Wednesday, 23 September 2020
Local Time In Israel Asia - Jerusalem

 

(Reading time: 6 - 11 minutes)

Doing business in Israel during the coronavirus. A guide to best business practices and Israel business culture.

The coronavirus pandemic is affecting businesses in a variety of ways. From loss of business to remote work, things are changing fast during the COVID-19 outbreak and businesses are being forced to adapt. But the good news is that despite the pandemic and the Israel economic crisis that the country has been thrust into,  the Israel-based IVC Research Center reported that the Israeli hi-tech industry secured $5.25 billion in funding - spread across 312 deals - throughout the first half of 2020.

COVID-19 has impacted every business differently. Every business faces tremendous challenges as we try to rebuild our economy. 

namaste

Namaste! An ideal 'handshake' during  the pandemic and in the religious community

The business culture in Israel is diverse; the population is a melting pot of people from different religious and cultural backgrounds, east and west, casual and formal and if you are planning to do business in Israel, you can save yourself a lot of anxiety by understanding local business practices. As we learn to live with the full impact of the coronavirus we see business practices evolving and changing.

Safety first

The first order of business is keeping guests and staff members safe. The MOH's guidelines for members of staff is clear but what can you do to protect the safety of your guests?

  • First thing to do, when arranging a meeting, is let your guests know ahead of time, the arrangements you have made and how you expect them to protect themselves when visiting your premises.
  • Hold high level meetings outside of regular working hours when most of the staff have gone home.
  • Figure out a seating plan either in your conference room or if that is cramped perhaps host the meeting in your reception area.
  • Of course, as soon as your guests arrive make sure they wash or de-sanitize their hands.
  • Improve ventilation - we don't know enough about the spreading of Covid-19, but in the mean-time official guidelines suggest improving ventilation in closed spaces. Keep the aircon on (an oxygen concentrator can also help with air flow - this is becoming a norm in countries where there are cases of Covid-19 are high).
  • Limit meeting duration.  Discuss what you need to discuss, get straight to the point and cut meeting times down to the absolute necessary.

The handshake is out

When doing business in Israel, hand shaking was the norm. Coronavirus social distancing directives have changed all that; the elbow bump, putting your hand on your heart or the Hindu Namaste greeting are now the accepted norm.

Putting your hand on your heart shows sincerity.  That and the Namaste greeting are good ways to get around making any type of physical contact with religious colleagues and business partners of the opposite sex. The elbow bump is also out for members of the opposite sex within the religious community

In pre-corona days your Israeli colleague might have put their hand on your shoulder when greeting you.  Kissing on both cheeks was an acceptable form of greeting in a business setting both among men and women who know each other very, very well.  But, no matter what, you must respect the religious background of your business partners. Religious Jews will not shake hands, kiss, touch or bump elbows with members of the opposite sex.

Business meetings - Israel time

Under regular circumstances, punctuality is important but at the same time remember that Israelis are more relaxed about time and it is not uncommon for people to arrive 10 minutes late for a meeting.  If you are visiting Israel and have a string of meetings on the same day, it would be respectful to inform your colleagues and let them know that you are running late so that they work around your schedule.

In these days of Covid-19, be on time for a face-to-face meetings; people are edgy and want to get home as quickly as possible.

Don't be late for your Zoom meeting, Google Meet, WebEx, Whatsapp video call, Skype or other online meetings. If you experience problems connecting online, most of these offer you a regular telephone call in number.

On first name terms with the executives

You might be used to addressing your CEO, members of the Board of Directors and executives as Mr. or Ms., but in Israel, chances are that unless you are addressing the Prime Minister, a judge or your local mayor, you can most likely call them by their first name. Great respect is given to academics and certain professions;  professors, doctors and lawyers.  Call them by their title and once you have gotten to know them better, you can usually switch over and call them by their first name.

Personal connections

The concept of - It's not what you know, but who you know - gets things done and makes business deals happen in Israel. Personal connections are of the utmost importance. How come this is possible? Israel is a small country and everyone knows each other; the CFO's brother was your officer in the army or the young entrepreneur's mother, owns a travel agency and one of her clients is a venture capitalist looking for a good investment.

Israeli business people build their networks and are masters at capitalizing on their professional and personal networks. Using international conference to build your network in the days of the pandemic is almost impossible so get colleagues to help you with introductions.

Initial contact and introductions

As we said, everyone knows each other in Israel, and when exploring a new business relationship it's common to have a friend or colleague make a formal introduction by way of email and now this is even more important.  Share contact information and a couple of lines detailing the relevancy of the introduction. Once the introduction is made follow up by sending your professional Bio Sketch.

More on Israeli customs, behavior and etiquette

Business hours

Official guidelines suggest spreading work shifts and limiting the number of staff members in the office. This could mean that if your face-to-face meeting is taking place at an irregular time, support staff might not be available.

