“Lessons Learned at Austrian SMEs during the Pandemic” was the title of the speech delivered by Wittenborg Senior Lecturer Dr Alexander Bauer at the first ‘INCREDIBLE’ Conference held on 26-27 October, 2020.
The acronym 'INCREDIBLE' means International Congress on Regional Economic Development, Information Technology and Sustainable Business. The virtual conference was organised by the Faculty of Economics and Business, Universitas Sebelas Maret in collaboration with the Central Java Province of the Regional Development Planning Agency (BAPPEDA). The theme of the conference was “The Pandemic, Business Impact, and Economic Recovery”. Bauer was one of the Plenary Session Speakers as well as the Pre-Conference Workshop Speaker.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a dramatic impact on almost all sectors of business, with widespread restriction policies resulting in mass unemployment, financial problems and bankruptcies. As physical scientific meetings are cancelled worldwide, researchers have resorted to virtual networking as a replacement. The 'INCREDIBLE' conference is one such conference which seeks to provide a venue for scholars, leading academicians and professionals to effectively respond to the global crisis caused by the pandemic.
Pre-conference workshop on public speaking
In the 3-hour Pre-Conference Workshop, which carries the theme of “Effective Presentation and Network Development in an International Conference”, Bauer spoke about information and knowledge in mastering presentation skills for international conferences. Bauer, a public speaking expert, pointed out the importance of mastering presentation and networking skills for academicians, as lack of such skills results in poor delivery of research findings, limits information sharing and leads to unproductive discussions during conferences.
Plenary session on effects of pandemic on businesses
During the plenary session, Bauer spoke about the findings of a research done on Austrian companies by him and 24 other experts from various fields. He shared information on how the pandemic has affected jobs in the Austrian tourism industry, with Austria labelled as a ‘very high risk’ area for tourism in the EU. With 71% of Austria’s GDP generated by the service sector and 10% generated by the tourism industry, the country is reeling towards economic meltdown.
The research involved each expert conducting at least 10 interviews with various managers at Austrian companies. Among the findings communicated to the conference audience were that companies did not understand their markets and their market dynamics, and they lack the ability to change their business models to cope with the changing business environment due to the pandemic and lockdown. Employees also lack skills in IT, soft skills, flexibility and independence to change their working styles or working from home. Despite subsidies by the Austrian State, about 68% of the companies will continue to face uncertainties and 24% are in danger of bankruptcy.
With so many uncertain consequences for society and politics, the research team gave a recommendation to the Austrian State to invest heavily in many companies. The research will also be included as a chapter in a book (with Bauer as the co-author) to be published by the Austrian Ministry of Economics.
As COVID-19 ushers in the future of teaching and learning, and with this new paradigm shift of conferencing and networking, online conferences such as 'INCREDIBLE' will soon be the new norm to continue the transfer and sharing of knowledge. Such conferences will definitely help to keep communications virtually open for the sharing of research findings, such as the one carried out by Bauer, to the learning community around the world in the hope for the betterment of humankind.
by Hanna Abdelwahab