ReturnWorkplace 1

Covid-19: Returning to the workplace safely

In four short months, the world of work has changed dramatically thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of us experienced remote working, changed working conditions, altered hours or even layoffs. But now, as the economy slowly reopens according to the Government’s phased roadmap, employers and employees are slowly returning to the workplace, albeit a very “new normal” type of workplace.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted on companies in many different ways,” says Karen Hernandez, Senior Executive, People & Management, at Enterprise Ireland. “As a result, the challenges that companies are facing as employees return to the workplace tend to be different, but in general, there are a number of key considerations that companies will need to address to ensure a safe return to work.”

To help companies navigate their way through these considerations, Enterprise Ireland has produced Covid-19: Return to the Workplace Guide, which can be downloaded on the website. This is a practical guide that takes employers through four key areas: the health, safety and wellbeing of employees; employee communication and engagement; resource planning; and data privacy and GDPR. The guide also includes some templates that employers can use within their own business, such as a Pre-Return to Work form.

“The first consideration that employers need to address is the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees,” explains Karen. “The Health & Safety Authority (HSA) has issued the Return to Work Safely Protocol, which supports companies put measures in place that will protect the health and wellbeing of their employees as the economy begins to open up. Measures include completing a Risk Assessment, completing or updating your business’s Covid-19 Response Plan, and asking your employees to fill out a Covid-19 Pre-Return to Work Form.”

The HSA Protocol can look daunting at first, but Joyce Rigby Jones, Joint Managing Director at HR consultancy Voltedge, explains that it’s up to an employer to decide what is right for them. “The HSA Protocol provides a list of guidelines and protocols, and it’s up to each company to look at these and decide what is reasonable and appropriate in their case. But at the same time, as employers, we have to make sure we’re providing a good and safe base for our employees.”

Many guidelines include practical measures such as putting processes into place for suspected Covid-19 cases in the workplace, but another major part of ensuring employees’ health and safety is looking after their wellbeing, as Joyce explains. “We’ve all gone through major stress and there’s been such radical change that every employer has to take  onboard how this has affected employees.

Many employers have put into place an Employee Assistance Programme or Occupational Health Service to help employees with any issues they may encounter. But if you don’t have this, there are other things you can do, such as running wellness sessions or spearheading wellbeing initiatives.

There are some really nice resources on the website called In This Together. The HSE website also has a mental health section, which is very useful. And of course, the Enterprise Ireland Covid-19 Return to the Workplace Guide offers some useful ideas such as a buddy system, which can be great for those working remotely. Communication is key – not everyone will be able to return to the workplace so talking to each individual and making them a part of the decision-making process will help their wellbeing and make sure any decision is good for them.”

Communicate, communicate and communicate some more!

The second key consideration identified by Enterprise Ireland is communication, which is essential during a time of so much change. “The HSA has provided guidance on a number of practical measures to enhance communication with your staff as they return to work,” says Karen. “Employers should be looking at all the changes in policies and procedures that must be made and ensure that employees know what they are.

A first step includes putting a Covid-19 Response Team in place, who will be responsible for completing and implementing the business’s Covid-19 Response Plan. At least one worker representative should be appointed, who will work with the team to engage with employees regarding any changes that need to be made as part of the Covid-19 Response Plan. All staff must also be trained.”

Enhanced communication will also help your employees’ wellbeing. “Everything about the workplace will change, from where you enter and exit to where you take your breaks,” explains Fredericka Sheppard, Joint Managing Director at Voltedge. “Change is difficult and it’s up to each employer to implement those changes, map it out, communicate with their employees and communicate again – you cannot communicate too much in this instance.

“Collaboration will bear fruit. You want to know if there are risks or if an employee is nervous about the workplace or feels unsafe. You want your staff working in a safe environment; if you are communicating with your staff through surveys, questionnaires etc on a regular basis, you will get greater engagement with your employees – and we know that in an environment where there is greater engagement, there is greater productivity.”

