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Communication Evolution for a Disrupted Workforce

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Global Pandemic

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) global pandemic is affecting everyone. People and utilities adopt new behaviors – almost daily. They ask themselves not only “how do we get through this?” But also, “What good can be harvested?”

Staying close to home, my wife and I went for a long walk on Sunday afternoon. We have taken two more since then. When we come out of this trying time, some new actions will stick– like more Sunday afternoon walks. In a way, it has been beneficial to be forced to think differently about quality time together. We saw the value in doing things in a new way. We will keep this habit.

Utilities Adjust

The Edison Electric Institute said, “a large percentage of a company’s employees (up to 40 percent) could be out sick, quarantined, or might stay home to care for sick family members.” A workforce deficit of 40 percent would challenge long-standing comfortable work habits and patterns. Utilities cannot close their doors. They must maintain safe operations. Moreover, what if a storm hits?

Utility staff are resilient. We serve our customers – every time. We rise to the occasion.

My engineering staff started asking about working from home in the 90’s – it never really caught on. Now, just like that - employees are working from home. Field employees are each taking a separate vehicle to work sites. Some are taking company vehicles home and reporting directly to their first job rather than to a central meeting point. It makes sense.

Limiting virtually all gatherings and meetings tests our conceptions of communication and collaboration. And, it just blows up the paperwork culture.

Employees are not able to turn in paperwork in the same way. Some are using the postal service to deliver their papers to the home of the person that handles it next. Sub-optimal at best! Mail service is being disrupted in some countries upsetting this seemingly simple paperwork workaround.

Locating Improvements

In their personal lives, utility employees shop, file taxes, bank, pay bills, and enjoy entertainment electronically – remotely. Could a utility do more things like this – of course.

What value could be added to workflows? Plenty!

Entering data directly at its source, without paper, delivers several benefits. Errors drop and throughput increases. Less handling cuts out delays in data entry. Timeliness of information skyrockets. The entire organization enjoys a real-time view of activities improving management and business decisions.

Most utilities rely on GIS in some way. However, some still view this as a “Maps and Records” responsibility - not grasping its superior communication principles. A modern GIS plays a critical part in communication. It pushes and pulls information specific to each person’s role and interest. Even external stakeholders like customers and local governments get exactly what they need. And, it does all this while addressing hardware and data security in a comprehensive manner.

Common Communications Using GIS

  • Assign and close work assignments
  • Examine current conditions and reference information
  • Consume status dashboards
  • Access public-facing web maps and apps
  • Collect data
  • Navigate and track locations

Communication is essential – it is the foundation of leadership. These resources bolster every utility employee. For example, the call center sees the current status of daily work. They also understand large project progress, and storm response. Mobile communication tools that rejuvenate existing workflows also scale up readily for emergency response. Utilities that see GIS this way use it to drive their tabletop exercises. All emergency staff practice with the same tools they will use in actual conditions (see an example). Because they are straightforward, foreign crews easily use them too. 

Wrap-Up

COVID-19 impacts are increasing daily and likely to affect utility work for some time. Utilities are reaching for ways to keep employees and customers engaged. They need ways to manage information without handing papers from one person to another. Customers want to know what is happening. Employees need to get information without walking down to the wall map in the conference room or a co-worker’s cubicle.

ArcGIS is a fully modern GIS. It has wonderful communication capabilities that can be stood up very quickly. These help organizations adapt to changing conditions. The next time you take a walk at your home office, consider how advancements in communication could result in permanent improvements to existing workflows.

To find out how a modern GIS can improve communication, download our free e-book.

Pat  Hohl's picture

Thank Pat for the Post!

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Esri
Esri, the global leader in geographic information system (GIS) software, builds the most powerful mapping and spatial analytics technology available.

Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Apr 9, 2020 9:05 pm GMT

Great overview of some of the minute parts of the day to day that you might not realize something like the current situation would interrupt. The silver lining, as spelled out here, is that hopefully some of these interruptions turn into disruptions-- the good type of disruption that you hear Silicon Valley types talk about. Work from home becoming more of the norm, digital rather than paper, etc. I'm very curious to see a year from now what organizations went back to business as usual circa 2019 and which were more forever changed through these events (and in the digital case, for the better!)

Karen Marcus's picture
Karen Marcus on Apr 15, 2020 3:26 pm GMT

Thanks for this optimistic post, Pat. I agree with Matt, it will be interesting to see what emerges as the "new normal" in terms of how we perform our jobs. I've been working from home for many years and never understood why it's not more widely done. I've always been able to receive assignments, communicate with my clients, and deliver work products perfectly well. I guess sometimes it takes a major event for people to shift into a different way of thinking and doing things. 

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