The pandemic has transformed the way we both live and work. Louise Roseingrave and Emma Connolly caught up with some West Cork people who revealed, how once the initial shock of WFH subsided, it has a surprising number of positives …
Dee Mangan, owner of Kinsale Leather
The past year has seen many aspects of my life turned upside down, but in most ways, for the better.
When Lockdown hit last March, I had a team of three and I worked pretty much part time. I would work until 3pm every day and then be with my two daughters, Ruby and Penny in the afternoons. So you could say I had it pretty easy, but in hindsight I wasn’t working smart at all.
Initially I kind of froze, for three or four weeks or so, then I quickly realised I needed to pivot the business, and quickly. Thankfully I already sold online but it’s now – obviously and, thankfully – all online. So I now work on and off all week when I can really, be it in the shop or at home. I’m doing more hours work, it’s just planned better, because it has to be.
I have spent a huge amount of time on my own, early in the morning and late at night (in November until 11pm or so every night as Christmas was my busiest ever) just packing, with my earphones in. I realised how social my job was before, I used to chat all day to customers. Something I’m really looking forward to.
Over last summer I spent a lot of time looking at my online analytics and I did a six-week online course on online marketing.
It’s just myself and the two girls at home, they’re 4 and 2.5, so I’m super conscious of working smart and I try to focus either entirely on work, or on them. One of my saving graces really was my older daughter hadn’t started school yet, so we don’t have any boxes to tick, as such. We spend an hour or so every day at the beach, some days we do lots, some days we do very little. The girls go between being best friends and worst enemies within the hour, but they’re the reason I work so hard, so you have to re-frame the chaos, I suppose.
I’ve found the way the Irish have backed each other in so many ways, how we shop, who we buy from, how we care for each other, a real silver lining of all this. I really hope the level of conscientiousness continues.
Fionnuala Harkin, sales rep for Wines Direct, Timoleague
When restaurants closed, my job changed totally. I’m normally calling into restaurants, tasting wine, planning wine lists, organising winemaker dinners, and, best of all, visiting vineyards.
Luckily, restaurants have had periods of operation, and many do takeaway, so while remote, there’s still a need to talk wine. Not the same as sharing a glass, though!
I really miss being out and about as I’d normally be all over Munster every week. I was craving the connection to my customers and friends, and missing doing what I love most – talking about wine and winemakers. My job is not just selling wine, it’s about sharing the stories of the people and places behind each bottle. So I started doing Friday evening tastings and set up @wineshedwestcork on Instagram to do just that. I talk about the wines while people drink and chat along with me. It’s the closest we get to a night out and it has allowed me to connect with people across the world, not just West Cork. This was great around Christmas as people who couldn’t get home from America and the UK contacted me to send wine to their family in Ireland. I’ve also stayed connected to my restaurant customers, tasting live with them, matching wines with their takeaway offering.
At home with me are my adult son and daughter, Thady (21) and Suzy (23) and husband Tim. Suzy says a big disadvantage is that grabbing a quick coffee is impossible as you have to make coffee for everyone!
Other negatives of working from home? I love the variety of my job normally, every day I’m in a different place meeting different people. I miss that. And vineyards.
Positives, though, are much better time management. Face-to-face meetings are wonderful, but a lot can be done by phone, email or Zoom, and the planet gains by less driving.
Maeve McCarthy, estate agent, Skibbereen
We can’t show houses at the moment so we are caught in a kind of waiting period, although sales that were agreed are closing and we are allowed get houses on the market.
My husband Kevin and I have three children Grace (9), Ian (7) and Darragh (4), so ours is an exceptionally busy house.
Everyone is working from home and with school at home now, too, you find you are trying to do everything. It’s either home school or working or cooking and doing housework.
You’re just trying to keep all those balls in the air. Rather than doing one job, you are trying to do everything at once.
However, I am learning that to be successful you do not have to be perfect, just doing your best is good enough.
And I do appreciate this time at home as I know once it is gone I will miss this family time and I really feel for the people who are going through the last 12 months on their own as that level of loneliness and isolation must be particularly challenging.
