimes wonder – have we made too many labels? Are we defining ourselves by labels rather than looking for the commonality and the thread that keeps us all together?   It’s not a new concept but, as perhaps I progress in my career and through management, I sometimes think it’s better to look for what binds us together than at what differentiates us. Maybe by finding those common threads it will enable us to be a more holistic family together, despite our gender, culture, religion, or sexual orientation.  So, I suppose the big question is: are there common threads and, if so, what are they? To me, it comes down to people’s beliefs. Fundamentally, underpinning us all, as it does in our professional careers, are the value sets that define us. For us, in our business unit in Grant Thornton, we have identified those values as: Adaptable; Innovative; Passion for what we do; Collaborative; Going the extra mile; Ethical and professional; and Technically knowledgeable. People may have different values they use to identify themselves, but whatever it is, there should be that common link in us all. With Chartered Accountants, it has to be the value set of ethics. These underpin our profession, despite how wide it has become or the labels we have put on each other as accountants: are we forensic accountants, cybersecurity accountants, auditors, tax advisors? Whatever you are, the one item that underpins us all is our code of ethics.  Ethics is taught in the early days of a student’s profession, sits beside us as a professional, and maybe gets looked at once or twice in our career. However, I would urge that the concept of ethics is used more widely to link us together as one family of accountants – be that Chartered Accountants Ireland, ATI, or membership to any other accountancy body. We have a responsibility to our stakeholders, the people we report to, the people who use our knowledge, and the daily work that must be done in an ethical manner.  As a member of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee in Chartered Accountants Ireland, I am not saying any of the above to absolve ourselves of the need to identify the differences we all face in life. But what I am saying is, maybe sometimes, let’s just celebrate our similarities and, with that, see ourselves as a family of accountants in the first instance and then ensure any differences that we may have are 100% noted, understood, managed and included because, just as in any family, there are different characters, beliefs, and personalities. And, while there are going to be difficulties, there has to be that underlining acceptance of who we are and what we are. To me, it starts on the journey as a student and, I think, that our profession is more open than it may have been when I started. However, I do know that from our work in CA Support, difficulties, prejudice, and unbelievable stress which may not be acknowledged or identified, remain. So, look out for your student members, your newly qualified members, and even look out for the more experienced members who may be going through difficulties in their professional or personal lives. If I can leave you with one thought, let it be this: let us identify the differences, ensure those differences are respected and brought together in one bucket of inclusion. Importantly, we need to unite in our underlining similarities that we have as Chartered Accountants and use that as a thread to tie us together.   Sinead Donovan FCA is a Partner in Financial Accounting and Advisory Services at Grant Thornton.

Jun 23, 2020

For most, figuring out parenting and your career is difficult. It can be even more so if you are an LGBT parent. Peter Keenan-Gavaghan explains how the support from his organisation enabled him and his husband to make the leap into parenthood while growing his career. Balancing a career and a family is always a juggling act. However, when your family does not fit the traditional model, it can also prove to be a minefield for all concerned, especially at work. Societal expectations of parental roles, parental names and second glances are only a few of the factors that need to be thought about before LGBT people become parents. Despite having made the decision to have children early in our relationship, it took my husband and I eight years before our son arrived into the world. With both of us being working professionals, the process of family planning started in the traditional way: how do we balance parenthood, careers and our relationship? We quickly realised that we also needed to consider society. In the end, some of it came down to practicalities, and some came down to our own values, preferences and external supports.  Parental leave One area we had to consider was managing early childcare. My firm gives enhanced paid parental leave regardless of gender and this played a big part in our decision that I would be the stay at home dad for the first seven months of our son's life, with my husband returning to work on a reduced work week. Without the seven-month paid parental leave from my firm, our family would be much different position starting out – and certainly disadvantaged compared to mums going on leave. It’s important that not only the people in an organisation are supportive to LGBT families, but that the support is reflected in the HR policies and procedures. Creating a network We always knew we would need to navigate the potential assumptions from colleagues and clients that there is a ‘mum’ at home. We quickly realised that if social assumptions were to change, we needed to be proud of our family, and not place each other back in the closet. Having same-sex parents is nothing new in Barclays. Indeed, when we were investigating how we would become parents, one of the first ports of call was Barclays LGBT network, Spectrum. There we got a greater understanding of fostering, adoption and surrogacy. The network also holds regular talks on ‘non-traditional' parenting to educate colleagues on how they can become parents and continue to build their career. While nothing would have stopped my husband and me from having our son, the information and support gained from the LGBT network in my organisation eased the process for us (as much as to-be parents can be eased when planning for their first) and normalises families like ours to colleagues and clients. Before going on paternity leave, my team did the traditional baby gift presentation and I was invited to expectant parents’ events. This not only showed support but also demonstrated inclusivity. Talent retention What I have found since going back to work is that I have become more focused and flexible. Because Barclays gave me the information on parental leave, the precious first months with my son, and the flexibility to alter my working hours to the typical parent’s life without judgements or assumptions, they have retained a committed employee and have helped create a happy family. Peter Keenan-Gavaghan is Vice President of Barclays Internal Audit – RFT & Functions Technology.

