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Emerging from the bunker

Posted 7/2/2021

By R. Bruce Wright, CPCU

As we approach the midsummer holiday, it seems like a good time to reflect on what the future may hold for us as we begin to leave the isolation of the pandemic defensive measures and start to return to the “new normal” of the work environment.

Many of our utility customers’ employees have worked steadily, dare I say even heroically, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic of the past year and a half. Most of them put in the same (or more) hours, the same (or more) effort, with little adjustment to the virus-ridden world other than sacrificing the easy breathing of unmasked noses and the close companionship of others outside of their families. On the other hand, many office workers were sent to work from home, lobbies were closed, and the social aspects of working life were curtailed significantly. Many employees were quarantined as a result of exposure to family members, some infected, some just themselves exposed, due to their work as medical providers, teachers, or other service professions. With that background, now that vaccines are widely available, will we all return to the lives we led before, unchanged in the aftermath of the events? Probably not, at least for many of us. 

We all learned a lot during the past year+, about both others and ourselves. One thing I hope all managers learned is that workers value their jobs, and will work hard even if no one is standing over their shoulders. This has long term implications for hosts of workers, maybe even you! Many employers are in the midst of re-evaluations of their investments, for example, investments in large, centralized offices to which everyone must commute daily at prescribed times. Real estate is a major cost, commuting is a major frustration, and both can be reduced by using remote workers or even a hybrid system of staggered days in and out of the office. Meetings, once held sacrosanct as needing face-to-face, handshake contact have been smoothly replaced by remote contact through a variety of technological platforms — Zoom, Skype, GoToMeeting, Denim, fill in your favorite here — and no one seems to have missed a beat. Some people tell me that their video safety meetings are not as good, but others tell me that theirs are better! (The wise guys in the back don’t seem to cluster and distract as much,  I’m told.) And, while smaller utilities may be less likely to adopt remote “home-based” work across the board, larger ones may well look at hybrid models, in no small part because their employees often prefer it, and appreciate the flexibility it offers. Undoubtedly, many of the larger commercial clients will also do the same thing. 

But in addition, I am hearing for our contacts of other changes, for example, in some remote and sparsely populated areas where growth spurts seem to be coming, with new construction and new service requests spurred on as city dwelling folks leave metropolitan areas and head for the countryside, where land is available and housing is affordable. One of my contacts said he could easily sell his home for multiples of what he paid for it, now that home sales are booming, if only there was somewhere else he could afford to live! So your community may change. Or not, depending on where you are. 

I do believe that some aspects of general business will likely change; companies that have seen success with remote contacts and video- or tele-conferencing may well opt out of the expenses associated with field sales staffs. Regular meetings may well be replaced or made optional with video options instead. Many of you were already experimenting with that before the pandemic struck; now you have had plenty of practice it may become the new normal. 

As the months go by I am sure we will see plenty of changes from what some people are now referring to as “the before times.” Personally, I am hoping to begin to get out and visit you in person, but only when I can control my exposure to the unvaccinated among us. Meanwhile, I hope everyone stays healthy and don’t forget that I am always available by phone or email if you have anything you want to discuss!