Remote and hybrid approaches have drastically changed the way utility operations work. We look at three approaches utility organizations can use to improve the remote employee experience.
The pandemic caused many utility organizations to pivot to a remote, then hybrid, work environment for many of their employees (operations and field personnel likely excluded but still impacted).
Many had a legacy, on-premise solutions they had to quickly make available in a new model or replace with a cloud work-from-anywhere solution. Employees had to change their work models and collaboration paradigms from the traditional “everyone in the office” work environment.
Today, the remote and hybrid work solutions utilities companies use to collaborate and get work done are likely:
- Inefficient for the users
- Vulnerable to security risks
- Difficult and costly to support.
In this blog, we’ll explore three ways utility organizations can keep employees productive and engaged through remote work.
1. Use a Comprehensive Collaboration Platform
One of the largest areas of inefficiency is the number of concurrent solutions users need to access to perform the same task. Best example? Virtual meetings. Ninety percent of Fortune 500 companies use multiple video conferencing platforms to connect with their colleagues.
As remote and hybrid work becomes a standard for many utility organizations, employees are finding that even some of the most common daily tasks, like scheduling, hosting and joining meetings, are often a frustrating challenge. Why? Because many organizations don’t have a standard, singular, supported solution for holding virtual meetings. Centric Consulting president and co-founder Larry English details this challenge in his recent Forbes article titled, “Outdated Tech is a Non-starter in the Hybrid World.”
According to Larry, companies “think by providing employees with numerous ways to connect and collaborate, remote work will be successful. The result is usually the opposite – people don’t know what tool to use for what function, and even something simple like scheduling a meeting feels like a minefield.”
He goes on to stress that “organizations should invest in a few tools that can work together and cover all your needs” because “the fewer tools used by an organization, the easier to manage in terms of security and IT support.”
Most, if not all, of our large utility clients have already invested in Microsoft 365, which gives them the opportunity to further standardize and govern the solutions their employees use to collaborate daily. This includes using features like Office, Teams, SharePoint, OneDrive and Exchange Online.
2. Provide Secure and Compliant Collaboration
One of the biggest challenges organizations face as many employees remain in a more permanent remote or hybrid working model is the increased risk of security vulnerabilities.
We have found internal networks and tightly controlled VPN access no longer connect utility employees to the systems and data they need for their jobs. In short, utility organizations must extend networks to homes and a multitude of different devices. This introduces the risk of new security vulnerabilities.
A recent study found that 67 percent of utility applications have at least one serious exploitable vulnerability open throughout the year. The impacts of these security vulnerabilities can be devastating. For example, last year’s Colonial Pipeline attack forced that company to shut down over 5,500 miles of pipelines and cost $4.4 million in ransom paid to hackers. Today’s utility organizations need a security model that improves cyberthreat defense, adapts to the complexity of the hybrid workplace, and protects people, devices, apps and data wherever they work.
Zero-Trust Security follows the guiding principle “never trust, always verify.” This security framework requires verification, authorization and encryption for all users, whether inside or outside the organization’s network before they receive access. It also assumes there is no traditional network edge. Networks can be local, in the cloud or a hybrid with workers in any location.
While no security strategy is perfect, and we will never completely eliminate data breaches, Zero Trust is among one of the most effective strategies. Zero Trust uniquely addresses the modern challenges of today’s utility organizations, including securing remote workers, hybrid cloud environments and ransomware threats. A key component to the standardizing on cloud platforms like Microsoft 365 is adopting a framework like Zero-Trust Security.
3. Reduce Collaboration Costs
By adopting a cloud work-from-anywhere solution, organizations have shifted many internal infrastructure and support services costs to their cloud provider, which should have resulted in overall cost savings. However, the burden of supporting a remote workforce has increased. One of the major contributors to this burden is what some are calling “last-mile support.”
The “last mile” refers to the internet connection leading into a home or office. For remote employees, their home internet connections are now being used to complete their job. Most companies used to consider the internet connectivity of employees beyond their “scope of influence,” but creating a functional remote work environment requires support from corporate resources and ISPs (internet service providers).
An employee who lives in an area with poor or inconsistent internet access will not be very efficient in their role if they cannot reliably connect to, stay connected, and send and receive information on time. Many employees are not, and should not be, expected to be internet technology savvy to optimize their connection to their corporate cloud-provided solution. This creates two new challenges for IT support organizations.
- First, how does IT provide the necessary support for your employees working from home or on mobile devices?
- Second, how do you provide the ongoing communication and training needed to help employees maximize the capabilities (and reduce frustration) of solutions like Microsoft Teams?
Every employee has different remote work needs. Understanding their needs and how a company organizes their IT support function will determine how to best solve these challenges. For example, many utility organizations will need to prioritize training employees to effectively participate in Teams meetings from mobile devices or areas with limited bandwidth.
Last-mile support is one of the many challenges an IT organization faces when transitioning to a hybrid or remote workforce. IT organizations need to evaluate and understand the new work challenges facing employees and adjust infrastructure and support standards and processes to address those challenges.
The Future of Energy & Utilities Work
Remote and hybrid models are redefining the nature of work across all industries. However, utility organizations are uniquely impacted due to the characteristics of the sector and its employees. By addressing these key collaboration challenges, utility organizations will see improvements in efficiency, productivity and the remote and hybrid worker experience.