We must lock in the lessons of lockdown and lift our heads to look to the future | Deloitte UK has been saved
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We must lock in the lessons of lockdown and lift our heads to look to the future
In March 2020, the world as we knew it shifted and our plans and our normal ways of working changed overnight.
For Deloitte, the onset of COVID-19 and our adherence to the government guidance meant successfully transitioning thousands of our people to remote working in a matter of days, including our almost 1,000 colleagues in Belfast.
The change meant adopting new ways of working and new technologies, supporting our people as they adjusted to the complexities of working arrangements that sometimes had to fit around family and caring responsibilities, while also putting an increased focus on the mental health issues these new circumstances created.
Like every other business out there, we had no playbook to help us chart our way through the pandemic or guide our decision-making. Our immediate focus was ensuring the health and safety of our people, working with clients and suppliers to minimise disruption and supporting our communities to address the challenges they faced.
I’m proud of what we have achieved and in the way client relationships have deepened. Working remotely, Deloitte staff in Belfast continue to play a key role supporting clients in the private, public and third sectors in their response to COVID-19. We ensured our society partners – including NOW Group and the Simon Community – were equipped to pivot their business models to help those most in need, while also protecting jobs and our own long-term resilience.
While those early weeks and months were difficult, it’s now clear they were just the beginning of what will be a longer road back to recovery.
Businesses often refer to agile change as fixing the airplane while it flies but in the last few months all of us in business, in communities, and in our own families have not just been fixing the plane in mid-air, we’re working out how to rebuild it.
For leaders in all parts of society, we’re now at a point where it’s essential that we continue to manage the pandemic but at the same time build for the future.
Deloitte’s Annual Report, provides an opportunity for us to take stock of how we’ve responded and what more we can be doing to help. Its key themes were Trust, Resilience and Transformation – all very relevant for us here in Belfast.
COVID-19 has placed a greater focus on what being a responsible business means. Across the firm we are helping clients consider their impact on a range of areas, including climate change, ethical supply chains, the safe storage of data, and responsible investment and lending strategies. We want them to emerge stronger from the pandemic while recognising the fundamental changes in the economy and how businesses must operate.
The pandemic has also shone a spotlight on organisational weaknesses and challenges. Around the UK, including here in Northern Ireland, Deloitte has supported clients to embed financial, operational and reputational resilience into areas such as the supply chain, workforce, digital and cyber security. There has been high demand to access insight and support on the implications of the unfolding situation, with Deloitte’s COVID-19 weekly webinar attracting more than 30,000 attendees since it started.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated change, provoking us and our clients to think about the business we want to be and what needs to change in order to thrive.
Deloitte has long been a big advocate of Belfast’s potential and that hasn’t changed with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. We know the biggest commitment we can make to recovery is investment in people, and in particular the next generation.
In Northern Ireland in the year to end of May, we recruited 74 BrightStarts, 33 graduates, 18 placement students and brought 45 people into our business through Academies. There is no question this brings new ideas and fresh perspectives to our business and for our clients.
Our belief in the talent and ability that exists here has been reflected in the investment we’ve made in growing our workforce, but also the partnerships we’ve formed and the city-wide initiatives we’ve supported. Belfast is a city where local and global businesses already want to invest and our operation remains on course to be Deloitte’s largest UK office outside of London by next year.
But we have to acknowledge that there is a new and urgent need for all of us who believe in the city to work together to make sure the momentum that’s been building for the past decade isn’t lost.
As we look at what the years ahead might hold, new ideas are going to be needed to help the economy grow.
So while we should absolutely lock in the best of lockdown – the support for our people, the great collaboration with clients, the reduced environmental impact – the question is, how do we accelerate some of the game changing ideas we’ve been talking about for some time?
A green city, a digitally-connected city, a vibrant city with world class infrastructure, from extensive cycle networks to a modernised sewerage system that will enable the development of Belfast to continue.
We have the qualities we need to build for the future and we have resilience in spades, but we now need to raise our heads and work together. The future isn’t pre-ordained but we need to go on the offensive and define what we want it to be.
Jackie Henry MBE is managing partner for people and purpose at Deloitte. Since stepping into her new role in May 2021, Jackie has been providing strong leadership of Deloitte’s UK people strategy and purpose agenda, including a focus on inclusion and wellbeing. She has spent her career with Deloitte and started out in the Belfast office, her hometown, 32 years ago. For the past eight years she has been lead partner for the Northern Ireland practice, and remains so today. She has also served as people and purpose lead for Deloitte’s UK consulting business for the last three years. Jackie has been a passionate advocate of diversity, inclusion and social mobility throughout her career, and in 2019 she ranked in the ‘OUTstanding 50 Ally Executives List’ which highlighted non-LGBT+ executives who are outspoken in developing and supporting their diverse workforces. Jackie is also focused on building skills and providing access to education for people across Northern Ireland, and had the honour of receiving an MBE for services to the economy in 2017. This included setting up the Belfast Delivery Centre and the creation of Deloitte’s BrightStart Degree and Graduate academy programmes. Jackie is inspired daily by her family, her husband and three children, and she credits her late-father for teaching her about business with his corner shop in Belfast.