As government officials at the state and federal levels begin to lift restrictions and turn their attention to re-opening businesses, Great River Energy and electric utilities everywhere are beginning to discuss how they will approach returning to more normal business operations.
Since March 12, all Great River Energy employees who can reasonably work from home have been required to do so. The cooperative’s employees continue to focus on social distancing, cleaning and sanitizing to stay healthy every day while maintaining reliable electric service.
“While we remain diligent in our protective measures, we are now also starting to plan for the transition back to normal working arrangements,” said Mike McFarland, Great River Energy’s director of enterprise risk management said. “We know we will need to continue to take precautions for quite some time and we want to be thoughtful in our approach.”
McFarland said he expects to see the impact of the pandemic affect the way employees work for quite a while.
“We are not returning to normal business arrangements yet, and the normal we do return to may not look like the normal of the past. But if there is anything we have learned through this experience, it’s that Great River Energy employees are agile and prepared to do what it takes to maintain safe, reliable electric service for our member-owner cooperatives,” he said.
A team has been formed at the cooperative to begin talking about what its workplace return and protocols will look like. The team is discussing things like cleaning processes, the use of personal protective equipment, staggered work shifts, limited use of conference rooms and more. A date for beginning the transition has not yet been set.
“Because we provide an essential service, our return-to-work may look different than those at other companies. We have been aggressive in our approach to the pandemic from early on and the way we return our employees to working at Great River Energy facilities will align with that,” McFarland said. “The success we have had in maintaining safe, reliable operations throughout this unique time tells us we can be deliberate and thoughtful about how and when we return to more normal work arrangements.”
The team is starting by surveying the cooperative’s leaders to better understand the business needs that require employees to return to their traditional work arrangements and which business needs can continue to be effectively met with employees working from home.
“From there we can formulate an effective plan. Our priority is maintaining the health and well-being of our employees. We have proven that we can operate effectively while doing so,” McFarland said.
Great River Energy remains highly connected to industry organizations and government officials at the national, state and local levels. McFarland said Great River Energy is closely aligned with others as the industry looks to what is next.
Great River Energy employees speak regularly with several groups, including the Midwest Reliability Organization, North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, Minnesota Rural Electric Association, Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council, Minnesota Business Partnership group and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
“Participation in these groups provides us insight into how the industry is approaching return-to-work protocols and allows us to share ideas with one another,” McFarland said.