Project Description

A Conversation
for the Future

We publish this issue of Agora in spring, a time of the year when nature wakes up and brings us its most beautiful gifts. Despite the sad and complicated year we have lived, how could we resist its appeal to feel a new kind of hope and trust that better times are to come, soon?

Many were the occasions in this past year when I have found myself looking around for a manual – “How do I live this? How do I interpret that?” Most of the time, I did not have an answer and I wish there was a sort of manual, a tool for the future, that would tell me anything I needed to know to keep going.

In so many ways, 2020 was a year of accelerated, rollercoaster-kind of learning, made of unexpected lessons and none of them easy. It was definitely a year to stretch our limits, think of new boundaries and maybe ask ourselves: what counts most? What can we learn from our own stories and the ones around us?

One thing we know is that work will never look the same. This may also mean that trade unions need to reinvent themselves in order to be able to offer value to their members and make their presence felt  in a more meaningful way across Europe. “The COVID pandemic and its long-term economic impact make it more essential than ever that workers have strong and effective trade unions to protect their interests,” writes Greg Thomson in this issue, proposing a view to what it takes to make the unions stronger.

Concerning our work and our private life, Roberto Righetti looks at how we lived the curious period we are living. His findings are telling – people feel more pressure overall, workload has globally increased since March 2020 and the trend has continued since September on. Our honeymoon with teleworking seems to come to a certain end and the way we perceive it depends significantly on whether we are too far from or too close to the important people in our lives.

It is no surprise that “teleworking from abroad” is a hot potato these days. Juan-Pedro Perez-Escanilla examines what this would mean in the current context when many perennial concepts like “work place” seem to be changing as well.

How do we cope with all these – working from home, teleworking from abroad (add also some adorable kids to the equation), zoom are exactly the focus of Steve Bainbridge’s “snapshot”, pinning the  productivity and procrastination that such situation may lead to. No, there is no manual on how to do that, not yet.

At times, too taken by our own feelings of overwhelming we miss to ponder how children live the current situation. Catherine Calambe takes a closer look to the impact of the lockdown measures had on our children’s physical and mental well-being.

While we seem to be still pondering how much place online meetings will have in the future, academia seems to have a clear and confident view: online meetings may make learning “greener” and hybrid teaching an innovative option. You can read more about it in Laura Bechi’s article about how the European Institute in Florence is adapting to respond to the challenge.

When it comes to staff representatives, you may know their voices better, as they are always there to answer the phone, particularly in this last year. We had the idea to invite you to know better two dear colleagues from Union Syndicale Brussels (Commission). In the interview of Noémie Mertens, Sophie Hottat speaks about how important it is for her to have a human connection and visual contact, to be present for colleagues, but to be able to recharge her batteries by disconnecting in the evening. Pietro Rossi depicts a touching portrait of Ignazio Iacono, one of the most generous and genuinely loving personalities in the staff representation.

In the last part of this issue, we talk to people who made our digital lives more meaningful.  You can read short interviews with colleagues who kept the windows of learning opened for us, encouraged us to start meaningful conversation and supported our well-being. Ana Yturriaga Saldanha, Head of the European School of Public Administration, and her team managed to propose the learning offer online in record time. Obhi Chatterjee and Julie Guegan, invite us weekly to come Together-Ensemble and “dream big for Europe”.

Andy Whittle, who is giving the well-being monthly workshops for Union Syndicale Fédérale, opens up and shares his own version of the “get healthier challenge”. For the last page, we allow on purpose Emmanuelle Melchior, our resourceful colleague in EPSO, to push you gently toward your yoga mat.

I was saying in the beginning that, at times, throughout the last year, I missed a sort of guidance to help me navigate the uncertainty around, overwhelming at times. But one year has passed. We seem to have learnt, sometimes in unexpected and sometimes in painful ways, that the fabric of our lives is made more of connection and belonging than of things. We are, I like to think, a bit better at caring for others and well on the way on learning how to be kinder to ourselves, how to prioritise our mental well-being. I tell to myself that maybe we do not even need a manual for the future, all we need is to start the conversation that brings us together in a bolder, common and inclusive vision.

Daniela Simionescu

Daniela works as a translator in DG Translation since 2007, is active in the staff representation and president of the Commission’s Cancer Support Group. Before joining the Commission, she had worked as a diplomat in the team that negotiated Romania’s accession to the EU. She has a certification as a coach, specialising now in health coaching.

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