Under regular circumstances, the Israeli work-week is from Sunday to Thursday.  General working hours are from 8am - 5pm. Offices working extensively with the USA may have extended working hours and could be open until 8pm. The average Israeli works a 9 hour day or a 45 hour work-week. Few offices work on Fridays.  Shops are open but everything is shut down by 3pm on Friday afternoon (including public transport). Almost no one will work on a Saturday and do not expect your Jewish colleagues to be available for calls or meetings on the Sabbath (sundown on Friday until after sunset on Saturday night).

Even though many office workers are working remotely from home now days, you should respect the standard office hour boundary.

Meeting dress-code

It was common for overseas visitors to attend introductory meetings in Israel in a business suit (without a tie). A pant's suit or a tailored skirt was appropriate for women.  Follow-up meetings were more relaxed - smart casual; a tailored button down or polo-shirt and trousers worked well.  Modest hemlines for women and refraining from wearing revealing clothes so as to not offend influential, religious colleagues. Unless the office has a dress code, general office dress is casual and jeans are acceptable in everyday situations (fashionable torn jeans are out).

For your Zoom or online video conference, smart-casual is acceptable.  If you are Zooming from home, as so many are during the pandemic, make sure you are suitably attired.  Just because you are at home, does not mean that you should show yourself in your workout clothes.

The dress code for job interviews

Business cards

Under normal circumstances you would come to your business meeting with a stash of business cards and exchange them with others.  It is not usual for Israelis to have a photograph of themselves on their business card - a common business practice in the Far East. Business cards are mostly in English but some have Hebrew information on the back.

These days when physical face-to-face meetings are not popular, send your business card electronically.  During your Zoom meeting you might want to take a screen shot of your new colleague and file it in your database together with their contact details. Most offices use Microsoft Outlook. 

Meeting location

Meetings generally take place in the Board Room but meetings at cafes and restaurants are also common. Start-ups could be using a co-working space.  Of course in corona times special attentionopen spaces are recommended

Meeting structure

  • Under normal circumstances, Israelis are more flexible when it comes to the structure of the meeting. The topic of the meeting will be clear from the outset.
  • Don't be alarmed if there are interruptions during  meeting.  Israeli business relationships are much less formal and adjourning a meeting for a few minutes to take an important call, can happen. Of course this cannot happen during a Zoom.
  • Israelis tend to interrupt one another while they are talking, this is not considered rude, don't be afraid to speak up in order to get your point across. If there are a lot of participants, the Zoom meeting coordinator should be strict about muting and unmuting participants.
  • Turn mobile phones onto silent.

Negotiation stage

Face-to-face, Zoom or no Zoom, Israeli's love to negotiate and figure a price - it's a traditional part of the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean culture  Just like Israelis would bargain the price of tomatoes in the vegetable market, they will also negotiate a business deal or professional service.  Be prepared for extensive negotiation before finalizing a deal.

Politics

Israel is a cultural melting pot and however much international business experience you have, Israel's cultural and religious heritage is very complex. Don't discuss Israeli government, politics or religious issues during a business meeting or during a hiatus in a Zoom.

Business language

Hebrew and Arabic are the only two official languages in Israel but English is the global language of international business and Israelis with international business activities, speak English well.

On meeting your colleague for the first time say:  "I am very pleased to meet you"

Israelis are not overly  fussed by using please and thank you but visitors from abroad should do it anyway.

The Hebrew word for please: "Bevakasha"

The Hebrew word for thank you (very much): "Todah (rabah)"

The Hebrew slang for great or wonderful: "Sababa"

End off the meeting/Zoom by saying: "Wonderful to meet you. Thank you for your time (and if it's worked out well, add - I look forward to working with you in the future)"

Want to learn more Hebrew words prior to your business trip? Use our free word-sheets for beginners, intermediates and experts

Body language

Remember that whatever you say is confirmed or negated by your body language.  Shaking your legs, playing with your beard, tapping on the table, yawning without putting your hand over your mouth and winking are all no-nos. Be extra careful on video/digital conferencing where one tends to forget that there are people watching you.

Gift giving

When international travel resumes gift giving will also resume.  Bringing your host a small traditional gift from your home country will be appreciated; tea from China, a Beaujolais from France or fine chocolates from Belgium.  Gifts will be reciprocated when Israeli business people visit your country.

If you are invited to someone's home, a hostess gift of flowers or wine, is perfectly acceptable.  Ask a Jewish friend for advice and guidance - you must always remember the rules of Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) when presenting a food or beverage gift.

You might be surprised to know that it is common practice for companies to give their employees or valued clients a gift before the New Year or Passover holidays. It is not common for workers to buy personal gifts for their managers.

The Start-up Nation

From Start-up Nation to Smart-up Nation - Israeli entrepreneurs are generally broadminded and fearless, they look out of the box and way beyond. They are goal oriented, address complex and difficult situations and use them as catalysts for innovation an invention. Failure is not a stumbling block - it's a motivational tool.

Wishing you the very best of luck in your endeavor!