Jun 22, 2020

Before COVID-19, sustainability policies were nice-to-have. Now, Johnny Meehan argues, they are essential to rebooting Ireland’s economy. Last year, Ireland declared climate and biodiversity emergencies in response to an urgent crisis. Before COVID-19, the way we worked and lived was unsustainable. The old normal was an economy where GDP went up but so did carbon emissions, social inequality, the destruction of nature, plastic pollution, food waste, time wasted in the daily commute and stress from quality of life issues. This crisis is an acid-test of preparedness for how we handle large systemic challenges. Some individuals and businesses have excelled in protecting their employees, customers, and communities. They are continuing to deliver their products and services, altering their supply chains, and going beyond what is expected for good social outcomes. At both an individual and organisational level, the following questions came into sharper focus: What is my purpose? Why does this business exist? How can my work make the world a better place? We must take this unique opportunity to reinvent what we do and how we do it. What do you stand for? This realignment process starts by establishing what you stand for, the purpose of your organisation, and who you serve. A dialogue with stakeholders will help you to define your purpose statement, which should be about more than earning profits and delighting customers. Keep it real, and make it connect with a social and environmental cause. Make it meaningful Next, write more detailed policies for sustainable business. Be ambitious, set meaningful goals with principles and ethical guidelines for how you do business. This is part of good governance. In times of crisis, what structures will improve decision-making next time round? (e.g. more diverse board, more inclusive stakeholder process, etc).   Connect finance and sustainability A plethora of finance-related developments are challenging companies to make clearer connections between financial performance and sustainable outcomes. For example, the EU classification system for sustainable activities (the EU taxonomy) encourages a step towards facilitating sustainable investment. Be a sustainability practitioner Sustainability is not a standalone area or policy; it should be synonymous with everything the business does. Sustainability is about taking action and implementing policies through a range of sustainable business practices across all organisational functions and measuring performance using new indicators of success. Everybody is a sustainability practitioner, especially accountants who have the right skills to measure impacts and disclose results. Change your assumptions about risk and the future. We responded to COVID-19 as a true emergency, as if our houses were on fire. The climate and biodiversity emergencies and problems in society demand a sustained call to action. We must reboot the economy but in a fair, inclusive and low-carbon way. Johnny Meehan is an Advisor at Business in the Community Ireland.

Jun 19, 2020

The Irish economy has taken a blow because of the pandemic. How can we go about restoring it? Foreign Direct Investment is an important key to recovery, argues Thomas Sheerin. COVID-19 has had a severe impact on the Irish economy. Activity and employment have dropped sharply and this is expected to continue for some time. As Ireland begins its recovery, the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) sector will play a significant role from an employment, activity and financial contribution perspective. Continued and sustained investment in multiple sectors such as technology, pharma, medical devices and financial services will greatly assist the rebuilding of our economy. FDI’s contribution to the Irish economy has been significant, with over 1,200 overseas companies directly employing over 200,000 people. In addition, FDI contributes significant tax revenue and generates commercial activity across the wider economy. FDI drives investment in research and innovation, with strong linkages to Irish third-level education institutions. During the pandemic, many FDI companies engaged in the production of hand sanitizers, ventilators and vaccine research. These positive contributions will prove more valuable than ever as Ireland emerges from a substantial economic downturn. In particular, the local impact of FDI and its links to domestic businesses will assist recovery across the country. The key attributes that have assisted Ireland’s success in attracting and retaining FDI remain very strong. These include a skilled workforce, a competitive business environment, a strategic location, EU membership and a competitive stable tax regime. Notwithstanding the current challenging economic climate, continued success in the FDI space is reflected in recent job and investment announcements from Bearing Point//Beyond and Udemy. Overcoming the challenges As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, businesses are feeling the human, social and economic implications. Businesses must continue to manage and mitigate the disruption that COVID-19 brings to every aspect of their operations. From working with our clients, it’s clear that key challenges arise in the areas of supply chain, travel, workforce and tax, trade and regulation. The effects of COVID-19 are particularly felt by organisations dependent on supply chains for products and materials. Businesses have been forced to act quickly to map their entire supply chains. This provides the visibility and information needed to make critical decisions in real-time and to identify alternative supply chain strategies. From a workforce perspective, new employee welfare and engagement challenges have emerged. Technology needs to be adopted quickly to ensure that teams can work remotely while staying connected and productive. Returning to the workplace needs to be managed effectively with clear processes in place – early engagement, clear communication and provision of alternative working arrangements are key. As a small, open economy, travel plays a fundamental role in how FDI investment is secured, sustained and developed. COVID-19 restrictions have brought international travel to a standstill, presenting a significant challenge for FDI. However, proactive adoption of technology and utilisation of video and web conferencing technologies has enabled the necessary connections to continue to take place during the pandemic. COVID-19 has brought additional complexity and risk from a tax and regulatory perspective. This requires FDI businesses to consider the broader economic, political and societal context in which they operate to ensure informed, tax compliant decisions are made which drive the business forward. While the economic outlook for Ireland has changed dramatically in recent months, the road to recovery is underway. Similar to our emergence from the 2008 financial crisis, FDI should  prove to be a key feature in that recovery. Thomas Sheerin is a Tax Director in PwC.

