Inside EUMETSAT: meet Phil and Sonia
Inside EUMETSAT interviews Phil Evans and Sonia Misuri.
This week, Inside EUMETSAT returns with a very special interview with two more of our outstanding EUMETSAT colleagues: Phil Evans and Sonia Misuri! They work together every day, but joined EUMETSAT just over a decade apart—Sonia back in May of 2008, and Phil just at the beginning of this year.
15 March 2021
15 March 2021
Inside EUMETSAT is a series of articles for the EUMETSAT Science Blog that will be published over the next weeks and months. Each week, we’ll introduce you to two valued members of our team: one newcomer, joined in the past year, and one senior staff member who has spent years at the organisation.
In a time that’s far from ordinary, we hope to use this opportunity to introduce our readers to some of the diverse and friendly faces they might encounter in the course of a normal day at EUMETSAT. It’s our goal to appreciate and celebrate all the different and talented people who work here. We hope these articles will help you discover—or rediscover—EUMETSAT.
Meet Phil and Sonia!
Thanks for joining us today. Let’s get started with some introductions to make sure all our readers are on the same page. What is your current role at EUMETSAT and what duties does that entail?
Sonia: I am the Personal Assistant to the Director-General, so my duties include…. a vast range of very different tasks. Generally, you could summarise them as “do whatever is needed” for that the Director-General to be able to work effectively.
Phil: I'm Director General so they are quite broad! Formally, the key element is to propose the organisation’s strategy and ensure it is effectively implemented.
Do you normally interact with your interview counterpart's division? How?
Sonia: Naturally my main point of contact is the DG. I interact with him continuously; even when he is not directly speaking with me, I follow his work so I can be ready to support his needs. We use all available means of contact and are looking forward to the end of the pandemic so that we can see each other in person more often.
Phil: I interact with Sonia pretty much on a daily basis, through every channel you could think of—email, instant messaging, phone and video calls—the only method of interaction that's mostly missing at the moment is a face to face conversation!
What has been your biggest challenge during COVID and lockdown?
Sonia: The biggest challenge was changing the way we worked in the office. Previously, we were a very paper-based office, so we had to find new ways of sharing information in a digital way. Also, as effective communication within the team is key for our office to the function, we had to introduce new skype or webex conferences to replace our daily exchanges. Remote working works better that I had ever imagined possible, however we all miss the spontaneous face to face interactions that come with working in the same building. On one hand, the new electronic workflows have improved clarity and efficiency in handling documents. On the other hand, interpersonal communication has become quite cumbersome. These days, it’s not as easy to solve or avoid misunderstandings with a quick chat over a coffee…
Phil: Starting out as DG is always going to be a challenge and COVID hasn't made it any easier. Actually some of the biggest problems have been related to moving into an apartment in Darmstadt during lockdown. My previous organisation, which was based in the UK, closed down its buildings in February 2020 and hasn't opened them since—so I'm very used to lockdown and working remotely. I've met almost all of my closest colleagues face to face at least once, but now almost all of my routine interaction is via video meetings. However, the thing I miss most at the moment is the informal discussions and chance meetings that happen when everyone is in the same building. This is particularly a problem for me, as I like to ‘think by discussion’—talking through issues with people, exchanging ideas, and so on. That is just much harder to do remotely.
Where do you usually work from? How do you interact with your colleagues?
Sonia: There are four of us in the DG's Office: Anita, Maru and myself, plus the DG. One of us three goes to the office every day, and the other two work from home. So every week each of us get at least one or two days in the office and spends the other days working from home. The interactions take place mainly via Skype. We open a 3-person chat in the morning and it remains open all day. We also have a "5-minute update" via webex almost every day so we are able to "see" each other. Additionally, we have organised some shared "Teleworking" folders, where we deposit the documents that we want to share, without sending an e-mail each time. In my communications with the DG, I use e-mails, phone calls, skype and regular catch-ups on WebEx. It is incredible, but it works!
Phil: I was able to visit the HQ in person for a few weeks at the beginning of this year, but at the moment I'm working remotely from the UK because of the COVID lockdown. That being said, I interact with almost all the EUMETSAT divisions on a daily basis, either via emails, Skype, Zoom, or other platforms. I do also attend a number of formal and informal meetings with outside partners, together with EUMETSAT colleagues. I have a good level of interaction with EUMETSAT colleagues, but I am looking forward to when these can be face-to-face.
Sonia, you joined EUMETSAT back in 2008. What was your experience of EUMETSAT like during normal, non-pandemic times? Why do you like working here?
Sonia: I like working at EUMETSAT because it is challenging and never boring. The most amazing thing for me is that, as a non-German living in Germany, even if you speak very good German and are well-integrated into the German society, you nevertheless always remain a bit "different." Often in a pleasant way, interesting, exotic. At EUMETSAT, you are just as "different" as everyone else. It is a little world where it is normal to have a non-native accent in some of the languages you speak. We can share exotic cooking recipes, tell stories about national traditions or dream of our native places as the perfect places for vacation.
Phil, you just joined EUMETSAT this year. What has been your experience been like so far? Were you able to come to HQ and meet colleagues face-to-face?
Phil: Well I started on the January 1 this year, and COVID restrictions have only tightened since then. My impressions are of an organisation that has responded incredibly well to the challenges we are currently facing, and one that it is full of very talented and motivated people. For me, along with the major contribution we make to society, one of the major attractions of the organisation is the people I work with. I have been in to HQ and met a few people face to face—but up to now it’s been very limited!
I appreciate that the COVID situation has been incredibly difficult for everyone—teleworking is demanding aside from all the other burdens that people carry because of lockdown. I have a great deal of sympathy: for the last 12 months, I have teleworked continuously, except for a few weeks. I understand the challenges of home schooling with a young family and how much of a toll this can take on people.
At the moment what I find most difficult is not knowing when the situation will ease, but we know that it will. I am looking forward to the time when more of us can spend time working together in HQ, when I can meet people face to face and all of us can benefit from the direct personal interaction that we all missed so much during lockdown!