In recent issues of the newsletter we outlined the role of the Board and the Executive Team (ExT). Additionally, the President, members of the Board and the ExT have all offered personal perspectives about their role within euRobotics. This month we focus on the work of the Office, and specifically the roles of the Secretary General and the Office team.
In essence, the role of the Office is to run the association administratively, maintaining a day-to-day presence. It manages the association’s finances, membership administration and communication, makes sure euRobotics fulfils its legal and regulatory responsibilities, handles queries and requests for information, responds to incoming requests from internal and external stakeholders and generally implements decisions of the Board and the ExT. Some of this is delivered directly by the small central team, technically based in Brussels but currently working remotely most of the time. Other services are delivered through contracted partners and service suppliers. Through the Office team, euRobotics has also participated in projects funded by the European Commission.
One of the Office’s many tasks is to interact with the diverse administration systems and procedures of member organisations. The team has become adept at juggling different web portals, differing company payment terms, countless email addresses and a variety of required invoice formats. Some member organisations need invoices uploaded to specific locations, others are automated and digitised. It’s routine, time-consuming but necessary work. At present the work is semi-automated but for the next stage of the Office’s development a more automated workflow system is high on the requirements list. Currently, the Office is taking a big step in this direction by working towards the transfer of financial administration to a Caspio system. When that’s in place, members will be able to check for themselves that membership and billing data is accurate and up to date.
The Secretary General’s view
The senior role-holder is Reinhard Lafrenz, Secretary-General of euRobotics since 2016. Reinhard outlined the scope of activities: “The Office’s function is to keep all the base work running, organise membership activities, events and communication. We set up Board calls and meetings, every year we organise the General Assembly and play a major part in the coordination of the European Robotics Forum (ERF) and the European Robotics Week (ERW). We also manage requests for euRobotics’ participation in conferences and workshops – this is of growing importance as we pursue our aspiration to build a network of alliances. We work with our treasurer (Geoff Pegman, ExT member) and external accountant to handle both routine and longer-term financial matters.”
Reinhard explained the value to euRobotics of participation in EC-funded projects: “It makes sense to be involved as this helps us contribute to creating a community and to the innovation landscape. Through our two project officers Marco and Marta, euRobotics has been able to play a valuable role in two projects: DIHNET.EU and RODIN. DIHNET.EU has now concluded and we are delighted that it received a very positive evaluation from the EC. RODIN will continue until next year.”
What’s the most time-consuming aspect of your role?
There is no single task that can be seen as THE time eater and it varies over the year. There are many different tasks related to administration. Interacting with the Board and the ExT is part of the regular tasks, Dealing with internal groups such as Topic Groups, and external stakeholders who approach us for various reasons, is all part of the game. Also the organisation of or participation in various meetings and events with different groups needs resources. Just one example: there are times in the year when ERF preparation is a key focus, with several phases, from the call for hosting to organising workshop proposal reviews to the actual preparation of the ERF and especially the co-located General Assembly. These are all important activities for euRobotics and they require time.
What gives you most satisfaction in your role? What’s the main frustration?
It’s really good to see new communities build, to see events go well, to be able to showcase new developments, to see a really engaged robotics community at ERW. It’s also satisfying to see a lot of people who are really active in their Topic Groups, and to have a real sense that the wider community is interested in cooperating with us. I enjoy it when we have productive Board workshops. There are many small time-consuming issues which divert time and energy from strategic and membership activities and which don’t give us any real impact. We always want to deliver better service to our members and nothing should get in the way of that.
What’s your assessment of working remotely?
The Office team has operated remotely since the start of the pandemic. After we had to learn “the hard way” to operate remotely, we now see that it can work, but we also appreciate the benefits of sometimes being physically together, which also contributes to a positive team spirit. We’ve also had some departures within the team and this has led to the redistribution of some tasks. We wanted to see how the Office and the Board could operate better by using virtual virtual meetings– even before the pandemic started we had already decided to hold more frequent Board calls – so this has been a big lesson in working better remotely. There are advantages and disadvantages and opinions vary. Our newest team member, Marie, had never met any of the team face-to-face until last month. Some people value the office environment and the coffee machine, others less so. I can’t say that remote working is better or worse – some things go well, others less so. I would say from a personal perspective that overall efficiency has increased, with less travel time and physical meetings, but on the other hand personal contact and getting to know people is much harder. However, we were able to transform and adapt relatively quickly to this mode of operation. On the other hand, we are really looking forward to the ERF, our first big “family meeting” since 2020.
Where do things stand now?
We have been talking about ‘euRobotics 2.0’, about the need to transform the association, for two years. It became clear that our office structures would need to be reshaped. This is the point where the Pegasus project comes into play. Bringing in a small team of subject-matter specialists from different backgrounds who are not employees but who understand euRobotics and what we want to achieve, was not only a way to have additional resources but it is also helping us to bring in fresh thinking, modernise our operation and increase the momentum. This is where we are now.
What would you like to see euRobotics achieve in the future?
We would like to increase the network, the level of content and our interaction with members. We want to create greater value for members. For everything we do – an event, a workshop – there should be a clear outcome that can then be used, to feed into a Topic Group, to create a policy paper or to stimulate new projects. We can bring people together who would not meet otherwise. Fundamentally, with everything we do, we want to provide satisfaction and give people reasons to become and remain a member of euRobotics.