A Special Report is content that is edited and produced by the Special Reports unit within The Irish Times Content Studio. It is supported by advertisers who may contribute to the report, but who do not have editorial control.

Adapting and thriving in the new world of work

Coronavirus pandemic has led to the acceleration of a digital transformation of the workplace

Skillnet Ireland ceo Paul Healy says: “The digital agenda was already there but its adoption has been accelerated. Covid-19 is challenging sacred cows like why companies need trophy HQs or why we should all get into our cars at 8am to go to work.”

Skillnet Ireland ceo Paul Healy says: “The digital agenda was already there but its adoption has been accelerated. Covid-19 is challenging sacred cows like why companies need trophy HQs or why we should all get into our cars at 8am to go to work.”


The coronavirus pandemic has had a frightening impact on jobs across a range of sectors, but some sectors are still hiring and in others the very nature of the jobs is changing. For many individuals, this means upskilling and reskilling to prosper in the future world of work.

“The modern workplace is evolving faster than anyone imagined,” says Joanne Morrissey HR director with Microsoft Ireland.

“Recent restrictions have led to an acceleration of digital transformation, which has been amazing to witness. The magic ingredient to any organisation’s successful digital transformation is people. We’ve seen in recent weeks employees having to adapt at pace to the changing environment they found themselves operating in and the reality is that situation is here to stay.”

According to Morrissey, all businesses are becoming more digital and that will lead to changes in the jobs landscape.

“Even prior to the crisis we saw the skills gap widening across all industries – it’s inevitable therefore that recent events are likely to accelerate this further. Every person will need new skills to be successful tomorrow, one year from now, and one decade from now.”

Skillnet Ireland ceo Paul Healy agrees: “The digital agenda was already there but its adoption has been accelerated. Covid-19 is challenging sacred cows like why companies need trophy HQs or why we should all get into our cars at 8am to go to work.”

Healy believes the crisis will also lead to the creation of new job opportunities.

“You could go down the road of thinking that every sector is equally affected but that’s not the case,” he says. “We’re seeing opportunities as we approach the recovery phase, particularly in the area of technological investment and digitalisation. New jobs and skills will be required for new online processes in areas like customer service and e-commerce generally.”

Businesses are also questioning their business models, he adds.

“Skills in areas like Lean, Six Sigma, business design and so on will be in demand. Adapting to Covid-19 may be a challenge but it is giving rise to opportunities in areas like risk management, health and safety, compliance, and facilities management. It is generating opportunities to re-skill across a range of areas.”

Some organisations are intervening directly to provide those skills, according to Trayc Keevans, global FDI director with recruitment firm Morgan McKinley.

“Last year, Novartis started offering unlimited access to Coursera’s catalogue of 3,600 courses to its entire 180,000 strong workforce around the world,” she notes. “As part of its response to Covid-19, the company is also enabling each employee to extend free access to Coursera to two friends or family members.”

She describes the increased uptake of online learning as “Netflix and skills”. There is still room for traditional classroom-based learning though.

“On the flip side, universities are offering micro-credentials which can build up to a Masters degree over time,” says Keevans.

Higher education

“We went from full employment to high unemployment almost overnight and there will be increased demand for new skills,” says CPL client services director Siobhán O’Shea.

“Ireland is fortunate to have lots of options in that regard. There is the network of Regional Skills Forums which was created as part of the Government’s National Skills Strategy. They provide an opportunity for employers and the education and training system to work together to meet the emerging skills needs of their regions.”

She also points to the Springboard+ upskilling initiative in higher education which offers free courses at certificate, degree and masters level leading to qualifications in areas where there are employment opportunities in the economy. “The courses are free for people who are unemployed and are available to people in work at just 10 per cent of the normal cost,”she says.

“Almost 6,000 people participated in them last year and this will probably skyrocket now. The education and training boards offer guidance services to help people find the right courses. People should use assessment tools to find what skills and roles might suit their personality profile. There are lots of free tools available online.”

Employers need to play a role as well, according to Morrissey.

“My tip to employers right now is to focus on the team you have, invest in them and provide them with access to the training they need to compete in the roles they’re in right now and also the jobs of the future.”

Hiring and onboarding in the virtual world

Employers have had to adapt to entirely new ways of recruiting and inducting new staff. Face to face interviews are out of the question in the remote working world while on the job training becomes a challenge to say the least.

“We have pivoted 100 per cent to online recruitment,” says Declan Fitzgerald, EMEA recruitment director with Facebook.

“We hired a lot of people in the last few weeks and we surveyed the people involved in the recruitment process as well as the new employees and found that they are all happy with how it worked. It has practical advantages as well. You don’t need to book rooms to carry out interviews and you have a wider pool of people to conduct the interviews to choose from as they don’t have to be physically in the same place at the same time.”

The onboarding process has also moved online. Before the crisis, Facebook ran two-day onboarding courses every two weeks.

“We have changed that now to a virtual class supported by an online self-help learning portal. We also have an online buddy system for new employees, and we use our own tools to provide support. For example, new employees are encouraged to join a work group which is like a Facebook group where they can share experiences and thoughts.”

Microsoft has also made the shift to the virtual hiring world.

“Candidate location has never proven to be a barrier to Microsoft’s recruitment and onboarding process,” says Joanne Morrissey.

“Microsoft Teams has enabled us to host interviews and analyse how a candidate reacts and responds in a given situation while testing technical skill sets by using the white board function. This has accelerated in recent times as restrictions have been put in place globally. In March, our recruitment process transitioned completely to a virtual process.”

Onboarding has changed even more significantly.

“Successful candidates usually spend their first day at One Microsoft Place in Leopardstown experiencing a tour of the campus which showcases not only our facilities but also gives new recruits a sense of our culture,” Morrissey notes.

“This is all now being done in a virtual capacity. By moving to virtual recruitment and onboarding process, we’ve been able to avoid any delays to recruitment and ensure that we have the employees with the right skills when we need them.”

Interestingly, despite some of the clear advantages associated with online recruitment, companies may abandon it when allowed to.

“Time to hire is much quicker with online recruitment,” says Trayc Keevans. “But we held a roundtable with clients recently where 70 per cent of them said they believed the face to face interviews are more effective and will go back to them. We still think online interviewing will happen a bit more post-Covid though.”

According to Siobhán O’Shea employers need to pay careful attention to onboarding both on and offline.

“Organisations with structured onboarding processes experience an average 82 per cent improvement in candidate retention,” she points out.

“New employees working from home are feeling increasingly pressured and need a huge amount of empathy and understanding. They need to have the hardware to their jobs as well as easy access to the information they need. It needs to be 100 per cent perfect. Employers need to have a good onboarding kit and plan which includes regular team meetings and an online buddy system and strong learning and development supports to help people get through the first few weeks in the job.”