The staff of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) consisting of 700 people are professionals in virtual meetings. The technology needs to work in a sure-fire way when the house’s AV staff arranges and supports 1,500 remote meetings a year for the agency’s chemical experts.
The façade, filled with rust-acidified steel plates and large rows of windows, rises handsomely and asymmetrically towards the spring blue sky of southern Helsinki. The folded roof of the new building looks like the same material as the walls.
At the turn of the year 2019-2020, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) moved to Telakkaranta in Punavuori from the edge of the Old Church Park. A spectacular entity called the “Mini-Brussels” was made for the international chemical industry by combining “the old” and building “the new”.
The people of the EU Chemicals Agency negotiate, agree and monitor that the products of manufacturers and importers do not contain dangerous substances. There are more than 200 chemicals on the list of banned substances. They may not be present in products sold in the Union.
The job description for the technical team lead by Audio-visual Service Manager Konstantinos Anagnostakis is to set up and support meetings organized on premise, but also remote connections when the agency starts video conferencing to somewhere in the world many times a day. Everything must run quickly and smoothly, as there may be dozens of participants in the meeting.
In addition to him, Anagnostakis’ team includes two Finnish technicians from the agency, as well as a support duo hired from Audico Systems Oy, AV Operators Matthew Stocks and Jarkko Nieminen. For the biggest events, Anagnostakis orders additional help from Audico to support him. He sees this outside help and the flexibility provided by the contract as a great benefit and relief.
Due to the desire to reduce travel between different countries for cost and climate reasons, the role of video conferencing in decision-making has increased. Yet physical negotiations are also still needed, as agreement and mutual understanding are easier to find when the parties hear and see each other face to face.
On-line and on-site
Anagnostakis, who is Greek, came to Helsinki to work from London six years ago. He is excited about the agency’s new magnificent location, even though it is a little further from the city center than the former one. But the busy schedule of moving over to new premises during the Christmas holidays, and the twists and turns that preceded, has exercised the Service Manager’s mind.
“Because all our contracts are put out to tender by the EU, plans, systems and equipment came from many countries and required a lot of coordination and cooperation. The Greek company, which won the AV contract by tender, raised its hands in the final meters of the project. The Belgian Axians took their place in the project and chose Audico Systems as their Finnish subcontracting company. The outcome of the contract was successful. The project was delivered to the required excellent standard, within time and budget, thanks to the smart resource allocation from Audico’s Project Manager who allocated the installers based on the waves of equipment delivery, organising everything before installing them. And so far, there have been no major issues with anything that was installed during that period”, says Anagnostakis about the stages towards the end of the year 2019.
Project Manager Tero Torenius from Audico explains how the ECHA case differed from a usual project for Audico: “The Agency had ready-made equipment and a audiovisual plan. We installed the equipment in the new premises according to the plan and ensured that everything was in full working order according to schedule. Everything proceeded very quickly. The concluded project model is such that in the future we will also maintain the equipment as needed, and lease two of our AV Operators for ECHA’s use”.
ECHA uses the Cisco Webex system for its video and teleconferencing. Anagnostakis can place employee pre-order negotiations in a convenient location for the house’s many different sized spaces. Before and during the meeting, a member of the technical team will be on hand to ensure that the video and audio connections play properly and that the participants know how to work with the remote connections.
At Audico, Head of Service Mika Pohja monitors the Excel spreadsheet filled in by Anagnostakis on a weekly basis, which shows upcoming meetings and more detailed information, such as the equipment used, and the amount of on-site AV support required.
”I then steer the right manning on the spot in right time. We also record everything and report to ECHA on a monthly basis and, for example, if changes or reforms are needed to the technical side”, says Pohja.
According to a recent survey carried out on ECHA's staff, 85% of respondents, or 421 people, were satisfied with in-house AV support.
Staff from 28 countries
ECHA has been based in Helsinki for 13 years. Finland had lost the battle of the Food Agency to Italy but received in replacement an agency with twice the number of staff. ECHA employs people from almost every EU country. Of the about 560 employees, about a third are Finns, followed by Italians, Germans, French, Spanish, and Greeks as the nationalities that are represented the most in the agency.
The eight-story office building designed by architects from “L Arkkitehdit” includes a modern black-speaking new part, as well as a protected yard painter’s workshop and carpenter’s workshop designed by architect Theodor Höijer in the 1890s.
When you look up from the café-restaurant or conference islands on the first floor of the building, the old crane parts and steel beams painted bright yellow are reminiscent of the industrial history of the premises. Outside at the waterfront you can see the harbor crane still rising.
A glass bridge attaches the conference and meeting center to the office building. The wing’s large, 500-seat conference hall is built in a more than 100-year-old, protected workshop hall.
Having worked with audio-visual affairs in Crete, London and Helsinki, Konstantinos Anagnostakis has amusingly noticed the different ways in which Europeans work:
“In EU work, it has been interesting to see how working methods and cultures vary from country to country. For example, the Greeks and Southern Europeans are like ping pong players: ping-pong, one question a time, things are balled in front of you and the opponent reacts with lightning speed. Central Europeans, on the other hand, are tennis players: the punch is directed calmly on the court and the other party responds if they have time or are able to. The Finns are a bowling nation: the ball is directed towards their goal in peace and thoughtfulness. Most of the time, there is a total strike, to which you can react by giving applause”, Konstantinos laughs.
Text: Tom Nyman
Images: ECHA, Kuvatoimisto Kuvio Oy