Jun 18, 2020

How can we safeguard our economic future through digital opportunities? By investing now, we can create a better Ireland going forward, says Erik O’Donovan. Digital tools are essential services to our economy and society. They have enabled us to connect, work, study, shop, and access public services in these challenging times. Digital tools and data are even assisting and enhancing healthcare provision during this public health emergency. Ireland had made progress in its digital development going into the COVID-19 crisis. However, some gaps remain in our relative readiness to access and adopt existing and emerging digital opportunities for future growth and well-being. Accessing these digital opportunities has been a challenge for some, while the attainment of digital skills and bridging regional digital divides have grown in importance. The ambition of the National Broadband Plan and opportunities presented by 5G technology must be realised. Criminal elements have also sought to exploit the crisis using digital tools, underlying the need to preserve trust and protect our essential services, businesses, and people online. Finally, this emergency has shown the value of government, agencies, businesses and citizens working together, both at home and internationally, to drive positive change in difficult times. A digital recovery plan Our economic future is intrinsically linked to the ability of our health and wider governance systems to confidently model and plan for the phased re-opening of the country. Furthermore, our economic future must be robust enough for the potential re-emergence of such emergencies in the future. Trustworthy digital tools and data, used in conjunction with a suite of health measures, offer the opportunity to assist Ireland and Europe in transitioning from this emergency to providing better public services, economic growth, quality jobs and enhancing well-being. The European Commission’s COVID-19 recovery plan for the EU is based on a more digitalised Single Market and green growth. It has been estimated that, under certain conditions, a more digitalised Single Market could provide annual gains of up to €178 billion to the EU economy until 2030. Ibec research indicates there has been a business move towards more online sales (31%), coupled with greater use of remote working (73%) and increased investment in technology (42%), pointing to a more digitalised way of conducting business in the future. So, how should Ireland ensure it is at the forefront of this digital future? Given the scope of the challenge, the government should appoint a Minister dedicated to digital affairs to work with national and EU stakeholders and drive a coordinated approach to our further digital transformation. Protect services, business, and citizens, and preserve trust online. Ensure national cybersecurity and data protection capabilities are adequately resourced. Signal and enable further digital opportunity across our economy. Deliver new roadmaps on digital and artificial intelligence. Finally, invest in supports, research, infrastructure, and skills necessary to help government, public services, businesses, educators, and individuals to lock-in positive digital developments, as well as access and adopt further digital opportunities. As James Joyce noted, “I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today.” It is time to reimagine tomorrow. Read about Ibec’s Reboot and Reimagine campaign at www.ibec.ie. Erik O’Donovan is the Head of Digital Economic Policy at Ibec.

