Learn from the experts in Public Affairs – Blogger #9 – Andreas Brieger, Senior Advisor / Director Sustainable Development, SMEunited
What is the first thing you do in the morning?
Definitely nothing work-related as my two kids keep me occupied in many ways in the morning.
Which news sites do you read (if any) in the morning?
Rule of thumb: no news consumption before taking the metro.
At which time do you go into the office (or start working remotely)?
I’m working in the office 4 out of 5 days. I usually start around 8:45h, a little earlier when I’m teleworking.
How many times a day do you check emails?
Probably too often. However, I’ve got a sophisticated system of folders and rules in place to keep my inbox clean and tidy. For example, newsletters are important sources of information, but I don’t want them to distract my attention from direct communication with colleagues and stakeholders. Instead, I scan them 2-3 times a week in a dedicated folder. Moreover, I am a big fan of outsourcing specific kinds of communication, such as short exchanges with internal colleagues, to team-chat functions in collaboration software.
When is your first meeting?
I started a new job at SMEunited literally just now. A new employer will certainly shuffle around some routines. I take that as an opportunity to reflect about the current routines, adapt them to existing conventions, and am open to exploring new ideas from colleagues (or this blog). My week used to start with a team meeting Monday morning. For the rest of the week, it depends on the kind of meeting: internal meetings are rather limited to official working hours, external stakeholder exchanges are not.
How do you plan your meetings across the week?
For meetings that are planable, I prefer morning slots. Most personal meetings over coffee, however, are often rather on short notice. Flexibility is a key part of my working time. Of course, this has positive and negative sides. However, I tend to embrace that style of working and am convinced that existing working-time regulation allows sufficient room for it.
What is the split between internal and external meetings?
Since my main task used to be convey key messages to stakeholders and a wide range of topics relevant to trade unions and to engage within a progressive network in Brussels, external meetings were taking a bigger share of my workload and required more preparation than internal meetings. In the new job, the role as expert on climate, energy and environmental policy and the contacts with member organizations will surely require more attention. Having worked in academics, I’m looking forward to this aspect, really.
How do you follow news development between meetings?
I do my news consumption in the morning. It mainly consists of scanning the Agence Europe, Politico Playground, Euractiv and the newsletter of a monitoring service (One Policy place) for relevant news. For the rest of the day, I prefer to concentrate on my main tasks. Of course, new legislation due to be published requires a more detailed news monitoring, as it is relevant for a timely internal reporting.
How do you organize your calendar?
My week is organized around two main lines: 1) internal team meetings and bilateral exchanges with colleagues and member organizations, and 2) according to the rhythm of the European institutions. What’s important to me is turning off any calendar and email related notifications for some peace of mind.
How do you take notes?
I use a tablet for “paper people”. While having the paper feeling, I can neatly organize my notes in different digital notebooks without cluttering my desk. Very helpful is the function of export written notes in Word documents.
What is your relationship to Excel?
I would like to throw it overboard because I think it’s good for numbers, but less so for political work. Instead, I rely on tools like Citavi (a reference manager) and the monitoring service OPP.
What is your favorite app & why?
Firstly, “Cardhop”, an alternative contacts app. It allows me to separate professional and private contacts in different apps. For some years, I had to use two phones, but found out that phone-multitasking doesn’t really work for me. Moreover, this app has an awesome digital business card function. Second best is “WorkTimes”, which allows to record working-time and hence monitor my workload as a sort of burn-out prevention. Moreover, I admire people who succeed in the “Pomodoro Technique”, a time-management style using focused work sessions, but I never really managed to discipline myself. In my job, I can’t really afford to be that perfectionist.
How many external lunches do you have a week?
To my mind, a good team spirit includes having lunch among colleagues. In fact, that was one of the questions I had in the interview for my new job and I liked the answer. Besides, I have regular lunch dates for professional purposes. It’s one of the nice sides being a “lobbyist”.
Where do you keep up to date on Public Affairs?
I talk a lot about new technological innovations with colleagues and enjoy some of the trainings by the Public Affairs Council and political foundations. I enjoy thinking about how to transfer methods from related work fields such as campaigning and communications into my Public Affairs work.
What is your best tip for managing work/life balance?
1) Working time recording as it helps to monitor your workload, 2) collective bargaining agreements that ensure a company-wide framework, and 3) the right to disconnect when I’m not working.
What do you do to unwind?
