A Response from the Irish Business Community in Germany
I wanted to take the pulse of how my fellow Irish Business Network members are coping with the effects of the coronavirus on their business as we step into 2021. The responses to the questions below are from professionals, small business owners and employees right across Germany.
I What are the biggest challenges facing you right now?
Two major challenges emerged immediately (that are obviously connected):
- On-going uncertainty was mentioned by everyone
- Financial issue by 90%
It’s not just businesses dependent on travel and physical presence that are financially challenged. Even those that managed to ‘switch’ online are as well.
II What kind of support would help you deal with these challenges?
There was an overall consensus on two issues:
◆ The need for more direct and indirect government-backed financial support
◆ The need for more personal and professional support
The personal and professional support required includes:
- informal chats with friends & colleagues
- professional advice on dealing with pandemic-related problems, such as training on how to manage staff working from home
- support in creating more networking opportunities for the Irish business community
The supportive role of the IBN’s bi-monthly, online event, Thursday Cuppa, organised by Edmond O’Donnell, was mentioned by 60% of respondents. As Róisín Russ points out, “It’s one of the upsides of the pandemic. I love how we can connect with Irish business communities across Germany and present ourselves in our professional capacity as well.”
III What effects, both positive and/or negative, have you experienced since March 2020 that are directly related to the coronavirus?
On the positive side, the benefits of remote working are in the forefront & include
- the time and money saved on travel
- the flexibility it offered, particularly for those with family responsibilities
- Over 50% remarked on how the exponential improvement in online tools is making the shift to remote working easier and more productive
On the negative side:
- 70% mentioned the isolation and how that has negatively impacted on motivation & moral
- new communication challenges, ranging from the slower pace of problem solving with colleagues to difficulties connecting with current & new clients
- 50% of the responses mentioned how quickly ‘zoom fatigue’ has replaced in-house ‘meeting fatigue’!
The Personal Effects of Corona
I asked specifically about the effects of the coronavirus on their business. What emerged in the responses is how quickly the coronavirus has erased the divisions between the personal and the professional.
“The pandemic has prompted many to re-examine their identity” was how Margaret Haverty summed up the consequences for the Irish community living in Germany. Margaret, a Historical & Cultural Anthropologist, is writing her PhD on this topic at the University of Tübingen and began her research in March 2020.
According to Margaret, for over two decades the Irish in German-speaking Europe have lived what sociologists term ‘transnational lives’, i.e. they live in two countries. The arrival of Corona put an abrupt end to the “hopping between homes”, as Joanne Galvin describes: “I’ve always had the feeling since moving abroad that I somehow lived in 2 countries and did not have to decide for either! 2020 turned that thinking on its head!”
Margaret’s research is highlighting how “this seismic shift is forcing the Irish to re-negotiate their lives in Germany”. The parameters within which they are doing that are currently … uncertain.
The Road Ahead?
In times of uncertainty, moving forward also calls on us to check our rear-view mirror for orientation.
According to our Celtic ancestors, the beginning of February marks the festival of Imbolc, or it’s Christianised name St Brigid. The significance of Imbolc is that it falls between, what farmers called, ‘the freeze and the thaw’, meaning deep winter is almost over, but spring has not yet arrived.
On a practical level, this in-between phase (lasts until the 21.3) is the perfect time to prepare, to organise, to do the spring-cleaning, to put our house in order for when the thaw is complete. It’s a time to prepare for the changes that are coming; for the emerging ‘new normal’.
How can we apply the ancient wisdom of Imbolc to the current challenges we face at the beginning of 2021? And how can it help us cope with the effects of the coronavirus on our business?
Your Route Planner
Here are a few simple steps on how to use this time wisely to anticipate the road ahead & ready your responses:
- Organise your physical working space (office, desk & computer)
De-cluttering gives you back a sense of control and order in your personal space, which in turn helps clarify ideas, activate motivation, improve productivity & ignite creativity.
- Optimise & Streamline
Have a look at your technical systems & business strategies. Ask yourself what do you need to upgrade or replace? Is this the time to pivot?
- Build Bridges
We’ve discovered the importance of belonging to supportive groups in 2020. Now is the time to strengthen and expand our networks.
- Be easily Found, Seen & Heard
When ‘spring’ finally arrives – and it will! – it’s crucial that your business is perfectly positioned to cut through the clutter of noise that will be released. Now is the time to clarify your marketing message, update your ‘pitch’, revise your content (presentations, profile, website, etc.) and select the most relevant communication channels to connect & engage with the right audience.
Imbolc is a time of stillness AND a time of preparation.
It’s the time to get ready!Learn More
Many years ago I attended my first formal networking event. It was a baptism of fire on many levels. I came away from it with a number of essential networking tips on how to communicate in a business setting and beyond.
During the first half of the evening we sat around tables in groups of 8 and introduced ourselves – a kind of warm-up for having to do it later in front of the whole room.
I introduced myself as a Storytelling Strategist. The man sitting next to me responded by assuring me he would never need my services as he was a “natural born storyteller”!
For the next hour he told us story after story after story … about himself. He interrupted others, he didn’t listen when others spoke. His endless anecdotes were of no relevance to us or the event.
Ever been in the company of someone like that?
When his turn came to pitch to the whole room, he swaggered to the front and talked & talked & talked … about himself. He went over his allotted time of course. He sat down next to me and proudly announced “See, I told you I’m a natural storyteller!”
In the mix & mingle session afterwards he floated from one group to the next, to the next, shoving his business cards into the hands of everyone he came in contact with.
The essential networking tips I learned that eventing:
- Telling random stories to impress is NOT storytelling. It’s waffling.
- Sharing anecdotes about yourself is NOT connecting. It’s a verbal selfie.
- Interrupting others with your opinions is NOT having a conversation. It’s a monologue.
- Pushing your business cards, ideas & views at people is not communication. It’s self-promotional hustle.
- Going over your allotted time is NOT respectful of other people’s time. It’s rude & selfish.
- Talking non-stop is NOT networking. It’s broadcasting.
The same tips apply to networking online. The form is different, but the behavioural norms are still apply. The advantage of online networking is we can discreetly disconnect!
Then some people wonder why they don’t find networking effective or useful!
When we net-work we are creating a net, a web of connections in our field that will help us in a variety of ways.
I connected with two people that eventing and I’m still in contact with both of them Neither became clients of mine. One became a trusted mentor and friend. The other has referred clients to me over the years.
It was a very successful networking event for me on two counts:
- the networking tips learned
- the two lasting connections I made that eventing.