Plans coming together for employees returning to the workplace

Great River Energy’s employees have successfully served its 28 member-owner cooperatives throughout the pandemic. Nearly half of the cooperative’s employees have continued reporting to their work locations to ensure reliable electricity keeps flowing to member-owners, while the other half have worked remotely since March 12 as a result of the coronavirus.

“Great River Energy is proud of the employees who have continued to report to their critical, on-site jobs to support continued reliable service to our member-owners,” said Mike McFarland, the cooperative’s director of enterprise risk. “Now, as more businesses begin to re-open in Minnesota and North Dakota, we are taking initial steps to return to the workplace those employees who have been working remotely.”

Approximately 40 employees who worked remotely are now returning to their work locations or job sites more regularly based on need.

Employees cleaned and sanitized approximately 3,000 locks during a maintenance outage this spring at Coal Creek Station to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Locks are used on equipment for safety during maintenance activities.

“We are taking a conservative approach to the pandemic and to protecting the health of our employees while continuing to provide reliable electric service,” McFarland said. “Our first step in transitioning employees back was a survey of our leaders. That helped us identify which employees have a more urgent need to return to the workplace or job site to perform tasks that cannot be done as well remotely.”

McFarland said safety protocols were developed for returning employees. These protocols integrate with those already in place at facilities where critical workers who operate the grid have worked all along. Employees focus on social distancing, cleaning and sanitizing to stay healthy every day. That said, employees who are not comfortable returning to the workplace at this time can opt out.

Through the pandemic, employees continue to showcase dedication to their work, McFarland said.

“Employees completed several significant maintenance outages at our power plants and on our HVDC system. They did it safely during the pandemic, even when there were hundreds of contractors on site. It’s remarkable how successful they were at working together while not spreading COVID-19,” he said.

McFarland said the employees working remotely have been equally successful.

“We have seen the innovation and agility in our employees during this unusual time,” McFarland said. “They have found new ways to be productive while working remotely and our technology systems continue to support us very well. This success gives us the ability to remain conservative in our approach to returning employees to the workplace. We know we can be successful while many of us are working remotely, so we do not need to rush people back to the office. We can take our time and ensure it is done safely.”

The remaining employees who are working remotely will return in phases. The next phase of employees who work in North Dakota will begin returning no sooner than June 22. The next phase of employees who work in Minnesota will begin returning no sooner than Aug. 3.

These dates were chosen based on the unique circumstances in Minnesota and North Dakota. They may change if needed, but the cooperative wanted to provide employees with a “no-sooner-than” date to help them adjust and plan. The date is later for employees in Minnesota where the pandemic has had a more significant impact and where availability of healthcare workers and ICU beds, for instance, is more limited.

The cooperative continues to plan using insights from the Centers for Disease Control, state government officials and data gathered from cooperative leaders.