Telework and unnatural disasters: Brexit

One of the reasons I recommend telework is its usefulness in allowing work continuity even in the case of natural disasters: earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, blizzards  and the like. I haven’t spent much time writing about telework and unnatural disasters. Now here’s one that’s made to order: Brexit. A disaster that the UK and the EU are just now beginning to recognize.

Amid the gory details of the Brexit process, a saga that evolves daily, is that of the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The problem is that the EMA is currently domiciled in London; Canary Wharf to be exact. The role of the EMA is comparable to that of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States. The EMA approves medicines for millions of Europeans.

But Wait! How can an agency responsible for the medicines of Europeans be located in a soon-to-be non-European country? Answer: Politically speaking it can’t; it must move to the Real Europe.


According to an article by Sarah Neville in the 26 March 2018 Financial Times, titled How to manage a Brexit-enforced move, the leader, Prof. Guido Rasi, and staff of the EMA at first didn’t believe that Brexit would actually happen. They were admittedly in denial. But, as reality set in it seems that EMA would need to pick up and move to . . . ? Where in Europe? Not only was there confusion about when the move would happen but where in all of Europe their new home would be. The unnatural disaster was becoming more real every day.

Now, as is typical of any organization that has its headquarters in a specific location for year, the homes of the staff of EMA were scattered around the greater London countryside. Complete with associated shopping patterns, friends, schools and related non-work activities. Now the EU is asking/forcing them to pick up stakes and reestablish themselves elsewhere. There are some 900 staff members in EMA, together with 500 associated kids, all comfortably ensconced in the UK.

Nineteen European cities made bids to the EU to host the EMA and its staff; the EU finally chose Amsterdam [good thinking, in my humble opinion] in part because it had the greatest support among the staff members. Still, 150 of the staff (one-sixth) have opted out of the move.

The EMA staff are not people who can be easily found almost anywhere; they are highly trained professionals with expertise in the arcana of medical applications and their side effects. Replacing the 150 will not be easy — or quick. On top of that, the whole agency is in some level of turmoil related to the impending change.

A solution?

You knew this all along, right? Management, after actually communicating with the staff throughout this transition period, came to a conclusion, according to the article:

Employees have been offered teleworking if personal circumstances prevent them from moving by the time the EMA completes its relocation in March 2019. This cuts both ways: 62 people have asked to telework from the Netherlands until the EMA moves, often so children can start at new schools.

So what starts as an unmitigated unnatural disaster may turn out to be better than the worst case scenario, at least. In fact, if teleworking can be sold the the EU politicians (I know from personal experience that the European Commission is in favor of teleworking) the teleEMA may turn out to be an even more interesting and resourceful organization. As has been the case for many other organizations, once telework has been introduced it is hard for all concerned to go back to the 20th century.

Stay tuned!

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