NI Tech community remains optimistic despite concerns over a global recession

Belfast into Light

A recent survey conducted by Digital DNA has found that 91% of local tech companies remain optimistic about their future growth potential. This is despite the difficult trading environment many companies are currently facing and against the backdrop of an inevitable global recession. 

Digital DNA surveyed over 100 tech and digital companies based in Northern Ireland on a range of areas including how the Covid-19 crisis was impacting their business, how they were adapting to the new normal and their thoughts on what the future could look like. Companies who responded included local startups, indigenous businesses, FDI companies and PLC’s.

Immediate Impact of Covid-19

Following the introduction of the wide ranging measures aimed at preventing the spread of the virus, results to the survey suggest the local tech industry has avoided the major disruption experienced in other industries such as manufacturing and hospitality. Of those surveyed, 3 out of 10 companies have furloughed staff whilst 27% of companies have suffered staffing issues as a direct result of staff having to self isolate. 

It would therefore appear that many tech companies surveyed have been spared the worst of the economic impact. Nevertheless, 36% of companies have reported a loss of revenue and a further 22% have had to revert to price reductions to attract or retain customers. Almost 13% of companies also indicated they would be applying for govt grants or other financing options, such as the government backed CBIL scheme. 

Adapting to the ‘new normal’

The NI tech industry has been quick to adapt to social distancing measures introduced by the government on 23rd March. In fact, 92% of companies said they have completely transitioned to working from home (WFH), with the median date for WFH being Monday 16th March. However, some companies had taken the decision to make WFH mandatory as early as 5th March. 

In the main, the transition to working from home has been positive. Increased productivity, improved innovation, better teamwork and communication, as well as more effective decision making have all been cited by local tech companies as benefits to the ‘new normal’.

Companies have also been using technology to recreate office culture and keep teams connected with virtual coffee breaks and happy hours, lunch and learn sessions, yoga and wellness sessions, even a virtual town hall with over 110 people has been arranged via video conferencing services such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts.

Thoughts on the Future

There is no doubt that a significant amount of uncertainty exists around how and when restrictions will be relaxed with companies returning to something resembling business as usual. 60% of survey respondents felt that it would take at least 6 months from the introduction of the restrictions to return to pre Covid-19 levels of activity, whilst 22% felt it would be more like 9-12 months. 

Amongst the companies, startups and scaleups were more optimistic with 9 out of 10 predicting it would take 3-6 months for them to return to pre Covid-19 levels compared to 4 out of 10 FDI companies thinking it would be the same time-frame. 

Yet despite the uncertainty, there is room for optimism about how quickly the industry will rebound. Results of the survey found that 40% of companies have no plans to change their recruitment plans with companies still actively advertising open roles. Some companies have in fact onboarded new members of staff vrtually during the lockdown. 

Another note of positivity is that almost 60% of companies felt that the experience of working from home would actually benefit their company when people returned to their offices.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that the Covid-19 crisis is like nothing anyone has ever experienced. The challenges we all face are huge and the inevitable global recession is on the horizon. However, the tech industry in NI appears to be well placed to weather the storm and to play an important part of the economic recovery. 

We may still be far from returning to what life was like before Covid-19 impacted our lives. But what cannot be argued is that this experience demonstrates that technology will continue to play an important role in our lives. 

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