What effect has COVID-19 had on the NI Tech Sector?

26th November 2020

2020 has been a tough year for most. A global pandemic, a recession, and Brexit is looming. Let's take a look at what's changed in the tech sector over the past year. A quick note before we get started though. I'm not a lawyer or an economist, and while I've made every attempt to make sure the stats I've mentioned are correct, it's possible I've made a mistake. If you spot any let me know! As always, do your own research.

Furlough

According to a survey conducted by Corvus Recruitment, almost half of the 43 participants worked at companies where staff had been furloughed in 2020. It's hard to say if that is representative of the entire industry, but with 54,100 people in Northern Ireland (as of 30 Sep 2020) still on furlough, it's not hard to believe.

The same survey goes on to say that during the course of the year, most of these individuals have been brought back into work. This aligns with the numbers shared by the treasury that shows fewer and fewer people on furlough since the peak of 111,800 earlier in the year.

A notable mention here is Kainos, who had furloughed 131 out of its 1700 employees. The company made use of the scheme for 2 months before announcing that it would bring all staff back to work and repay the full £400,000 they had received.

Remote Work

As a result of government restrictions to try and curb the spread of COVID-19, many developers have been working from home. In the same Corvus study mentioned above, almost 90% of participants have worked from home for an extended period this year. For many people, myself included, working from home has made finding a work-life balance easier and allowed for a more flexible routine. For others, it has been a more difficult change leading to feelings of loneliness and isolation. I would imagine that remote working in some form is here to stay. This pandemic has forced people to reconsider what matters and gave employees a chance to prove that they can work productively at home. From a business point of view, this could lead to cost savings with smaller offices and reduced bills, etc.

Meetups

Meetups and conferences took a hit at the start of this year. With restrictions in place to prevent groups of people from meeting, many organizers took their events online. A shining example of this move online going well was NI Developer Conference held 9th - 10th October. The folks that organised it did a fantastic job of safely bringing together the tech community to share knowledge and new ideas. Many smaller meetups have done similar throughout the year including Devops Belfast, Belfast Gophers, NXNW, Newry Digital, BLUG, Bash, and many more. One thing a remote meetup can't quite replicate though is the social aspect. I for one am looking forward to having a pint or two with my friends a Belfast JS when it's safe to do so.

Getting online

It has not all been bad. Despite the shaky start to the year, many web agencies have found themselves with more work to do than ever before. With the ever-changing lockdown rules, many businesses have been scrambling to get an online presence, allowing them to continue trading regardless of restrictions. As a result, agencies that focus on this kind of work have been kept busy.

Conclusion

It's been a weird year and I think it will leave lasting changes in the Tech sector in Northern Ireland. Remote work is here to stay. Business travel for meetings has been replaced with a video call. Small businesses that never would have thought about getting an online presence now depend on it. Brexit is around the corner now and it will have serious effects on us and particularly businesses that trade outside of the UK. On the bright side, we have several promising vaccines on the horizon, so hopefully, 2021 will be a little better for everyone than this year has been. 

Paul McBride

Founder of WeCode NI