During the last couple of years, virtual communication has become more and more popular in the business environment, helping to avoid the additional time and expenses that result from travelling to a physical meeting location. But a preference for face-to-face meetings still prevailed in some occasions or industries, despite the time and expense involved in travel. Now, however, the outbreak of COVID-19 has made virtual communication the only possible form of cooperation, and has shed light on alternative digital options, as opposed to ‘business as usual’ conference set-ups.
As EU4Digital is a multinational project involving various stakeholders such as ministries, regulatory authorities and others, it relies heavily on face-to-face communication and involves travel to various Eastern partner as well as European countries. Meetings and conferences usually require careful planning and are arranged several months ahead.
As COVID-19 began to spread within Europe, the EU4Digital Telecom Rules team was proactive and immediately decided to postpone the country visits that had been planned to Azerbaijan, Moldova, Georgia and Belarus, as well as expert group meetings until the situation regarding the COVID-19 became clearer. But as one country after another went into lockdown, it became clear that alternative ways were needed to organise meetings and progress with work.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU4Digital Telecom Rules team has established separate virtual groups in the Microsoft Teams (MS Teams) platform for each expert working group of the Eastern Partnership Electronic Communications Regulators Network (EaPeReg). This enables EaPeReg as well as the EU4Digital team to collaborate efficiently. Furthermore, EU4Digital together with the Roaming expert working group (REWG) moved their physical meetings into a virtual environment and organised three virtual REWG meetings, where Eastern partner countries had an opportunity to express their feedback regarding the draft Regional Roaming Agreement (RRA), as well as to agree on further steps towards the signing of the RRA.
During these unprecedented times when everyone is getting used to new ways of working, it is important to minimise the face-to-face contact and thus the impact of COVID-19, without losing progress and productivity. In responding, EU4Digital has found that virtual communication can be as efficient as physical meetings when moving towards common deliverables.