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News

In March, organisations had to act quickly to create a remote working culture in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Now, they need to consider what the next phase of work will look like, and how and where work will be done into the future. Kevin Empey explains. COVID-19 has prompted a lot of discussion about the next phase of work and working life. For many, the pandemic has provided an unwelcome but informative and possibly pivotal experiment in how and where we work. It has also accelerated trends and practices in world of work that were already happening, bringing them firmly into the mainstream. Most agree that we will not return to pre-COVID ways of working, nor will we see continue with this pandemic model of work we have experienced in recent months. The next phase of working life will be some form of a blended approach that historically carries a variety of labels such as remote working, flexible working and smart working. Whatever label we choose for it, employers (and employees) now have an opportunity to create a broader working culture – beyond the provision of ad-hoc flexible, technology-enabled, remote working practices which, on their own, may miss a much bigger message and opportunity. Levels of flexible working There is a clear spectrum of strategies or ‘levels’ that employers have taken in relation to flexible working. While health and well-being concerns are clearly dictating short-term return-to-work approaches, these different levels of flexible working are now informing more deliberate, ambitious and strategic workforce options that employers are considering for the longer-term. The choice of strategy comes down to whatever best suits the future business model, culture, and talent strategy for each organisation. The choice of approach should also complement other transformation objectives and not just be a stand-alone, isolated initiative.   Tactical levels – focused mainly on employees only Level 0 – Little or no flexible working offered or actively promoted. Level 1 – No formal guidelines but some ad-hoc, isolated and unstructured practices have evolved over time and are allowed. Mainly based on informal agreements and accommodating some work-life balance arrangements. Level 2 – Formal guidelines do exist but limited based on certain clear parameters e.g. Fridays optional for remote working or 80% expected in the office etc. Specific arrangements that are role specific and not universal across all job types. Strategic levels – focused jointly on the business and the employee Level 3 – Formal guidelines and principles exists as part of a wider workforce strategy. More freedom and discretion allowed at local business, team, and individual level. Parameters exist based on business and customer needs, but they are kept to a minimum. Remote working seen as part of a deliberate and wider agile working culture and integrated with other programmes and people priorities, e.g. diversity and inclusion, talent and skills strategy, recruitment etc.  Level 4 – Maximum level of freedom and choice provided. Clear business rationale (e.g. talent, efficiency, dispersed workforce, property benefits etc.) for optimal remote working offering and formally expressed as part of the organisation strategy.  Working remotely accepted as the normal practice with variances based on business need to be in the office for certain activities. These COVID times are presenting a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ‘reset’ a vision for how work will be designed in the future. This will help not only to increase organisational agility and future-fitness, but it will also distinguish employers in the battle for top talent who will be watching your next move with huge interest. Talent that will have higher expectations regarding how and where they work than they have ever had before. Kevin Empey is the Managing Director of WorkMatters Consulting.

Jul 17, 2020
News

Uptake in remote working brings about big cybersecurity issues. How can organisations keep themselves and their end-users safe? Ross Spelman outlines the best ways to mitigate the risks. It is nearly four months since most businesses in Ireland moved to remote working from home. It was evident early on in the crisis that most organisations coped well with the initial challenges, exceeding expectations in delivering remote working and collaboration capabilities at scale. The investment of time, money and effort in business continuity and crisis management planning paid off for many organisations and essential services providers. Many organisations across all sectors have executed their crisis management strategies with relative ease. Security, however, can often be sacrificed in times of rapid change – not just the direct implications of technology changes, but also indirectly through changes to behaviours and processes. More “mature” organisations (from a cyber perspective) were able to introduce essential technology solutions by making smart, quick risk-based tactical decisions, without sacrificing security or compliance. While security is often described as a “non-negotiable” by the C-Suite, it is not easy for the security function to push back on a wide-spread Zoom or Teams deployment due to security, configuration or privacy concerns. Addressing these concerns early on has been vital in the successful introduction of these solutions, as demonstrated in the media since April (and before). The risks in our new way of working The transition into the next phases of the crisis and beyond into the new ways of working will present several risks, including the potential for complacency. Organisations will need to remain vigilant and closely monitor the evolving threat landscape and their threat profile. They should continue to make users aware of their security obligations and provide guidance on specific risks. Broad phishing attacks, for example, have been reported globally since the outset of the pandemic, and now we are seeing an increase in targeted spear phishing attacks, particularly against the healthcare industry and pharmaceutical companies. Phishing attack simulation exercises should be considered to heighten awareness. Safe computing practices It is critical for organisations to provide continuous guidance to end-users on safe computing practices. End-users may begin to work from alternative locations including public places, such as local coffee shops, which may introduce risks. Even at home, guidance should be provided for remote workers on securing their environment, including the secure configuration of home wireless networks and the dangers of unauthorised software installation and shadow IT. These are potentially significant risks. Above all, multi-factor authentication should be in place for all users connecting to the corporate network remotely from anywhere, and organisations should review the appropriateness of their existing identity and access management solutions. Enhanced security monitoring Other considerations are to enhance security monitoring and testing processes. Reviewing and improving the scope and granularity of end-user systems and access monitoring will help to ensure that organisations have a comprehensive view of remote user activities with no gaps, particularly for remote users with privileged administrative access. Additionally, increasing the regularity and breadth of vulnerability assessments and penetration testing will provide added assurance. Critical resource planning Critical resource planning is another area which can often be overlooked during a crisis. Organisations should be looking at succession plans and already have a strategy in place to ensure that they have a level of resilience for critical cybersecurity roles. This can be achieved by documenting critical procedures and cross training across the wider team. Reviewing crisis and incident management practices for ease of execution by a remote workforce is important, and should include both incident response and data breach requirements. Trust but verify The old saying “trust but verify” is very apt when it comes to remote working. Organisations should review and enhance their monitoring capability to account for their ever-evolving threat profile. This should include additional security testing and reviews of the security controls for the remote workforce.  Planning for the worst is a proactive approach. Organisations should consider all facets of their third-party relationships, including security questionnaire responses, service level agreements and contractual obligations in supporting the organisation to continue to operate securely. A good understanding of cyber threats and existing vulnerabilities is fundamental for effective cyber risk management. With a surge in remote access, an organisation’s identity access management, VPN and security information and event management solutions will increase in priority as critical components in a defence-in-depth approach to security. Reviewing, testing and monitoring all aspects of these controls is critical. Additionally, encryption and data loss prevention solutions is crucial for protecting data on end-user systems and devices. Finally, by educating users on the cyber risks associated with the current crisis and secure remote computing practices, the likelihood of end-users being compromised will be reduced. Ross Spelman is Director of Cyber Risk Services at EY Consulting.

Jul 16, 2020
Careers

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
Management

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
Careers

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
News

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