Successful resource planning

Inevitably, some businesses will have to take a hard look at their company and make some changes. Remote working will become a long-term reality for some companies, while sadly for others, redundancies may have to be implemented. Any changes in resources should be made objectively and with the constraints of employment law in mind. “Given current physical distancing guidelines, it’s highly unlikely that any company will be bringing back their full complement of staff initially,” says Karen. “Businesses will have to look at their resources in line with their business plans and their employees’ needs. For instance, some employees might have underlying health conditions and mightn’t come back into the office at first.”

“Some companies may have to look at restructuring or altering their business,” adds Fredericka. “They must pay attention to the legislation in this area. This hasn’t changed and the crisis won’t excuse you if you don’t do it right.

The Enterprise Ireland Return to the Workplace Guide has some useful information regarding this. Of course there’s a financial impact to this, but you must also remember that there’s a psychological impact too. The staff who are staying may be affected by any redundancies too – and this is talent that you have worked hard to get. Evaluate your business and market; you must keep this under constant review.”

On the other hand, this is a great opportunity to look at the skills of your employees and invest in your talent. “Resilience and good people management have never been more important and we need to support and invest in managers in developing these skills. Your marketplace may have changed, you may have to alter the product you offer – invest in your people to adapt to these changes and you’ll reap the rewards in the future.”

Protect sensitive information

A final key consideration is the tricky issue of GDPR and data protection. The HSA Protocol requires employers to collect information and keep records that could contain potentially sensitive information. It’s imperative that employers only collect the information they need, and that it is stored appropriately.

“GDPR and data security are more vital than ever,” says Karen. “The HSA is asking employers to keep contact logs, and there may be a need for some companies to undertake temperature checking too. There will also be health information included in the Pre-Return to Work Form. Companies need to be very mindful of their obligations under GDPR and data security. They must make sure that any information they request is reasonable and that this information is stored securely.”

These points, and more, are explored and expanded in the Covid-19: Return to the Workplace Guide. Enterprise Ireland has also launched a number of supports for businesses, including the Lean Business Continuity Voucher, which provides companies with up to €2,500 to help them put into place any guidelines or strategies needed before opening up the workplace again. More details can be found at

EI_Market Watch Series_Dubai

Market Watch – Middle East


  • MENA is beginning to open up after a very strict lockdown.

  • Irish companies need to be aware of market differences in the region.

  • There is scope for movement in the health and safety, education and healthcare industry.

  • Communication and innovation is the key to success.

Covid-19 has most certainly changed the world as we know it – and as many countries are beginning to lift restrictions, markets are changing rapidly with dynamics shifting as everyone tries to adapt to the new normal.

Mike Hogan, Regional Manager for MENA says Ireland has long had a healthy business relationship with the Middle East and North Africa and as the region begins to open up, he encourages Irish businesses to be aware of how things have changed.

“Everyone knows that Covid-19 has brought about a special set of circumstances, an unprecedented Black Swan Incident,” he says. “At home, Enterprise Ireland is working with clients in a tailored manner to help them make changes to their business models in order to survive.

“But circumstances are different overseas and we have been offering continuity to clients in order to help them find new ways to communicate and keep informed about what is happening in terms of delivering their service and product.

“It’s so important to understand the dynamics of the market and the situation end users are facing. Much of this is similar to Ireland, but there are specific market differences so on a simplistic level, business models need to be tweaked and companies must begin to look forward to the new normal.”

This may take some time as much of the region has been completely shut down for the past few months.

“Many of the measures taken to combat the effects of Covid-19 across the Middle East may have seemed draconian from an Irish perspective,” says the regional manager. “There were 24-hour curfews with people only allowed out to go to the chemist or buy groceries and at the height of the restrictions, people could only leave the house once every three days.

“This has impacted the economy, especially as many places rely on tourism and international transport, so the shutting down of airspace, apart from cargo flights, has had an impact. And of course from an Irish perspective, this has had consequences on how goods are brought to market and how much it costs.

“So the new normal will involve an unwinding of these measures as well as a change in logistics, markets and communication. Nothing worries clients more than silence and people will remember who did business with them during the hard times and will reflect on who stood by them when their business was in jeopardy.”

