Business etiquette

Estonia FlagAt the beginning of the 1990′s, after regaining their independence, Estonians were eager to embrace western ideas and values and were willing to learn a different approach to doing business.  Previously, their attitude to doing business was dictated by their experiences during the Soviet era, and was directly opposed to the western style and mindset. The attitudes and values of the Estonia business community are now influenced by the Scandinavian countries.

Estonians are patriotic and nationalistic. They want to be winners in business, and to show how competent they are. They understand that  to build informal business contacts takes a long time and that it is neither  a quick nor easy process.

Estonians do not really indulge in small talk. On the contrary, they get straight to the point and get things done. Representatives of Estonian’s companies do business with firms, not so much with people and that is why they do not feel the need to have built up a relationship first in order  to do business with you. Many international companies now have branches in Estonia, and their own corporate values run alongside those of Estonian companies.

Obviously, if the foreign company or manager understands the general business environment, they are entering into the reception they receive will be more favourable.

Corporate social responsibility

In Estonia, a relatively new concern is the topic of corporate social responsibility. Although CSR has grown in importance, Estonian society is still not accustomed to routinely demanding greater responsibility from companies. The main reason for this lies in the fact that after Estonia gained its independence at the beginning of the 1990s, there was a post-socialist identity crisis, which meant that there was no time to consider subjects such as CSR.

However, the new generation of Estonians is conscious of this and is keen  to contribute to the development of a fair society in which corporate social responsibility plays a vital role. There are several organizations, which develop and promote corporate social responsibility in Estonia. The most active of them are the Open Estonian Foundation, the Responsible Business Forum in Estonia, the Good Deed Foundation, and the Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

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Estonians are always on time for meetings, so visitors are also expected to be punctual. Generally, it is a good idea to arrive about five – ten minutes before your appointment, in order to give yourself time to prepare for the meeting. Your Estonian counterparts will do the same. If you anticipate being late, it is advisable to call ahead and explain/apologise for your lateness.

Estonians can be perceived as being obsessive about punctuality. They have a saying “time is money” and in describing it as a economic resource, time is clearly very important to them. Be aware of this since being very late, can adversely affect what might otherwise have been a good business partnership.

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Gift giving

Business partners do not tend to expect presents when meeting for the first time, but small gifts to business associates are generally accepted. If you bring something local from your country, then make it something small and unique that represents your country or  company, such as a souvenir.
Acceptable gifts are chocolates as well as an odd number of flowers

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Business dress code

The basic rules of dressing for business in Estonia are  the same as those of  other European countries. In business, cleanliness and tidiness is essential. Estonians tend to be formal dressers men wear dark suits with a tie and most importantly quality shoes. Some Estonians may try to gauge your success by the quality of the shoes you wear. However, other Estonians wear casual clothes, so often it’s difficult to differentiate between a businessman and an  office clerk. The dress code also differs between Russians and Estonians the latter are more stylish and trendy. Russians are more flashy  and old fashioned at the same time.

Women will wear a jacket and skirt or a trouser suit which is less formal. For business meetings, a dark suit is always a good choice for males and women will be appropriate in a suit or anything elegant. Being well dressed is a matter of prestige. Estonians keep up with what is going on in the fashion world and dress accordingly.

Because of the weather in Estonia, warm clothing is worn for two thirds of the year and it is important to bring a scarf, gloves, hat and warm boots when visiting. It rains a lot during the summer so  it is recommended to have an umbrella or a raincoat.

In the office, a less formal dress code applies and men will remove their jacket and work in shirt sleeves. In small and medium sized companies, there is usually no dress code at all  with everyone wearing ‘business casual’, unless they are attending a business meeting, when they will wear a suit and tie.

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 Bribery and corruption

Estonia is similar to the rest of the former communist countries when it comes to corruption. In the past, it was common practice to give presents to get things done, such as seeking reduced waiting times for official papers, cutting through red tape, or even inducing politicians to pass legislation favourable to particular businesses. Estonia’s ranking in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index for 2012 is 32 (on a scale from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

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