On Wednesday 22nd April, IIBN ran its third virtual event featuring Caroline Mc Enery, HR Suite and Elma O’Reilly, Parallel London focusing on one aspect of business that is the most critical of all, namely people. The panel was moderated by Brendan Morahan, Director of Invennt.
I have known Caroline for years and believe that she is the best in the business right across the island of Ireland. I have so often quoted her book “The Art of Asking the Right Questions” and interviewed her about it on our Savvy Women Online podcast. Savvy Women Online Podcast

I saw Elma O’Reilly deliver a three-minute pitch during last year’s IIBN conference in London and her enthusiasm for her subject made her instantly memorable!

Here were my 12 takeaways from the event:


  1. Caroline noted that one of the key things that has stuck with her since she started in her career is that human resources is a function to support the business strategy. Therefore, it’s important to “get into the helicopter and look at your business strategy for the next 3, 6 and 12 months”. Align your strategy accordingly. Look at how your business has changed, stayed the same or needs to be changed. Figure out who you need and the skillsets you will require to support that.


  1. Elma pointed out that communication is critical. Have your daily check-ins with people. Have your normal one-to-one interactions with your staff. She particularly cautioned to watch out in case the quieter people are slipping away. Caroline shared that when the HR Suite run employee surveys, one of the top three pieces of feedback they get at any time is that staff want more communication. Now, more than ever, this is so important. Don’t assume people know what you’re thinking.

Government supports

  1. It was insightful to listen to Caroline and Elma compare the Wage Subsidy Scheme in Ireland. In short, Caroline pointed out that employers can apply for 70% of a staff member’s wage up to certain limits assuming they have had a 25% drop in turnover. These staff can be still working in the business and she recommends assigning them social media, research or Standard Operating Procedures projects if there is a decline in operational tasks.
    Wage Subsidy SchemeElma then spoke about the furlough scheme in the UK whereby firms are able to claim for government cash to pay 80% of each employee’s wages up to £2,500 if you can’t maintain your current workforce because your operations have been severely affected by coronavirus. The government has stated that the furlough scheme “was an alternative to redundancy, lay-off or unemployment” and thus, the people in question can’t be working at the same time as in receipt of the payment. That’s a very big difference.

Job Retention Scheme

Both Caroline and Elma pointed out that the information is changing often and it’s important to communicate to your staff that you’re keeping up to date, that the information shared on one day may not be the same as another and that the reason there are frequent updates is because the government bodies are taking realtime feedback into consideration. Both elaborated on the detail of the scheme and were open to taking individual questions from those with queries.

Brand Promise

  1. Elma pointed out that this is a time when your brand values truly have an opportunity to shine or else it will be clear that you don’t mean what you say. She gave the example of if you say that you have a flexible working policy, but everybody needs to be at their desk for 9.30 a.m. for example, that is a disconnect. She was effusive to say that lots of smaller companies are being very innovative, considerate, and proactive regarding their staff during this time and will come out of this very well.

HR Policy

  1. Caroline recommended putting a Covid 19 policy in place pulling in a variety of elements in your normal handbook. It’s very important that people know where they stand and the expectations of the business when it comes to absence, illness etc. I’ve been on the HR Site’s mailing list for several years and often get updates on exceptional events (e.g. Storm Ophelia), so it’s worth signing up for that as the company generally is ahead of these issues.

New Normal

  1. Both Elma and Caroline peppered the conversation with the huge change that everybody has faced during this period. Rather than just think about the “old normal” and “new normal” and it is the way it is, it’s a good time to check in with staff and see how they’ve adjusted to this new way of working. In many ways, they’ve been parachuted into this. Have some dedicated time to talk about how they have found the past month, if they’re looking for additional support and what the business might need of them in the coming months.


  1. The more visual the communication the better! Caroline said that rather than a call, it’s better to have a video call. That could be on Zoom, Teams, WhatsApp, Skype, GoToWebinar and several other platforms. Elma further emphasises that you can pick up a lot from body language over a video call rather than a phone call.


  1. Keep an accountable schedule. It is important for people to have a routine and Elma acknowledged how difficult it can be with all sorts of distractions around you. However, a structure focused on goals is key and you need to hold yourself accountable to it for your productivity but also to realise achievement.


  1. If you’re considering a restructuring, then you will need to tread carefully with the legislation advises Caroline. From putting people into different roles, making people redundant or other changes, it’s vital that you do so in line with the law.

Emotional intelligence

  1. Elma highlighted the importance of emotional intelligence at a senior leadership level. This is a time of rapid, unexpected change on so many levels. If you get this right, this can be a time for you to really stand up and stand out.

Loyal Retention

  1. Elma emphasised that the better you’re handling the situation at the moment from a staffing point of view, the more likely you are to cement your team’s loyalty which will pay dividends for your retention in the months and years ahead.


  1. Caroline wrapped up the session by asking employers to take care of themselves too. She warmly advised of giving attention to your mental health, taking breaks, enjoying mindful walks, seeing the positives within the situation where you can, acknowledging those who are being good to you and simply deserving it.

Check out all upcoming IIBN virtual event on the website IIBN Events



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