Interviews

Whytematter's 1st birthday: What has their first year been like?

  • Photo: (L-R) Whytematter's Kirsty McDowell, Mairead Moore and Nadine Savage

    Belfast-based staffing specialists, Whytematter recently celebrated their first birthday, and despite the turbulent times Covid-19 has seen them face, the team is thriving and focusing on wellbeing more than ever.

    The recruitment firm comprises of three women: co-founders Mairead Moore and Kirsty McDowell, and newcomer Nadine Savage.

    Sync NI sat down with the ladies at their current base in Belfast’s Glandore building, to find out how their first year in business has been, and what effects the global health pandemic has had on them.

    How have you been getting on since the coronavirus crisis hit back in March?

    Kirsty: We probably went through the same process every other company went through, which was initially panic stations. Everything got put on hold the week NI went into lockdown.

    Mairead: We had three senior offers that week of the initial lockdown, and they got dropped. One of my candidates was overseas and was told he had gotten a job, which he has thankfully now been placed in nearly six months later.

    Obviously, a lot of our clients were officed based so them moving to all working remotely they had to prioritise their own staff. We can understand that.

    Kirsty: We maybe took a bit of a step back and re-looked at our own business model in how we could diversify and make the company work.

    Mairead: We were always massive advocates for flexible working patterns and working from home etc, so Covid-19 actually accelerated that.

    The companies that it really worked well for are back recruiting now and moving forwards. It was something we always wanted to push but some clients didn’t realise the importance of it until now.

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    Kirsty: We had to re-strategize because we had to focus our elements into the more tech and digital roles as they’re the roles that are still being recruited for.

    Mairead: There was a lull for maybe a few weeks but then about three weeks into lockdown our ecommerce and online clients were so busy with recruitment. It’s a sign of the moving times.

    Kirsty: A positive from Covid is that a lot of clients are far more open to working from home and are going to introduce hybrid systems. I don’t think I’ve heard anybody saying they’re going to go back to working again fully in the office from Monday to Friday.

    Mairead: We’ve been able on the mentoring side to offer new things in regards to helping clients onboard staff and keep communications up. People can be introverted and struggle to integrate within a team when everyone is working from home so we can intersect and help with that in supporting HR departments to ensure everything and everyone is working together.

    Whytematter’s whole mantra is promoting wellbeing within the workplace. In a roundabout way, do you think the impact of Covid-19 has helped you promote that even more, as wellbeing for people is more important now than arguably ever before?

    Mairead: Definitely! Before this, one in four people suffered from mental health and wellbeing issues. Now it’s one in two people. We’re all more aware now of what we have to do and clients that didn’t really want to think about that element for their staff before, now they have to.

    There’s people working from home in isolation, or with young families, or just going through their own personal issues, in how they psychologically deal with the impact of a global pandemic themselves.

    We’ve always had wellbeing at the core of what we do – a happy and engaged workforce is a more profitable one and if you look after your employees, they’ll look after your company as well.

    Kirsty: I think ‘wellbeing’ would have been a tickbox exercise for some companies before but now firms are realising and appreciating how vital it is.

    Nadine: I actually lost my job at the beginning of the whole pandemic, but in a positive way it gave me time to stop and think about what I wanted to do, which was to go back into recruitment. I’m fully qualified in yoga and meditation, so I thought about starting a business from that. I spoke to Mairead and I’ve been able to tie it altogether which has been great.

    RELATED: NI staffing solutions firm Whytematter appoints Nadine Savage as partner

    My background is recruitment is within the accountancy and finance sectors, which is what I’ve done for eight years. That’s what I’ll continue to do with Whytematter. For me, it’s always been important to see if employers are having wellbeing initiatives such as meditation days, or even just bringing someone in to show clients how to deliver wellbeing training. To be able to do that with the girls and deliver it to clients is going to be amazing.

    Mairead: We’re doing everything virtually right now such as Zoom-based training, but we eventually want to bring in a standardised wellbeing package to employers which would incorporate Nadine’s yoga and then Kirsty helping with coaching and mentoring.

    Do you think the pandemic has helped some of your prospective candidates have time to think about what they really want to do – as you have Nadine – and encouraged them to make that career jump or change?

    Mairead: It’s funny you say that because there’s candidates now coming to us that were fearful of looking on the job market before because they were afraid of losing their flexibility arrangements. A lot of it is due to family commitments and they weren’t willing to leave their present employer, even though a lot of them were bright and intelligent and often getting underpaid.

    But now everyone has to adapt to these flexible working arrangements.

    People have to recognise that if you aren’t happy, you need to speak to your employer about it or have the confidence to place yourself on the open market. The flexibility is there across all firms now and flexibility looks different to everyone.

    Kirsty: A lot of firms are aiming to get their staff back to offices by January 2021, but now as we get into winter it seems further away, like next June.

    Nadine: They’ll probably introduce hot-desking or coming in certain days with one bubble of workmates and others coming in on different days.

    Mairead: The constant working from home takes its toll as well. For people’s social interactions it’s important there’s a balance there.

    Kirsty: We’ve been in Glandore here for just over a month and from a team perspective, coming in two or three days a week to meet up has been so great.

    How do you see yourselves as different and what are your future business goals for Whytematter?

    Mairead: We have learned a lot. Some things we’ve won and some things we’ve learned. We’re a lot more focused and now we have Nadine who has added to our good, strong client list that supports how we work and align with our ethos, in that they look after their recruits.

    I would love to grow our team out more and if anyone’s interested they should get in touch.

    Kirsty: We all have a really similar mentality in how we like to place people in recruitment roles. We wouldn’t push people into different roles if we didn’t think they were right for them.

    Mairead: We’re people over profit and we’re aware that NI recruitment is very small.

    Kirsty: We’re honest with who we work with and what competitors we work with as well.

    Mairead: We tailor our recruitment to them. Our biggest thing is that we actually want to help our clients retain and grow. We don’t want them to have a revolving door, constantly hiring and rehiring for the same roles. We want them to have good recruitment structures in place so that they can do some of their own recruitment. Recruitment is always going to be needed in some form. We want to be able to show that we’re not like other agencies. We’re also working with overseas agency that is able to provide wider resources for us that we use to help bring in good people.

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    Kirsty: Our business plan when Covid hit was that tech roles in NI are so competitive. Our overseas recrourcer has helped us be able to look at a wider talent pool that can work for these tech companies remotely from their own location.

    Mairead: If you’re recruiting for someone that is going to be working remotely, it doesn’t matter whether they’re sitting in a house in Belfast or London, or Dublin.

    We’re still obviously very involved in our home talent but now we’re looking outside the box to try and help bring in an untapped skillset to support these new FDIs coming in. We know there’s a talent shortage and companies are getting into bidding wars, but constantly inflating salaries isn’t going to help anybody.

    Find out more about Whytematter and their services here. 

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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