Navigating a new world in German business

26 Mar 2020

Navigating a new world in German business

How is the current pandemic affecting the way the executive search business and its clients are working, and what could be the implications for the future?

At a time when the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) in Germany is speaking daily of an increase in numbers of Coronavirus cases and companies have moved to a work-from-home setup, Kristin van der Sande, Partner in Odgers Berndtson's Global Technology and Digital Consumer Practice, answers a few important questions about its effect on business and the day-to-day in Germany.

What have you seen of the effect of the Coronavirus on business?

Everybody is affected by this. As tough and worrying as this situation is, all of our clients, candidates and colleagues are in exactly the same place.

None of my clients travel anymore. Everybody has turned to working from home over this past week. People I work with turn face-to-face interviews into phone- and video conferences. For roles, I pitch virtually.

Everybody is keeping an eye on the situation from one day to the next.

As an executive search company, we have been used to having virtual interviews, especially with candidates outside of Europe.

This makes us in a way well able to adapt to the new situation, but we understand that not everyone we deal with is quite up to speed so a degree of flexibility is always important.

Closing a search from start to finish with face-to-face interviews between clients and candidates has become the challenge right now. Absolutely no one will hire a C-level executive without having seen that person first. But starting a conversation virtually does not seem to be an issue for clients thus far. At the later stage of a process, when a company intends to hire a person, this becomes critical.

We have also learned from our colleagues in China who have been through the challenge we are facing right now. It is tough for everyone, but people adapt very quickly to new ways of working.

Clients tend to continue with searches for the reasons they engaged with us in the first place. Namely (a) problem(s) in the management team or with the business. Not doing so makes these problem increase with time, up until the moment when we are able to contain the spread of the coronavirus, which may be well into the future. Clients are afraid of losing valuable time, which they cannot afford.

Would you say that business is running as usual?

I think it would be inappropriate to state that everything is like it was because it is not. Our German chancellor Angela Merkel called it the biggest crisis we have been in since World War II.

We have been asked to adapt, and we will need to adapt even more. Working from home, without knowing how long this situation will last, means that people will need to manage their lives differently. They will need to combine work with managing their family. This is a real challenge for parents with kids of any age, often meaning that they will need to work late into the night.

In the end, besides using modern technology, a dash of humor and a lot of common sense will help combat this virus and prevent its rapid spread while our work continues.

What I see with clients is that they try to keep calm and carry on while evaluating the situation closely and taking it very seriously. That is how the business world seems to handle it.

What will be different in the future?

Until the Corona crisis, people used to travel massively. I think this is going to change and people will consider more carefully whether their journeys are really necessary and which are not. I think we will see less travel in the future.

I also think the great sense of caring we see today, with people supporting each other, will stay with us for a while.

Anything you’d like to add?

I often commute between the Netherlands and Germany.
For that reason, I want to quote the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, who finished his latest speech with the words ‘take care of each other!’