Jun 18, 2020

Do soft skills matter during this uncertain time? Sinead Smith tells us that productivity, prioritisation and people skills are key when it comes to an efficient transition back to the workplace. The spread of COVID-19 has dictated that we adapt almost every element of our lives. For many, the most drastic change has been in learning how to work remotely. Gone is the structure of an office, the presence of a team and the productivity pathways that we’ve so carefully laid. Instead, we are working in isolation, at makeshift desks, trying to find the same ability to focus and achieve. While it has been tough, there have been opportunities for growth through autonomous decision-making, developing relationships and dictating your own course. However, it has possibly also thrown some areas for improvement into stark clarity, with productivity, prioritisation and people skills being cited by one Big 4 firm as common struggles for employees. Productivity and prioritisation Improving productivity should be considered a lifelong process. As the demands of work and life change, so too should your productivity levels. Learning how to evolve your productivity and prioritise during challenging times is a skill worth honing and one you can draw on later to demonstrate your work style. "How do I decide what is important when everything is important?” I’ll bet this sounds familiar to you. Poor prioritisation is the single biggest threat to productivity but, once you understand how to improve on it, you will find that your stress decreases and your output increases. There are many time-management courses available, but one of the most accessible tools is the Eisenhower Matrix. Developed by 34th US President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, a man considered to be one of the most productive presidents of all time, the Eisenhower Matrix is a simple box system designed to separate tasks. Tasks are sorted into four categories: urgent and important (do immediately), important not urgent (schedule), urgent not important (delegate or postpone), neither urgent not important (wasted time – move on). Dividing the workday into these four categories provides a visual representation of where to start and where to finish. It alleviates the pressure of deadlines and enables us to give concrete timeframes for deliverables. People skills It is likely that you have already seen the importance of good communication over the last 12 weeks and it would be wise to continue to work on this. Whether managing a team, brainstorming with colleagues or liaising with clients, if you can learn to communicate effectively through the distanced nature of video calls, it can only have a positive impact on your in-person communications going forward. Consider the questions you are asking: Are they purposeful? Will they net the information you require? Listen more intently and work on your listening responses to show that you are engaged, interested and present. Make room for empathy and understanding in your conversations. When well-honed, these skills will buttress every facet of a finance career. Taking the time now to upskill in key areas like these will not only support a more efficient transition back to the workplace, but will also benefit longer term career progression. Sinead Smith is the Director for Newly Qualified Accountants at ACCPRO.

Jun 10, 2020

How can you best prepare for a phased return to work? Anne Phillipson outlines the five stages businesses need to take to ensure the safety of their employees and clients. The past 100-days have been unlike anything most of us have experienced in our working lives. Thankfully, we are beginning to see light at the end of this tunnel and, although the virus is still with us, it seems the efforts of the public have kept it under control. This is good news for the economy, as many businesses begin to prepare for the return to work, and aim to make up for lost productivity. However, as most business leaders have already realised, it is much easier to shut an office down than to reopen it under these conditions. The key for a successful return to work is through careful planning, clear communication, and staff training. Five stages to return to work All businesses must be able to implement measures that minimise the risk to their staff and customers, and put safety at the top of the agenda. People will be apprehensive as they emerge from lockdown, and will want to know that they can return to work safely. It is the employers’ job to not only care for their employee’s physical safely, but also create psychological safety by reassuring and informing staff that precautions are in place with their well-being in mind, and that new standards and procedures are being implemented and followed. It is important that business leaders don’t simply focus on the next few weeks – we are going to have to live with this virus for some time, and strategies that go beyond the immediate return-to-work and look to long-term change will allow businesses to realise the opportunity to build back better. The process should happen in five stages: Anticipation – the planning begins Honeymoon – people are excited to return to some sense of normality Integration – the new practices are tested and begin to embed Performance – focus is back on the business and distractions are minimised Growth – opportunity to realise the benefits of new ways of working Anticipation Right now, we are in the anticipation stage. Within this stage, there are three critical steps: Preparation: plan for reopening and specific requirements for each location. An employee survey will provide useful insights into how your employees travel to work, the distance of their commute, health issues of the employee or anyone in their household, social distancing planning of workspaces, which functions can remain remote, etc. Execution: ensure that employees and customers understand and comply with new practices. Steps here include a COVID-19 health questionnaire, return to work online training to educate employees on what to expect on their return, identify and train ‘social distancing marshals’ for each location, etc. Reopening: continuously review and improve processes during the phased return to the office. Employee/client access by location, ensuring adherence to guidelines, and ongoing communication and engagement of staff will be important in this step. Putting yourself in your employees’ shoes – understanding how they’re feeling, the messages and training they need at each stage – will go a long way to ensure your return to work strategy decreases your employees concerns while increasing your productivity and potential. Anne Phillipson is a Director of People and Change Consulting in Grant Thornton.