Cooking, playing with my two kids, watching a football match, or urban gardening. During work breaks, I do mindful coffee drinking and the occasional meditation. If needed, a short power nap helps me to regain energy.
What is your favorite collaboration tool?
Up until now, I have MS Teams internally. During the pandemic it has involved into a very useful tool. Personally, I enjoy using Padlet, a digital pin board, for trainings and workshops.
How does your desk look?
While I was working in academics, I used to have a big “pile of shame” on my desk. Since I’ve banned my notes and annotated papers in a paper tablet, my desk is surprisingly tidy. It really helps getting things done.
Do you answer emails on your phone?
If it is urgent, I do. Actually, when doing mobile work, I prefer having “light” equipment, i.e. I usually work on my phone with a mobile keyboard instead of taking a bulky laptop along. Moreover, you don’t have to run it through security separately.
Name a PA pro in the industry you respect and why
I wouldn’t name someone in particular. I respect those, who make the best of a tight budget, speak with an authentic voice and are able to condense complex issues in a comprehensive manner. If we leave the budget aside, Ursula von der Leyen would make a good Public Affairs pro as her headlines are extremely catchy. Back in the days, she used to be called “headline minister” in Germany.
When you go on vacation, do you still answer emails?
I try not to. For some pressing issues for my dearest colleagues, I make exceptions, though. Rule of thumb: a quick scan once per day.
Who is your idol?
I admire New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern for her easy going and down to earth style of doing politics, as well as her engagement for women in leadership. I’ve been living and working in New Zealand for some time and sometimes miss those attitudes among decision-makers.
Which book did you read recently or are you currently reading?
I’ve just finished “The Colony” by Audrey Maggee, a novel where an artist and a linguist spend some months on an island off the Irish coast, capturing the rough landscape and trying to save the Gaelic language. Besides, I’m working myself trough English and German children’s book classics from Roald Dahl or Paul Maar for good night stories.
Do you read anything before you go to bed?
I try to work myself through the Booker Prize longlist. Often, however, I have to pay tribute to a stressful working day and can only make it through to a couple of pages.
Do you use LinkedIn and/or Twitter for work?
It’s a slippery ground, using personal accounts for professional purposes, but yes I do use both Twitter (a lot) and LinkedIn (a little). I am convinced that social networks are already and will increasingly be an essential part of Public Affairs work. I use it for stakeholder analysis, spreading messages and direct engagement. After the recent changes to the Twitter management, I’ll seriously consider switching to social networks with firmer roots in democratic values and respectful communication (e.g. Mastodon).
How big is your PA department (PA employees)?
Actually, I’m not quite convinced that a dedicated PA department is the golden way. I tend to think that mainstreaming Public Affairs or political campaigning over departments leads to better results. I understand the need for both topical experts and communication experts. However, I am convinced it’s the way those competences are brought together that is key to successful Public Affairs. I used to work for a national trade union federation with most people based in Berlin and a handful PA experts in Brussels. I am excited to explore how a European umbrella social partner association like SMEunited organizes those roles.
Where should the PA department be placed in an organization?
If there is a dedicated PA department, it makes to place it to where the internal decision-makers are. I often talked to the communications / campaigning colleagues at my former employer as I think that Public Affairs and campaigning should ideally be going hand in hand in political organizations. It will be interesting to see, which of those elements can be transferred / adapted while working for an employers’ organization.
How did the COVID-pandemic change your work?
Firstly, it created the incentives for many organizations to invest in digital collaboration solutions. Secondly, with hybrid events and partly teleworking being here to stay, work organization has become more flexible and family-friendly.
At which events are you likely to meet me?
Mostly at social partner events. I also regularly attend events in the representation of the German federal state Baden-Wuerttemberg as they have the best wine and best slogan (“The Länd”) in town.
A few words about Andreas Brieger
Having worked as cultural historian in New Zealand and trade union campaigner / organizer in Germany, I have successfully managed the career change to EU Public Affairs professional in Brussels. After more than nine years working for the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) on different levels, I have recently started a new position as “Senior Advisor / Director Sustainable Development” on the other side of social partnership at SMEunited, the association of crafts and SMEs in Europe.
The idea of the blog is to invite a new Public Affairs pro each week to answer a battery of questions about their daily tasks, habits, routines etc. and thereby provide readers with a more realistic view of what Public Affairs is really about: honest and hard work! So with this blog we want to learn from all the good or bad habits from our peers in the industry. Small things, as well as bigger things.
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