A sneak preview of the panel talks we’re most excited about at the IMAGE Business Summit

As well as an A-list cast of keynote speakers, we’re loving the smorgasbord of wisdom at two upcoming panel discussions on effective communication and the future of the office. Here’s a sneak preview…


Empathy. 

If we learn one thing from the covid crisis, practising empathy from the top down is a surefire way for businesses to thrive.

This is one of many key takeaways from two panel discussions at the upcoming IMAGE Business Summit, in which IMAGE Contributing Editor, Melanie Morris, picks the brains of some of the country’s most successful female leaders.

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More Than Words – The Power of Effective Communication
2.05pm, Nov 18

In More Than Words: The Power of Effective Communication, Margot Slattery (Global Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Sodexo), Natasha Fennell (Director/Co-Founder, Stillwater Communications) and Sinéad McSweeney (MD, Twitter Ireland and VP Public Policy & Communications EMEA) unanimously agree that imparting information clearly and compassionately is vital to keeping staff – clients and customers – actively engaged and encouraged.

Communication is an art, says Fennell during the chat, “but people are expected to do it without actually learning it. It’s like music. When each note follows each note, each beat follows each beat, it’s beautiful. It’s the same with communications. When it’s done badly it really hurts.” 

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McSweeney should know. Prior to joining Twitter, she was Director of Communications for An Garda Síochána and Director of Media and Public Relations for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, roles that were at once challenging and rewarding, because any “misstep could do potential harm.” This sensitivity she transferred to her Twitter position.

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Anchoring values and expressing them clearly is vital – but fundamentally meaningless if they’re not also delivered with care, they concur. Isolation brought about by remote working has highlighted a need for management to practice a more personable approach than ever before.

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“So much of communication isn’t just the spoken word,” says McSweeney. “It’s not just about people’s faces, it’s whether they’re fidgeting or how many times they get up and down from their desk every day. You can’t know what’s going on in their lives on half-hour Zoom calls.”

They unanimously champion “active listening” and scheduling regular individual chats to help nurture confidence and foster trust. “On Zoom, I look at who isn’t speaking,” says Slattery, of inclusivity from the top down. “It’s important to have one-to-ones as a leader, not just a group calls. A least one of these is social, so when we come as a group together they can feel safe to say something, that they’re in a safe space.”

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The New Working Landscape
10.15am, Nov 18

What was previously passed off as ‘water cooler conversation’ is now being recognised as an important incubator in its own right, say the three panellists discussing The New Working Landscape.

Claire McGee (Head of Education & Innovation Policy, Ibec), Ciara Fallon (Director, People & Organisation Consulting, PwC) and Áine McCleary (Director of Distribution Channels, Bank of Ireland) agree that “casual communications” are the bedrock, not just of company morale, but creativity.

“Don’t underestimate the tea or coffee break,” says Fallon, PwC having introduced ‘Coffee Roulette’ during the lockdown, in which each week four colleagues are randomly thrown together for an online social natter. “There are no barriers to entry, any size organisation can create a community.”

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Everyone is finding their feet and trying to figure out the answers to the same questions. Just ask

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Simply asking ‘how are you?’ – and actively listening to the reply, of course – can really pay dividends, while mentorship can still be achieved remotely, says McGee. “Everyone is finding their feet and trying to figure out the answers to the same questions. Just ask. Put your hand up a little bit more, so you don’t miss out on formal shadowing or mentoring in the future.”

While many office workers hope that a flexible approach to home-working will outstay the pandemic, it still requires setting boundaries. The work/life-balance conundrum was a conversation among women long before coronavirus, admits McCleary, but the distinction has never been more blurred than when the commute now involves a short walk to a makeshift office in the spare bedroom or to the kitchen table.

“Make clear your working hours,” she says, while discussing personal and organisational boundaries, and that no one should feel obligated to respond to queries until their individual schedule allows it. She also points to Bank of Ireland’s ‘No-Meetings Monday’ (which is exactly what it says on the tin).

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It’s reassuring to hear that the challenges of 2020 have held a mirror to archaic, autocratic structures that have proven to be more performative than productive – and can be absolutely replaced with something more democratic, flexible, inclusive and collaborative. As McClearly rightly says, “sometimes, crisis drives innovation.”

If this summary has whet your appetite for the full-length conversation, be sure to book your place on this year’s IMAGE Business Summit 2020, in partnership with PwC, which takes place online on November 18-19. Get your (virtual) seat alongside some of the world’s leading business figures, for two days of powerful discussions, interviews and masterclasses. Buy tickets here 

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