But while the MENA region has been severely impacted by the crisis, Mike Hogan says there is still plenty of opportunity to be had.

“We are going through a bad time at moment, but Irish companies can have an impact as they have solutions which will fit in very well,” he says.

“And while countries like Saudi, for example, had cut back on infrastructure, the continuing increase in population, means that it continues to add new hospital beds every year, just to keep up with population growth, and increased capacity will increase healthcare opportunities ”

Indeed, Hogan says that healthcare and education will generate opportunities as countries across the region begin to open up and get their economies and their population back to some sort of normality.

And due to a diverse demographic, the Gulf region is also an ideal location for companies to test the waters and trial a new product or service.

“The region includes a lot of expats and migrant workers, so you can test a product here and get a wide number of reference points in terms of market reaction, as you are dealing with a large number of different nationalities, cultures and traditions,” he says. “So it’s a good opportunity to gauge how they react to various products and services.”

But one of the effects of the pandemic will see countries looking to reduce their supply chains and reinvigorate their indigenous industries to be more prepared should a second wave of the virus occur.

And while Ireland has always enjoyed a large share of the educational market in that corner of the world, remote learning is likely to continue to play a larger role in the future, so our HEIs need to be prepared for this.

“Cooperation between Ireland and the Middle East is going to need to change as some countries are really expanding their education system to meet the needs of the region,” says Hogan.  “Ireland needs to look at the content for remote learning rather than replicate what’s been happening in the classroom.”

Businesses will also operate more on a remote basis with exhibitions and conferences pushed into next year, so companies who want to stand out from the crowd, should come up with other ideas to make video conferencing more interesting. Decision makers in the Gulf are becoming increasing younger and tech savy, so Irish companies can’t simply rely or existing contacts and need to engage more widely and future proof their contact base.

“There is certainly some fatigue with relation to webinars and conference calls so it will be important to come up with something a bit special to engage clients,” says Hogan.

“These are young countries which require a continued and changing response so companies mustn’t sit on their laurels.”

Get key insights on the supports available from Enterprise Ireland.

Market Watch Construction

Market Watch – Construction – Industry Bulletin no.3

The third global market bulletin for the construction sector features updates from Enterprise Ireland’s overseas market advisors across four continents.

As the sector unlocks and construction sites reopen, this report provides a snapshot summary of insights for companies working in the international construction industry.

John Teeling

Storyworlds Podcast #1 – Teelings Whiskey


In a new podcast series, Storyworlds explores the inner life of Irish food and beverage as it goes global.

In our first episode, storyteller James McCabe talks to whiskey innovator and lifelong entrepreneur John Teeling, founder of the Coolea Distillery, the Kilbeggan Distillery and the Great Northern Distillery, about the tribulations and triumphs of restarting Irish whiskey as a truly global enterprise.

Practically single-handedly, John strove successfully over decades to restart the global success of a diverse whiskey industry – after the early world lead had been lost to sluggish innovation uptake and the Scottish contingent.

John and James dive deep into the backstory of a unique world beverage and, in the process, discuss enterprise in crisis times and how Ireland might not only host the world economy, but help it reinvent itself.

Sullivans Brewing

Keep on brewing

Sullivans BrewingAlan Quane, Group CEO of Sullivan’s Brewing Company, speaks about continuing to grow during difficult circumstances and building an international brand

Sullivan’s Brewing Company, based in Co Kilkenny, has a fascinating history, dating all the way back to 1702. The company boomed through famines, fires, and wars, until one fateful day in 1918, at the end of WW1, an unfortunate member of the Sullivan family – a descendant of original owner Richard Sullivan – lost the business over a bet on a horse. Sullivan’s was then acquired by Smithwick’s, formerly a rival of the company.

Alan Quane says, “It was in 2016 when I had met Paul Smithwick through my work with Diageo and he told me he was resurrecting this great brewery. So along with Paul, his son Dan, who is our Finance Director, and Master Brewer Ian Hamilton, who has huge brewing experience internationally with Diageo, we relaunched the business.

