In February 2020, TIME magazine described the coronavirus pandemic's workplace implications as "the world's largest work-from-home experiment." Today, it's apparent that it is no longer an experiment, but a new way of working for the foreseeable future.
Globally, 70% of people work remotely at least once a week, as every sector from government institutions and utilities to big tech companies and major corporations have embraced off-site work (Figure 1). However, that doesn't mean that companies are ready for this seismic shift. According to The Washington Post, as many as 90% of companies lacked adequate remote operations infrastructure to successfully maintain continuity during this transition.
Simply put, the ad hoc approach to remote work that defined the pandemic's early days is not sufficient as a long-term solution to remote work. Instead, companies need to scale their capacity, preparing for a trend that isn't just unique to this moment, but one that will define the way organizations operate moving forward. Here's why.
1. Employee Satisfaction
There are many reasons that people enjoy and even prefer remote work. Some are worried about the health implications of returning to the office, others are happy to rid themselves of a commute, and some found remote work to be more productive than being on-site.
Regardless of the reason, 72% would like to continue working remotely even after COVID-19 removes the impetus for doing so. Therefore, establishing remote operations while it's mission-critical can have positive implications for years to come.
For example, the energy sector struggles to attract and retain top talent, and an effective remote work option can be a compelling reason for workers to stay on the job, which saves time and money while producing better outcomes. For most companies, the future of work is a hybrid workforce that includes remote, distributed, and on-site employees working together to provide customers with incredible goods and services. In this environment, remote operations capacity is critical for finding and keeping the best talent.
2. Talent Acquisition
While near-term layoffs, furloughs, and hiring reductions are increasing worker availability, in the long-term, the energy industry is facing a precipitous talent shortage. It's estimated that average staff turnover in the industry is 9.7%, making it the eighth-highest industry for staff churn.
According to a recent Gallup poll, more than half of workers said they would leave their jobs for a new opportunity that offers a more-flexible work arrangement. For energy workers, who often endure onerous travel to far-flung sites, enhanced remote operations capacity could reduce churn and increase the potential recruitment talent pool.
Today's cybersecurity landscape is expansive and problematic, a reality that is exacerbated when employees rely on remote operations capabilities. Bad actors are continually trying to exploit power producers, which means that cybersecurity needs to be a top priority when scaling remote operations capacity. Specifically, this means employing a simple "zero-trust" operational technology (OT) platform with key security features including:
- Multi-factor authentication
- Protocol isolation
- Unidirectional mediated secure file transfer
- Full user access logging and recording
- Granular system and/or application access control
4. Cost Reduction
As utilities across the board feel the financial pain from the pandemic, remote operations capacity represents a way to reduce costs without downgrading capabilities. For example, sending people on-site to investigate problems is costly, but increasing remote visibility and control can reduce both the frequency of on-site visits and the number of people needed to operate critical systems. At the same time, enabling a remote operations environment can prevent companies from incurring costs related to travel, on-site workspace expansion, or other changes necessary to comply with health guidelines.
5. Long-Term Resilience
As recent virus spikes and cascading closure orders reemerge, it's clear that the future is anything but certain. Rather than planning for short-term solutions, companies should expand their remote operations capacity, preparing them for everything from a pandemic to a natural disaster.
The COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated the need for remote operations capacity in the energy sector. In this way, this moment is encouraging needed change that will position the energy sector to be more efficient and resilient in the years ahead.
In a report on this shifting landscape, McKinsey & Co. described the implications of this transition, "Many companies are not only seeking solutions to improve their performance in the short term–and increase their competitive edge in shrinking markets–but also to ensure long-term sustainability in the next normal through healthy transformation." In other words, those who excel at this priority will be prepared to move their company forward, while those that ignore the challenges are at risk of being left behind, which is perhaps the most compelling reason of all to increase remote operations capacity today.