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Careers

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
News

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
Management

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
Business Law

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
News

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
News

How can you increase your bottom line during the challenging times we are currently operating in? Ciara McMullin outlines where VAT law can help businesses to gain short-term cash flow improvements. It is a truth universally acknowledged that cash is the lifeblood of business. Given the challenging times we are currently operating in, many companies are looking for innovative ways to increase their bottom line while improving their management of day-to-day operational costs. While maintaining cash flow is always vital to the success of any business, it is even more relevant during periods of unprecedented uncertainty. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Irish Revenue have introduced certain limited VAT measures targeted at small and medium enterprises (SMEs). There are, however, several mechanisms already provided for in VAT law, and generally accepted indirect tax practice, which can be used by any business (once relevant) to gain short-term cash flow improvements. If these simple strategies are appropriately implemented, the impact on cash flow could offer a significant boost to businesses during these times of need. VAT Cost Reduction Input VAT recovery methodology Ultimately, all businesses with restricted input VAT recovery need to ensure that the method in place for recovering VAT on dual-use inputs, being the percentage of VAT deductible on costs used both for VATable and non-deductible activities, correctly reflects the use to which the underlying costs are put. As a result of such a review, additional costs may be identified as being attributable to VATable supplies which, coupled with an overall change in the basis for calculating the input VAT blockage, could lead to significant improvements. Accounts payable review A review of accounts payable to consider if all input VAT incurred has been recovered, where permitted, can prove fruitful. In our experience, many businesses under-recover VAT either on categories of expenses, through mis-postings or failure to identify foreign VAT eligible for recovery. Not only can this lead to future cost reductions, but there may also be the opportunity to submit historic reclaims to tax authorities for any identified under-claimed VAT on such costs. Overseas input tax recovery Foreign VAT often remains unclaimed even though there are now efficient procedures in place to reclaim non-Irish VAT incurred. A refund of foreign VAT incurred by Irish and EU traders can be made through the Electronic VAT Refund (EVR) procedure, by submitting a claim via Revenue Online Services (ROS) (or the businesses relevant Tax Authority portal) within the relevant time limits. A reclaim for input VAT recovery on costs incurred in other EU Member States in 2019 must be submitted by an Irish trader to Revenue via ROS by 30 September 2020. The claim being made is still, however, subject to the VAT deductibility rules in the jurisdiction in which the VAT was incurred.  Bad debt relief (BDR) If a debt has been written off as an irrecoverable debt, the business should be able to obtain relief for all or part of the VAT paid on the original supply to the customer in default. Where large debts are written off, significant savings can be made.  VAT Cashflow Input tax accrual Operating an input tax accrual with a view to recovering VAT on invoices received but unposted to the accounting records in the earliest possible VAT return is another cash flow optimisation strategy worth considering at this time. If implemented correctly, substantial cash flow benefits can arise. VAT grouping Where there are considerable VATable costs between related entities, the cash flow benefits of forming a VAT group are also worth bearing in mind. Once VAT grouped, the VAT group remitter files a single VAT return per period for the entire group and accounts for any VAT due to Revenue. VAT does not need to be charged nor VAT invoices raised on supplies between VAT grouped entities, with the exception of property transactions. Accordingly, a significant positive cash flow impact can be availed of by forming a VAT group. VAT56B authorisation A qualifying business that holds a valid Section 56 authorisation is entitled to receive certain goods and services from Irish suppliers with a zero-rate of VAT applying as well as importing goods free from VAT. Eligibility to participate in this scheme can be a significant cash-flow benefit as it removes the requirement for suppliers to charge VAT on qualifying supplies in the first instance, and eliminates the necessity for a subsequent reclaim of this VAT on the business’s periodic VAT return. A business may avail of this relief if 75% of total annual turnover is derived from supplying goods to other EU countries (intra-community supplies), exporting goods to countries outside the EU or making supplies of certain contract work. Consider tax point of invoices Businesses could also consider the VAT tax points of their supplies and explore the timing of when VAT is due for payment. Consideration should also be given to when reverse charge obligations are triggered from supplies bought in from overseas. Other opportunities worth considering at this time are the offsetting of tax liabilities, e.g. using a VAT repayment to fund Employment Taxes or Corporation Tax or (re)negotiating customer and supplier payment terms (accounts payable seek longer payment terms; accounts receivable seek shorter payment terms). Ciara McMullin is an Indirect Tax Senior Manager with Deloitte.

Jun 05, 2020