“Then there’s Michael Meade, our US based co-founder, who was a strong believer and instrumental in fundraising from day one. Alan Smithwick, a cousin of Paul’s, was also a co-founder. Alan is not only a Smithwick, but also a Sullivan. So we have the Sullivan blood in the business which has led to our brand tagline of ‘brewing is in our blood’.”

With the help of Enterprise Ireland, who provided grant support, and Bord Bia, the team rebuilt the brewing business, with a real focus on exports. As soon as their ale was out their gates, they were exporting to the US, places such as Buffalo in Upstate New York. “Enterprise Ireland and Bord Bia were extremely helpful from the early days,” says Alan.

“We knew we had a great story to tell and we wanted to brew world-class quality beer to honour this heritage.” confirms Quane.

“In fact, in 2017/18, we won the best beer in the world competition at the Oscars of the beer world in Burton-on-Trent, amongst 1,300 beers from over 45 countries around the world.”


Silver lining to the Covid-19 crisis

Having been through difficult times, including the Great Famine and many a rebellion, Sullivan’s Brewing Co. is no stranger to challenges – so how have the company been coping during the Covid-19 pandemic?

“The on-trade shut down completely and utterly in all of our markets in the US, as well as Ireland,” says Alan. “The off-trade retail environment were very much focussed on big brands and boxes of the beer, so shoppers weren’t looking for ‘craft beer’ for the most part, they were really going after the deals and a quick-fire purchase.

“We had to move with speed into survival mode, cutting our overheads and any costs we could get at. From a supply perspective, we had created great momentum in the States up to St Patrick’s Day prior to the lockdown. We had nine new markets in the US alone year to date, on top of six new markets added in 2019. This had led to great strain on our supply chain.

“But during the lockdown, we were lucky enough to be able to brew here in Ireland and therefore we were able to build up the pipeline inventory for these US markets.

“In Ireland we also started selling our beer online direct to consumers’ homes, keeping the brand front-and-centre during these very strange and isolating times. That was a silver lining in a very dark cloud.” says Quane


Helping hand

Sullivan’s Brewing Company and family motto has long been ‘standing up to do the right thing’. Back during the Great Famine, the brewery was transformed into a soup kitchen to serve food for those most in need. And this trait has lived on today. During lockdown, the company went above and beyond to support the community in Ireland and the US.

“We sent pizzas from our Sullivan’s Taproom in Kilkenny to frontline staff at the regional hospital and Gardaí station,” says Alan. “We also contributed to the Answer Ireland’s Call charity, helping them repatriate much-needed frontline staff to Irish hospitals at the peak of the pandemic. Stateside, we helped deliver meals to people in need, for example, through the VA Medical Centre and Kenmore Mercy Hospital in Buffalo, NY. That concept of community has always been important to us and our sales team were very happy to try to help.”

So what has Alan learned from the pandemic?

“As a team, we have learned that we are very resilient,” he says. “The team and our plans pivoted quickly to focus on a new set of priorities in an unprecedented and seismic change to our customers’ needs and channel dynamics. As always, we’ve learned that innovation and creativity is central to how we respond to the fast-changing needs of our trade partners.

“We have also upweighted our activity on social media during lockdown, learning how to be much more effective in that channel for relevant brand news and engagement.” says Quane.

Future focus

Alan says they now have plans to relaunch their route to market in Ireland. “We’ll service pubs and restaurants directly ourselves. We will continue to use C&C, our distribution partner for other opportunities, but by taking control of the bars and restaurants, I believe this will give us a chance to get even closer to our customers and their needs, and see how we can better serve them.”

Alan emphasises that a huge part of their future focus is exporting. “Having expanded to nine US markets in the early part of this year, on top of six last year, we have a lot of very new markets to nurture and grow. We’ve also plans to add more new markets in the US and look to the UK and Canada to continue to fuel our rapid expansion plans.

“Throughout these difficult past few months, we’ve maintained a very close relationship with Enterprise Ireland. They supported our very successful and latest round of funding. They’re a firm believer in us and continue to help us as we transition from a high-potential start-up into a successful scaled-up business.”


