DR: When did you start telecommuting as a covid-19 precaution?
YB: The Representation of the European Commission in Luxembourg has been strictly following instructions from its headquarters. It is essential to protect the staff. On Friday the 13th of March, I called my team together for a last physical meeting, in order to get organised. Only critical staff from the next day onwards was allowed to come to the office if the work could not be done from home.
What do you like about your telecommuting workspace?
I mainly work from my living room, an open and bright space. If it gets warmer, I will move my homeworking space outside into the green. This is of course not possible when working in the Maison de l’Union européenne. I do miss meeting and brainstorming with my team, and being in the centre of town, busily organising the next commissioner visit or citizens’ dialogue. All that will unfortunately not be possible for a while.
Yuriko Backes likes to have flowers in her home office. Photo: Yuriko Backes
Is there a “personal touch” to your home workspace?
I always have flowers and a lit candle around, and I like working with classical music, mainly Bach.
How do you make telecommuting work for you?
A big part of my job is to be in contact with citizens, to exchange, discuss and inform about the EU. Reaching out to citizens is to some extent limited to social media now, where my team has been actively engaged. There is a lot of disinformation out there. The competences of the EU treaties regarding public health are limited. The responsibility for the organisation and delivery of health care fall under the competence of member states. The commission’s role is thus mainly to support member states; it wants to avoid them taking uncoordinated or even contradictory measures that ultimately undermine common effort to fight the outbreak. So, we are busy conveying the message that the EU is part of the solution! Because it is!
Have you developed any new habits or routines?
I do stick to a routine, getting up early. I have always started my day with yoga and Pilates, and a couple of weekly cycles on my home trainer. Now there is no excuse but to do this every day. The time it would normally take to get the office can now be invested differently.
Early morning yoga/Pilates on the tatami is part of a daily routine for Yuriko Backes. Photo: Yuriko Backes
How have you managed to maintain communications with your team and keep them motivated during the crisis?
I am in daily contact with my team, via mail, phone, video conferencing. We have agreed to use the time wisely and work on specific projects that in normal times one never finds the time for. We all need to think out of the box. If a few weeks ago someone had told me that in 2020 we would not be able to celebrate Europe Day on 9th of May at the Place d’Armes and Square Jan Palach in Luxembourg, I would have declared them as crazy. But that is what is happening now. We are determined to celebrate the importance of Europe Day in another way. It is more important than ever!