Jun 10, 2020

Your employees are your most valuable asset; neglecting them will be detrimental to your business. Dearbhla Gallagher outlines how to invest in training and development during these difficult times. As businesses face the economic effects of COVID-19, many are implementing cash management and cost-saving measures. In these conditions, the temptation may be for businesses, particularly small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to reduce or eliminate training and development expenditure. There is certainly a need to manage cash and spend carefully at this time, but extreme caution should be applied when considering cuts to training and development programmes. While there may be a short-term benefit for a business in taking such a step, the longer-term consequences may be to the detriment of the business. It is widely accepted that investing in training leads to more highly skilled employees, increased motivation, and more engaged and stronger performers. It is also important to consider the effect on employees of curtailing these programmes, right at the very time that many may be feeling somewhat vulnerable due to the current COVID-19 world. Employees are the most valuable asset that a business has; in a difficult economic environment, the flexibility, creativity and skills that employees bring can greatly assist a business in working through challenges. The longer-term benefits for a business investing in its employees are also obvious: valuing and investing in the workforce generally leads to higher retention of staff. Prepare now for tomorrow  So, how can organisations manage training and development requirements in these difficult times? Now is the time to re-assess your training methods and the delivery approach. Make greater use of your in-house experts for learning and development purposes to deliver practical and relevant content. Technology is essential in helping us stay connected. Online communication tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams are an excellent way of delivering learning and development initiatives to remote working staff. With many employees either working from home or laid-off part time, this might be an opportunity to use the available time to focus on training and development. Use it wisely! It is also the time to consider external online offerings. Trade bodies, professional services bodies, accounting institutes and many other organisations offer a considerable range of online courses that make learning and training accessible and flexible. Some of these courses are also free. Evaluation is key Take the time to evaluate training courses and training and development needs. Consider how best to spend limited resources in the current environment. Evaluating training courses that have already been provided is also vital as this enables a business to check that staff are being equipped with the right skills and development, and that the training is value for money and aligned with the business’ strategy and goals. Stay safe while training! Dearbhla Gallagher is the Learning & Development Manager at Baker Tilly.

Jun 10, 2020

As public health restrictions begin to ease, how can organisations make their workplace safe for employees? Sonya Boyce outlines the key priorities that organisations must consider before staff return. Ireland has now entered the next phase of lifting the public health restrictions that were put in place to protect our nation’s health. As many employers begin to make strides towards returning to the workplace, there are a significant number of factors to consider. Update internal policies The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) and Health Services Executive (HSE) published a Return to Work Safely Protocol (protocol) as the set of guidelines and measures for organisations to follow. Compliance with the protocol is mandatory and it will be enforced by the HSA under existing legislation. All organisations must update their policies to reflect the changes required for containing and restricting the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. It is important to circulate the updated policies to staff in advance of returning to the workplace to ensure that all employees are familiar with their obligations and the measures put in place to protect them. Having clear, up-to-date policies ensures that there is no ambiguity in your approach to dealing with COVID-19. Updates should be made to policies around holidays, sick leave, absenteeism management, people with caring responsibilities and remote working, amongst others. The protocol requires employees to fill in a Return to Work form declaring they have not been in contact with anyone affected by the virus. This form should also contain details regarding the purpose of a contact tracing log which the employer is required to put in place. Another aspect to be considered is the management of external stakeholders and customers who are on the premises, the procedure to be followed during internal and external meetings within the workplace, and the conduct in communal areas such as kitchens, canteens and tea stations. Employing a COVID-19 Compliance Officer to ensure that policy and procedure is adhered to is also an option. Maintain workplace hygiene Organisations should prioritise regular cleaning of the workplace. Ensure contact/touch surfaces such as tabletops, work equipment, door handles, and handrails are always visibly clean, and are cleaned at least twice daily along with the washroom facilities and communal spaces. It is the employer’s responsibility to supply employees with essential cleaning materials such as wipes/disinfection products, paper towels and waste bins/bags to keep their workspaces clean. If employees are required to use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), then they must be trained in the proper use, cleaning, storing and disposal of PPE. Employers are required to ensure employees use the PPE provided. Provide pre-return training It is the employer’s responsibility to provide training to employees prior to re-entering the organisation. COVID-19 training must be conducted for all workers to ensure they are aware of: their obligations; the organisation’s updated policies; the way the workspace has been re-organised; working practices and guidance on public health; what to do if they develop COVID-19 symptoms; and points of contact and escalation within the organisation. It is important to tailor training to your organisation’s specific needs and avoid using generic COVID-19 training. Implement infrastructure changes  Since the government guidelines for physical distancing of two metres remains in place, office spaces will need to be re-configured to adhere to this. The concept of staggering employees’ return to the office, whereby half of employees attend the workplace for two or three days per week, or on a week in/week out basis, while others continue to work remotely before rotating for the remainder of the week, may be beneficial to your organisation. This system allows all employees to attend the workplace while ensuring that safe physical distancing (e.g. having every second seat free) can be facilitated. The pandemic has impacted severely on every part of our society and our economy. We are now entering a new phase and the return to the workplace must be carefully considered. Sonya Boyce is the Director of HR Consulting at Mazars.