Going against the grain with Fitzgeralds Family Bakery

How Fitzgeralds Family Bakery has risen to the challenge during the Covid-19 crisis

“We have been very busy during the lockdown as retail demand has increased significantly,” says Simon Fitzgerald, Director of Fitzgeralds Family Bakery. “Unfortunately, while retail sales have increased because consumers are mostly eating at home, the food-to-go and food service suppliers have been very badly hit.”

Simon is part of the fourth generation to run his family bakery, Fitzgeralds Family Bakery, which was first opened on Blarney Street in Cork city in 1910 by his great-grandfather. It is now run by Simon, Suzanne and Garry FitzGerald, with a whole new generation of little tasters by their feet.

The bakery sells to retail businesses including SuperValu, Tesco, Dunnes Stores, Eurospar, Mace, Londis, and Costcutter in Ireland and also exports its products to Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Ocado in the UK. The range of baked goods includes wraps, Bake-at-Home French and Italian breads, pittas and naans, pizza bases, and their most popular product, bagels. Due to being a retail business, they benefited from the initial stage of panic buying and being an essential service.

“When the lockdown hit, our sales increased by more than 30%,” says Simon. “Now the panic buying has settled, and we are still seeing an increase of around 10 to 15% for the next few months potentially. As hotels and restaurants were forced to close, the manufacturers supplying those customers suffered badly. We were fortunate that our main service was retail and we had success in the UK market too, so that really helped us.

“Although we have had to make a lot of changes to our ways of working to make sure everyone can work safely, we have been very fortunate that we have had the full co-operation of our great staff and that everyone has stayed safe and well.” explains Fitzgerald.


Essential service

During the Covid-19 crisis, many businesses struggled, either through enforced closures or too much demand in a stressful environment.

Simon says, “Our aim was to produce enough product to meet the demand for our customers. And there was such a demand! We were also very fortunate that we had ordered a second bagel production line in October, which has been delivered and commissioned in recent weeks.”

Fitzgeralds Family Bakery was able to face this task with the help of Enterprise Ireland and their supports. They have gained support and grant aid over the years, including capital and employment grants to help the business grow.

“We have been able to go from having fewer than 50 employees to nearly 100. This is due in no small part to the support and guidance we have had from Enterprise Ireland. We have been incredibly well supported by them. They invest in businesses to help them provide employment and I think we have achieved those goals.”

Having such support is important for the future of the business and the industry at large as the pandemic has changed everything about the business landscape. It has vastly changed lifestyles, which in turn has changed working lives and even the way people eat.

“With the lockdown and social distancing, it has made people stop, re-think, and change their eating habits. Going forward, there will definitely be fewer people going out to eat. More people are working from home and that is likely to continue to some degree and children may well see some of their education being delivered by remote learning, so there is more demand to eat at home.

“It really does feel like an opportunity for those of us in the retail food industry as it’s more likely people will buy food in a shop and take it home than eat out. This means an increase in business.” says Fitzgerald.

“We are a modern family craft bakery and we want to keep producing high-quality products. We will continue to develop our range of products and continue to be innovative and bring new exciting products to the market. We have nearly doubled our retail sales in the last two years, and I think that’s due to this commitment.”


Cali Cali

Flavour of success

Tom Gannon and Niall McGrath - Cali Cali

Niall McGrath of Cali Cali speaks about maintaining his vision for the brand during Covid-19

The Cali Cali brand is the brainchild of business partners Niall McGrath and Tom Gannon – the duo behind Fulfil bars – and Celebrity Chef Donal Skehan. Inspired by the street food markets of California, the team wanted to develop a range of sauces and crisps that were ‘healthy, tasty and interesting’, taking the melting pot of Californian street flavours back to Europe.

“We developed Cali Cali back in summer 2018,” says Niall McGrath. “We saw that there were two megatrends happening in California, one was around healthy eating and the other was around street food, so we started thinking about creating a lifestyle brand that brought the flavours of the world together with healthier snacking and eating, and could be distributed within arm’s reach.

