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COVID-19 Impact: Changing the “Typical Office” for the Energy Utility Industry

By in General | June 3, 2020

COVID-19 has impacted business across the globe, including the energy and utility industry. The industry powers vital services – access to clean water, health care, food production – that are essential for modern life. Now, more than ever, the need for safe and reliable power is paramount. Stay-at-home orders created a two-fold impact for utilities: a shift in the office environment and a rapid change in the model of demand load.

Although remote work is common in other industries, I can count on one hand the number of times I spent an entire workday at home when I was employed by an electric utility. Many utilities pivoted to a primarily remote workforce in a matter of days in order to maintain business continuity. A recent conversation with a C-level executive at an electric power organization revealed that his company chose to implement Microsoft Teams nearly a year ahead of schedule, in order make a smooth transition to home-based work.

This doesn’t mean that a remote work environment is possible for every staff member. There is still a need for some workers to remain onsite to perform essential functions – such as grid operations, dispatching, NOC and field operations – in order to maintain the physical grid. Communication between field employees and the rest of the organization must also continue uninterrupted.

The surge of employees working at home also changed the load on the power grid. Lights, appliances and other devices are in use during the workday, when they may have been off while most people were at work. Some parts of North America are experiencing summer-like weather, which means more homebound employees will be utilizing air conditioners to stay comfortable. Utilities also need to adjust to this shift in demand for electric power.

Will the ‘new normal’ change the location of the office for utilities?

The answer depends on the business needs of individual utilities. Some utilities may view the ‘new normal’ as a temporary situation and choose to slowly transition most remote workers back to an office environment as stay-at-home orders are lifted by local authorities.

Other utilities may choose to embrace this ‘new normal’ model as a long-term solution. Recently, a director of information technology for a U.S.-based utility noted that having outgrown their office space and leased space, the company expected to keep much of its workforce working from home after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. The company viewed the increase in remote employees as an opportunity to reduce its real estate footprint. Tech companies are leading the way in embracing the work from home model. Most Facebook employees will not return to the office until the end of 2020 and Twitter recently announced it will even allow some employees to work from home “forever.”

While the location of our work may change, the “show must go on.” While the means of solutions delivery will change; strategies, roadmaps and plans need not. It is important for teams to acknowledge this “new normal’”and adopt new models to work with both vendors and clients. Vendors that cannot support these new models may be left behind.

Can my vendors support me in this new world?

This is an increasingly common question for Xtensible and one you may want to ask your vendors. I find myself reminding our current and prospective clients that working remotely has long been the norm for Xtensible. All Xtensible consultants work from home-based offices. We have a secure infrastructure needed to provide for remote engagement online training, and consulting services.

Xtensible is currently developing its first Virtual IEC CIM Introduction 101 training, which was typically delivered on-site at a client’s location.

The key take away is that there is a new norm and we encourage you to ensure your teams can design, operate, deliver and maintain in the new norm along with the right vendor support. The Xtensible team is here to help with the state-of the-art tools needed for reliable, accurate measurements and the digital infrastructure for the future.

Stay calm. Stay safe.

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