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Productivity anywhere is the new nature of work


September 20, 2021

The nature of work for utilities has changed—as it has for many industries—and that change might be permanent. Earlier this summer I participated in a webinar with the Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD) to talk about the future of work for utility company employees.

We have done a lot of research into what the future of work might look like for utility companies. We found that, by meeting six fundamental human needs through work, companies—including utilities—can unlock their people’s full potential. Strengthening these “Net Better Off” elements can create meaningful, trusting relationships with employees and increase business performance.

Understanding workers’ differing mindsets

Accenture took a comprehensive look at the future of work and found that utilities workers have very different mindsets, ranging from disgruntled/pessimistic (about 20%) to optimistic/energized/thriving (40%), with the remainder best described as apathetic (12%) or ambivalent (28%). Hybrid workers are more likely to be thriving, while onsite workers are more likely to be disgruntled. Not surprisingly, 83% of those surveyed wanted to work in a hybrid environment (and 58% had been working in such an environment during the pandemic).

There are important factors that help keep workers productive and healthy at work. These include strong social relationships at work and onsite learning opportunities (such as apprenticeships, mentoring and digital skilling). Employees also need both leadership they can trust and a degree of autonomy in their job when onsite. Those working remotely also seek autonomy (although they say they are less reliant on their leaders to support them) but they also seek an agile organization. They draw energy from life enhancement and the freedom to pursue learning opportunities on their own time.

People who can be productive anywhere have greater personal and organizational resources than those who can’t be productive anywhere. On a personal basis, such employees often display positive mental health, a desire to participate in learning, and strong digital skills. They have a degree of autonomy on the job and have strong social bonds at work. They work for organizations described as agile, intelligent, and digitally mature, with supportive leadership.

Keep in mind, too, that there is a spectrum of work models that utilities can look at as they think about their approach to the workforce. These range from fully onsite to fully remote, with variations including company-driven set schedules, worker-driven set schedules and ad-hoc arrangements. In developing these models, utilities need to consider a range of factors such as operational continuity, workplace safety, ways of working, digital collaboration, hiring and retention and workplace culture. Balance is critical.

How utilities can support productivity anywhere

Utilities can do much more to make their employees happy and productive in remote, onsite or hybrid environments. Some initial key steps:

  • Accelerate modern HR policies. Utilities can develop strategies to ensure workers are net better off as they transition to new workspaces, teams and roles.
  • Design work around people. Utilities should respond to the needs of all types of employees to foster trust and confidence.
  • Build digital fluency. Digitally fluent utilities grow faster & are better placed to work. Such fluency can take place at all levels & design learning paths for many needs.
  • Lead with humanity. Leadership at all levels needs to ensure workers are net better off. This calls for a fast-fail culture of ongoing experimentation and improvement.

Overcoming barriers to a hybrid workforce

While a hybrid workforce may be happier and more productive, getting there presents challenges for utilities. For example, sustained remote working seems to affect workers’ mental health, leading to loss of purpose and motivation, anxiety, and isolation. Similarly, remote workers run the risk of missing opportunities for career progression, information and development. There may be issues for new entrants into the workforce, who need to build networks and interpersonal relationships. On a more technical level, companies are addressing issues such as tax and insurance risks, cybersecurity concerns and the infrastructure needed for remote work.

It is also important to consider the challenges for the workers supported by the hybrid workforce, such as line workers and plant employees. Include them as leaders in the design and implement new work models. Their psychological and physical safety is of utmost importance to utility operations.

Through new remote and hybrid work arrangements, “productivity anywhere” is helping increase workforce diversity and flexibility, enabling employees new ways to expand and grow their careers within utilities.

– MISSY HENRIKSEN, Executive Director – CEWD

There is no template that works for every organization. And what works now may not work next year, so flexibility is essential. Leadership developing a vision for the workforce is essential—incorporating employee input and feedback—and then securing alignment and buy-in throughout the enterprise. That is the key first step on a course to a hybrid workforce that gets the most out of human potential.

Contact me to learn more about developing new work models for a utilities hybrid workforce.

CEWD is a non-profit consortium of electric, natural gas, nuclear, and renewable energy companies and their associations. To learn more, visit them at


Liz Aguilar

Senior Manager – Strategy & Consulting, Talent & Organization