Conor Healy, CEO of Cork Chamber. Photo: Darragh Kane

The unfolding shape of business in 2021

Conor Healy, CEO of Cork Chamber describes how the businesses community has responded to restrictions, and how the focus must be to ‘build back better’.

We have a new appreciation for the line ‘the only constant in life is change’. And while businesses are tuned and primed to evolve and respond to changes in their environment, never before has disruption run this deep, this long nor affected this many aspects of life at the same time.

Even though there is no formula for success under these kinds of circumstances, no best practice methodology to follow, the resilience and determination shown in the business community this past year has reached new levels. Some have been able to absorb the shock waves of disruption, transforming that energy to grow and innovate, while many have had to batten the hatches to weather the storm.

The implementation of supports for business by Government offered an essential lifeline to many companies and self-employed. The Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) and Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) were welcome and important additions to the supports announced by Government to assist businesses affected by restrictions to trade.

However, the qualifying criteria for many of the supports are simply too narrow for them to be truly effective while under the current restrictions. We welcome the recent announcement of the Covid Aid Scheme which targets wholesalers, caterers, suppliers, and events companies. However the true effectiveness of this scheme will be decided in its implementation as the application process and rates of payment etc are yet to be fine tuned.

The refinement and effectiveness of this, and all the schemes is critical to protecting our valuable businesses and ensuring we are in a ready position to build back better.

And build back better we will.


There have been reports of very strong take up of focused supports such as the Trading Online Voucher Schemes with the Local Enterprise Offices, which is testament to the value of a target approach to business supports. Hopefully, many of the companies using these opportunities to remodel their operations to reach customers will benefit in the longer term also, by the changes they’ve put in place.

The extension to the commercial rates waiver through Q1 of this year was delivered with a commitment of it being more focused than previously to ensure that those most severely impacted will be included.

Our councils are to be commended for their role in implementing the business restart grants and rates waivers, and we encourage all authorities to consider the depth to which the severe impacts of that current restrictions are being felt, as whole supply chains have come to a halt.

Key learnings

There have been some key learnings for companies in the year, that will have lasting positive impacts on our lives and our communities. The most notable of these relates to remote working. For those companies where remote working has been possible, this year has given them the chance to take part in the greatest trial of managing remote working imaginable.

The move to remote working for so many organisations is one of the single greatest changes to work practices since the industrial revolution. Technology has, of course, played a central role in this and it is clear now, that remote working will remain part of how businesses operate in the longer term. The launch of the Remote Working Strategy by Government is a welcome move in supporting businesses make appropriate and official adaptations to work practices.

This could also have positive impact on the development of our city and towns right across the county of Cork, as well as more rural areas. However, the acceleration and rapid delivery of the National Broadband Plan will be critical to the practicality and implementation of remote working policies into the future.

Many of our Cork Chamber members anticipate that they will continue to blend remote and office working into the future. The benefits of this have huge potential.

It will reduce commute times, lessening the traffic on our roads and streets. The knock-on reduction in emissions has the potential to gift us with a cleaner greener communities.

As organisations adopt remote working as a new way of operating, the talent pool broadens considerably, and both companies and individuals are afforded a new outlook on where and how they do business.

The potential benefits are many, but the goal now must be to build back better. And while this year may have been an unwelcome shock to the system, and there is naturally much talk of ‘getting back to normal’ it is our collective responsibility to retain the better practices that have emerged, to keep our focus on community, and sustainability as we return to normal, to harness the technology to its full potential to increase efficiencies – allowing businesses to stay focused on their plans to grow and to innovate.