COVID-19 has been unsettling for us all from both a professional and personal point of view. Our Senior Director of Talent, Cathy Donnelly, tells us why it’s never been more important to put people and their families first – We do have quite a story to tell about life at Liberty IT over the past couple of months.

Cathy was interviewed by Belfast Live back in January – when, of course, we had no idea of what was coming our way in just a few weeks! She explained that what makes Liberty IT stand out is our people and our work environment – ‘One of the main things is the relationship between the organisation and the people who work here, and how they feel about being part of it all’.

Cathy also said, ‘Liberty IT is focused on creating a great place to work by making our teams feel trusted and empowered in their jobs. We want everyone to have flexibility and a work life balance. It’s not about the hours people sit at their desks – it’s about outcomes.’

Given what has changed since the start of the year, we spoke to Cathy about the current situation and what we are learning from it.

How was COVID-19 responded to by a large organisation like Liberty IT?

Our parent company Liberty Mutual operates in 18 countries around the world and as such, COVID-19 was on our radar for several months before it escalated in the UK and Ireland. We’ve an established Crisis Management and Business Continuity Team within Liberty IT, therefore planning was crucial to ensure our employees remained safe. Our teams worked tirelessly to ensure the technical infrastructure could sustain the entire organisation working from home and we tested this several times before implementing mandatory working from home from early March.

Several weeks in (May 2020), how is the organisation adapting to working from home?

We are all working really hard to keep in touch and connected with each other in the virtual space – which can be challenging, but we are getting there!  We’ve tried to be as flexible as possible for any of our team members whatever their situation. It could be that they have caring responsibilities, whether that’s for children, teenagers or parents so we certainly aren’t watching what hours people are working. Many of our employee households have their daily commitment to Joe Wicks at 9.00am and we encourage them to not miss it. As a mum to teenage twins, I’m lucky they don’t need too much supervision (except to remind them to eat something healthy or take a break from their screens!), but I also know that balancing work and family life can change from hour to hour, never mind day to day. With a significant number of employees living alone, we also understand this brings natural emotions of isolation, and we remain extremely mindful of this with many of our teams bringing fun and entertainment to each other’s lives as well as work discussions. As an organisation, we have also recognised the emotional impact this is having on us all so we have a range of support in place from our Employee Assistant Programme through well-being webinars and online pilates classes.

What have you been doing to keep connected with your teams during mandatory work from home?

One of the first things our Managing Director, William Hamilton said to our teams was “Family first, work second”, and that remains our mantra. As a technology organisation ware able to meet our business needs working remotely and we keep in touch as an organisation on fortnightly ‘All Hands’ Teams calls which give employees the opportunity to ask questions and submit ideas to our senior leaders.

We run and take part in a lot of events, so had to rethink how this might look. Now we are holding virtual Tech Talks and we have members of our teams attending and speaking at virtual conferences. We continue to engage and work with senior tech and business leaders across Liberty Mutual - delivering workshops remotely and using technology as the driver to run everything effectively from large planning events to employee training virtually.

Is it all work, or how are you keeping up team spirit?

No, its definitely not all work! LIT is a very social place and we are all missing our monthly social events. We’ve had some great examples (check out our Twitter channel) of people going above and beyond to make things better for their teams and colleagues – from company quizzes and puzzles to themed team huddles – and we have enjoyed our Great Place to Work UK success virtually, encouraging everyone to send in photos of them celebrating at home.

My own team has been making the most of the social time with themed parties on a Friday afternoon so we get to kick off the weekend together.

Our weekly Make Yourself at Home internal blog curates ideas from employees so we can all access useful learning and culture resources. The resources are wide and varied from things to do with the kids, healthy recipes, things to do in the garden, interesting virtual tours online and of course, suggestions for personal and professional development.

We’ve seen a lot of tech organisations giving back during this time, what is Liberty IT involved in?

Community or Corporate Responsibility has been a firm pillar in our organisation since we were established over 20 years ago. During COVID-19 our community committees are keeping busy! – our ‘Balance’ committee is promoting wellbeing challenges and initiatives like steps challenges and virtual pilates and our ‘Giving’ committee continues to fundraise for our partner charities, the Welcome Organisation and Pieta House. Our teams are amazing they have raised over £9000 and over €3000 since 1 January– and as a company we are also donating money we would usually have spent on social events and celebrations to our charity partners as they need our support more than ever. In support of STEM, we have just supported some of our employees to make the 028 Educate education resources freely available for students and teachers of Technology.

What’s next?

We continue to recruit and interview for new roles and have onboarded a number of new employees remotely since we left the office buildings – we’ve had to change some of our processes but are making sure our new team members get the best possible experience.

We are fully operational working from home, so it’s business as usual for now and we are in no rush back to the office. We will only return when we are confident it is safe to do so. When the time comes we will transition through a phased, planned and voluntary approach so all employees are comfortable. I know people will think differently about working from home in the future, depending on how they have experienced this current period. I know I’m looking forward to seeing faces that aren’t on a screen! I have also become very comfortable with a number of new technologies myself such as MS Teams and Zoom that will make working with our global teams much easier moving forward. We have definitely learned a lot from this time and I believe it’s bringing us closer as an organisation. I have never been prouder of our teams – they continue to inspire me every day. They are a great bunch, what can I say?!

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