As with many other people across Ireland in similar positions, the early days and weeks of the Covid-19 lockdown for Darragh McMorrow involved a process of transitioning on multiple levels. Darragh is SL Controls Commercial Director.
For Darragh, the transitions involved adapting and adjusting in the workplace, at home, and personally. There were many challenges along the way, although there were successes as well.
Transitioning the Workplace
Darragh faced transitions in the workplace on three fronts:
- Adjusting to a new way of working personally
- Maintaining service levels with clients, managing the changing nature of service delivery, and pivoting the service offering towards new client priorities
- Developing and implementing new structures and processes for the wider SL Controls team to keep all business units functioning efficiently and effectively
“There were immediate challenges when news of the lockdown broke,” said Darragh. “Keith (Keith Moran – SL Controls CEO) and I worked over the weekend to put structures and strategies in place to keep our people active in all aspects of the business, particularly on client projects.
“Then, as we moved into the first week of the lockdown and the weeks beyond, the daily operational tasks involved linking in with clients – remotely – to ensure we continued to adhere to what, at the time, were rapidly changing protocols. It really was a baptism of fire at the start, but I was focused on working with customers to ensure projects continued to deliver value.
“From the perspective of our team at SL Controls, there was a very good reaction to the changed circumstances. Some people had understandable issues like childminding that we did our best to help them deal with. Generally, though, the team adapted to the lockdown quickly. The feedback on our approach was strong too.
“One of the things I think we did well from the very early part of the process was encouraging daily scrum meetings with various teams in the company. These highly focused meetings set a very clear direction of what needed to be achieved on a given day and helped us stay on target with projects.
“We even invited our customers to sit in on the scrum meetings, listening in to what was being said and planned. Customers saw this as a valuable exercise, and it validated what the SL Controls team was doing for them.
“Another thing that also helped was that we didn’t need to make any significant technology changes as we already had an excellent IT infrastructure that facilitated a seamless transition towards remote working. This included using technologies like Microsoft Teams. In fact, a few of our people ended up using their knowledge and experience to help our customers get properly set up on Teams.
“There were challenges. The working week changed more towards virtual meetings with clients, meetings which traditionally would have all been face to face. Also, I was due to spend the first two weeks of April in the US to work with our team and clients on building out our service offering in our Jacksonville office. This had to be completed virtually, which was challenging.
“However, the life sciences sector remained buoyant, and we remain as busy as ever, continuing to deliver on existing client projects while also starting new projects to meet immediate needs. Our customers viewed the lockdown period as an opportunity to take on new projects, including projects that facilitated the fact that people couldn’t be on-site, projects that could be completed remotely.
“There was also a real spirit of partnership during this period between SL Controls and our clients.”
Transitioning at Home
In some respects, the transition to working from home was smooth for Darragh. For example, he had space set aside to use as a home office, which he quickly got set up in the early days of the lockdown.
However, Darragh also saw first-hand the struggles the pandemic brought to other SME businesses in Ireland.
Darragh said: “My wife, Niamh, is self-employed and has successfully run her own beauty business for the last 10 years. In fact, she was due to have a 10-year celebration in early May.
“Like many others, she was forced to close her business in late March, and it remained closed for 16 weeks. It then opened again for 16 weeks before having to close as restrictions tightened again in the autumn.
“This meant having to temporarily let staff go while also reaching out to clients regularly to reassure them the business would reopen again. It was tough. In response to the challenges encountered having to close her business twice during 2020, Niamh invested so she could transfer aspects of the business online. This epitomises the resilience of SME owners across the country who have successfully reinvented the ways in which they can continue to reach their clients.
“From a family point of view, though, there were positives. With childminding closing down, it meant we could all spend more time together. This, coupled with excellent weather, meant we spent lots of time outside enjoying the sunshine during spring and summer, playing family games, and doing lots of arts and crafts.
“I would have to say it’s been brilliant being at home with the kids. I’m normally always on the road, travelling on a daily basis. Being at home, I’m able to do other things. Even walking my four-year-old daughter up and down to school is brilliant.”
Being at home so much during the lockdown and with almost everything closed, many people across Ireland set themselves new goals and challenges. For Darragh, this centred on running.
“I took up running 18 months ago, starting with a few 5km and 10km races before progressing onto a few half marathons,” Darragh said. “At the beginning of 2020, I set a marker to challenge myself to run a marathon. I saw it as something to focus on and strive towards. I picked an event to run in mid-April, then Covid and the lockdown hit in March.
“So, I had to adapt the training plan. I decided to start taking part in some virtual challenges, completing different distances in a pre-defined timeframe. For example, one challenge that I completed was running five half marathons in five days.
“My daily routine during those summer mornings would be to get up at 5am, completing the run before 7am as the sun rose.
“Usually at that time of the day, I’d be in the car, so it was great to get up and get the run done. I then had the full day free for work and to spend time with the kids.
“Inevitably with Covid, three different marathon events that I signed up to take part in between April and October were postponed until 2021. But the itch was still there to try and meet my 2020 goal of running a marathon. So, I set myself a date for running a virtual marathon.
“I had a course selected in Longford and was all set for 31 October. However, two weeks before this date, Level-5 restrictions came into play, which meant I had to rethink the course.
“So, I worked out a new course within a 5km radius of my home. It meant running multiple loops of the course to reach the full marathon distance, but it was possible.
“As with my training runs, I started early in the morning, successfully completing the virtual marathon with my family meeting me for the final few hundred metres. My 4-year old daughter, Caoimhe, even helped me run the last part over the virtual finishing line.
“It wasn’t the same as running at an organised marathon event, but I achieved the goal I set at the start of the year, despite the disappointments and challenges. Now it’s roll-on 2021. I’m aiming for Longford in April… hopefully.”