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The nation has been forced to learn to work remotely - and those parts of the workforce that can’t, including key workers in utilities, are fast adapting. So, will Covid-19 make utilities press reset for good?

It’s been a week when we all, quite literally, watched history being made, as the prime minister addressed the nation and ordered Britons to stay at home.

Nothing feels too surreal or surprising anymore for a country that has helplessly witnessed an outbreak of coronavirus completely transform the way we all live and work.

One of many other strange sights this week was that of legions of City executives spilling out of their offices with computer monitors tucked under their arms. In just days, the UK has been forced to learn to work remotely. And those parts of the workforce that can’t – including key workers in utilities – are fast adapting.

It is impossible to predict what is going to happen even in the short term. But what we do know is this has already thrown up some big questions around companies’ change agendas, operational resilience and management models.

Within the energy and water sector there will always be some organisations that are slower-moving than others, both operationally and culturally. Some will be more agile and confident with technology and remote, flexible working. For those less adept, there will be difficult days ahead.

What is certain is that we are all unlikely to act as we did before Covid-19 effectively pressed reset on the working lives of the nation.

One Utility Week industry source has spoken of how, despite the unwelcome hurdle of adapting to social distancing, their company’s first week of operating in this remote new world – including adopting virtual management meetings – had seen a leap in both business productivity and efficiency.

So, should we be asking if pre-coronavirus working patterns are already gone forever? And whether companies may, in many respects, emerge from this enforced restructuring stronger and more resilient? It already feels like a given.

Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. And the need for innovation to create solutions to huge challenges is, fortunately, a mindset that utilities already embrace.

At a time like this, when it’s hard to see many positives amid the relentless tide of worrying news, this could at least be one of them.
Suzanne Heneghan, editor, Utility Week magazine.

  • Utility Week today launches its new online webinar series, ‘Ask Us Anything’ featuring your questions and industry experts as we look at how coronavirus could change the utilities sector. More details here
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