For my own head space I try and get out for a walk most days which I find a great way to just reset. I also enjoy cooking and trying out new recipes, some successful and others never to be repeated!
Clive Salter, founder and managing director, Marketshare Ireland, Ballinascarthy
It’s hard to believe, but our business has just marked its 23rd anniversary. We’ve seen a lot of changes, and none more than in the last 12 months. We work closely with Irish craft and gift companies, providing sales and sales management services – helping them to commercialise their creativity. It is very rewarding to see them grow from small beginnings to recognised Irish brands.
From our business base in Ballinascarthy, I and my team travel the country. We supply shops all over Ireland – from Grafton Street to Gweedore, so I’m never short of holiday ideas in this beautiful country of ours. But like for so many others, it is very challenging during lockdown.
At this time of year we usually visit our customers to show them the newly designed products for the season ahead. Of course that isn’t possible now, so we have to use Zoom. It’s just not the same. Buyers love to see and feel craft products. It’s not all doom, though – I notice two positive changes in the last year.
The shop local campaign has been really successful around Ireland, where the public have re-discovered and been very supportive of local businesses and Irish websites. And retailers themselves have become quite creative in meeting the challenges; from new websites to face-time shopping services.
And when I’m not worrying about business, I’m thinking about my hobby - getting back out on a kayak and exploring the West Cork coastline. There are brighter days ahead!
Niamh Ní Dhrisceoil, Chemistry teacher, Coláiste Choilm Ballincollig, from Cape Clear
My commute is all of a few metres away, to my parents’ commandeered sun room. This is our second time remote teaching in less than 12 months.
Distance teaching is far from easy, and while we would all prefer to be back in the classroom, thankfully this time around is so much easier. We were prepared and we were ready if we needed to be. Teaching is such a sociable job but this year it has been far from it. We don’t get to see our colleagues as we normally would. Lunch breaks are in empty classrooms or parked cars.
I am enjoying seeing their smiling faces again without the face coverings on our daily ‘Meets’. At least I can once again gauge whether my jokes are hit or miss.
My little treat for getting through is a hike to the highest point of Cape Clear where 360° breath-taking views of the Wild Atlantic Way and Roaring Water Bay allow me to forget for a moment all things Covid. Magic.
Sinead Hallahan, owner of Gooseberry Boutique, Clonakilty
I am the proprietor of Gooseberry boutique in Clonakilty. We have a busy house with Derry (13), Fionn (12), Matilda (10) and Emmy (2) plus two dogs. I am schooling from crèche level to secondary. Working on the online shop is almost a 24/7 job.
The temptation is always there to check and answer enquiries no matter what time of the day or night. The kids are at a good age though, to work away on their own, it’s mainly supervision.
My partner Kevin (co-owner of Scannell’s bar) is also at home right now so he mainly manages the house and does the cooking which is a huge help. As two self-employed parents,we work long hours, sometimes unknown to ourselves, so we are cherishing this time.
We know we are extremely lucky to be unaffected by the pandemic health-wise other than both our businesses being on extended hiatus. Our daily treat is an excursion down to the beach and we feel blessed to live where we do. You have to take the positive from whatever situation you find yourself in.
Lydia Little, Amazon selling partner support and writer, Ballydehob
I have been working from home for Amazon for eight years and I believe it allows for a fabulous work/life balance.
The big change for me now is having my son and husband at home. My 13-year-old son is in Schull Community College and he uses a laptop with a secure line and a log-in.
The school is using a platform called Microsoft Teams and it’s working out very well. But if my child has a question, I have to help him. Amazon has adapted to the situation and there is an understanding, these are huge changes for everyone. Rather than reacting to something. I try to respond.
Emotionally our response might be to become irritated by an interruption but in reality if you just take a breath, it’s absolutely fine to get to take a moment to help your child.
My treat is to get out for a walk. I have a Fitbit to track the walk, it gives me an incentive to complete the 10km.
I also do a bit of yoga and sea swimming which is fantastic. From a mental health point of view it is so important, getting out into the air and realising the world is still there and it’s not just all about the screens.