“We were travelling around in the car one day, listening to Biggie Smalls and heard the words, ‘going back to Cali, Cali’, and that’s when the name was born!”


Guilt-free snacking

The guilt-free snacking brand, which has a recognisable bright orange logo, has already released several innovative treats, including healthy crisps and a range of flavourful sauces. “The sauces are available in the flavours, San Diego peri-peri, Tijuana hot sauce, Frisco hot wing, LA Street Food Sriracha and Baja chipotle salsa.

“We also had an interesting idea for protein crisps, which we found impossible to get right, but eventually we met our current crisp manufacturer at a trade show and the rest was history. We now have crisps available in Golden State tangy cheese and onion, Tijuana hot sauce, Baja buffalo chipotle and Thai Town sweet chilli. They don’t use preservatives or MSG and use real-food ingredients like chickpea flour, rice flour and beans. They’re also gluten-free.”

Despite launching the sauces and crisps in September 2019, a few months before the pandemic began in Ireland, Niall says this has not hindered their success.

“In fact, we have managed to spread our wings,” says Niall. “We had plans to launch into the Middle East in another couple of months, but we decided there was no point in waiting around and moved these plans forward.

“Now, we’re on track to launch in the UAE in September and on top of that, we’ve just started exporting to the UK.” explains McGrath.

Niall says Enterprise Ireland has been a big support to the company. “We’ve been working with Enterprise Ireland pretty much since the get-go. They invested in our business in March and this gave us confidence in the value of the business, that it’s something worth investing in.”

Niall says there were naturally some challenges in the past few weeks, “these challenges were in relation to our crisp sales. Any sales would have been at a convenience store for those on-the-go or city centre convenience stores, so there weren’t as many people picking them up. However, our sauces sold really well in stores across Ireland.


Addressing the impact of Covid-19

All during lockdown, Niall says the team has been coming up with either new revenue streams, new product developments, new distributions within the Irish market and export opportunities. “And all from our homes!

“We even launched a new product last week, our Pop-A-Grains, which is a low-calorie, low-carb bread substitute. They’re like large poppadoms!

“We’ve been very active across social media too and our customers have given us great feedback.”

Has Niall had to adapt many business processes as a result of Covid-19?

“We realised that when you get hit with something like this, you just go back to the simple things, and manage your cash really well on a month-to-month basis. Look at new revenue streams and routes to market.

“The big change for us really was the timelines. Covid shifted the goalposts on a lot of things, but we never once said we would scrap a business plan or come up with a whole new positioning. If the plan is right, just continue to do the right thing. We haven’t changed our vision, our strategy or our range, but the timelines had to move.”

Looking forward, Niall says he can see a lot of opportunities arising, “What’s important to us is continuing to distinguish Cali Cali as a lifestyle brand that stands up as being healthy, as well as tasting great. We’re aiming to reach multiple different channels in multiple different countries, and I’m excited to see what new opportunities come up.”

Evolve UK Webinar – HS2, Reset, Recover, Deliver

The UK Government’s Notification to Proceed with the detailed design and construction of the main civil engineering packages for HS2 was a significant boost to the long-term health of the construction sector.

This webinar considers the impact of Covid-19 on the construction sector and examines the evolving opportunities to engage with Europe’s largest infrastructure project with expert insights provided by: 


Nicky Wright – Supply Chain Manager, HS2

Simon Poulter – Head of Procurement and Supply Chain, Align JV

Anthony Boulic – Senior Procurement & Supply Chain Manager, Align JV

Howard Mitchell – Head of Innovation, HS2

John Hunt – Senior Advisor, Construction, Enterprise Ireland

Evolve UK – UK agriculture industry report

This report focuses on the UK agricultural industry examining the effect Covid-19 has had on the demand for equipment, the new innovations recently launched in market, emerging trends and what is influencing these developments.

The report also discusses the implications of Brexit on the industry and speaks with leading business experts to explore the opportunities this time of change may present.

Read the full report

Covid Hub Podcasts


Covid Hub Webinars


Covid Hub Market Watch