Jun 05, 2020

With the current disruption to business processes, how can you manage risk and prevent cybercrime? Will O’Brien gives four key steps needed to protect your business from fraud. With COVID-19 disrupting business as usual, fraud attempts are being made on existing processes that may not be functioning as designed due to remote working, employer distraction and operational or workforce disruption. These fraud patterns are continuing to evolve and need your ongoing attention. Businesses should be asking: Are these threats being sufficiently assessed, or are there gaps that leave the business exposed? Has there been a re-evaluation of the new fraud risks due to new working arrangements? Are current policies effective if/while the workforce is operating from remote locations? Are the right actions being taken when an incident occurs? When economic survival is threatened, the line separating acceptable and unacceptable behaviour can become blurred for some. Experience from previous recessions shows that criminal organisations and individuals will view the current environment as an opportunity to be taken advantage of. COVID-19 has also introduced challenges which heighten the risk of fraud. Businesses should be taking practical anti-fraud measures, along with reviewing or establishing an anti-fraud programme. Remote working arrangements are weakening the oversight provided by the three lines of defence that ensures the effective management of risk. This can impact internal controls in areas such as payroll, receivables and payables. Cyber-risks are also heightened with IT changes being rapidly deployed and network access being requested from multiple locations. Opportunistic threats are increasing as criminal organisations seek to exploit the changing environment. Businesses must remain alert and respond appropriately. A big part of this will involve providing employees with specific guidance on how to spot suspicious activity. What four key actions should businesses take now? Unprecedented times like this call for innovative solutions to identify and tackle the increase in fraud. Businesses must ensure that their COVID-19 fraud management program minimises risk across all its operations. It is important to have the flexibility to adapt to changes and uncertainty. 1. Update your existing fraud risk assessment During challenging times, fraud risk assessment involves a significant commitment by management and staff. It should be directed or managed by personnel with fraud risk expertise. The key steps include: Establishing the context; Identifying the new risks; Analysing the risks; Evaluating the risks; and Treating those unacceptable risks. Risk identification should not be confined to only financial risks. Some fraud, such as cybercrime and information theft, damage reputation as well as the bottom line. 2. Consider the impact of reducing headcount and cost-cutting measures When businesses downsize, the remaining staff take on additional responsibilities outside of their scope and expertise due to work being realigned. This can result in weaknesses in the internal control structure such as: Lack of segregation of duties; Lack of the correct skill sets; Staff are overworked and under-resourced; Documentation of controls impacted; Increase in fraud; and, Increased pressure on governance structures. Consider whether all updated processes and procedures are understood, including revised roles and responsibilities. 3. Consider risks attached to fast-tracking new suppliers and other business partners Commercial pressure may arise to quickly deliver products or services to market. Existing suppliers and third parties who are fully vetted may not be able to meet this demand or are facing their own COVID-19-related challenges. While it may be desirable to "fast track" new suppliers or third parties, appropriate measures should be implemented to mitigate the risk of engaging unsuitable third parties. Have sufficient steps been undertaken to independently verify new and existing suppliers and business partners? 4. Internal audit considerations During times of heightened fraud risk, internal audit should review management’s commitment to internal controls and report on any suspicions or allegations of fraud. COVID-19 has had implications on financial reporting. Companies and auditors need to work together to ensure quality is not compromised even in challenging circumstances.  Internal audit should ensure that they: review and expand or redirect internal audit coverage; prioritise fraud risk in the internal audit plan; assess the adequacy of the control environment with appropriate planning and management oversight; assess adequacy of company’s whistle-blowing procedures; increase in data monitoring and analysis; and conduct, where appropriate, surprise audits. Having a robust fraud management program and a culture where the tone at the top promotes integrity and holds employees accountable will go a long way to protecting critical assets and weathering times of uncertainty. Will O'Brien is the Director of PwC’s Cyber Practice.

Jun 05, 2020
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