pam spettel headshot
Pam Spettel, Blachly-Lane Electric Co-op

It’s been over a month since the COVID-19 pandemic national emergency was declared and the domino effect of working from home started for many Americans. In the electric utility industry, workers took to their makeshift home offices in waves, and now we are settling back into our day-to-day roles.

The crisis communication messages are fading, and now we are learning how to keep up our day-to-day communications in an unfamiliar landscape.

We are building a “new work life normal,” so let’s aim high to establish communications practices that are sustainable, stressless, and most importantly, bring our organizations success.

Here are 7 tips that should take us in that direction:

1. Crank Up the Communication

Err on the side of overcommunicating, especially during this work from home transition phase.  Employees and supervisors alike are recalibrating expectations, and unanticipated dilemmas are being solved every day.

Don’t be afraid to ask your manager for what you need. Would a 10-minute call to start or end each day (or both) help you? This is all new for her, too, so be sure to ask.

Stay aware of the practical issues that might be creating workflow pinch points, and offer solutions where you see them. If there ever was a time for brainstorming and letting your latent leadership skills fly, it is now!

2. Keep Up Relationships

The little check-ins and side chatter that happen while waiting for meetings to begin, in the lunchroom, in doorways, and impromptu bump-ins are simple but important. Those moments are the grease that help cross-departmental work get done and make you and your fellow employees feel like people instead of robots.

Don’t be a stranger. Send an email, pick up the phone, or send a note to employees who are working remotely.

3. Mind Your Subject Lines

It’s tempting to toss a response to a question into an existing email thread, or to group thoughts about multiple projects into one email, but don’t!

In today’s barrage of email, you can spare your co-workers minutes or hours of searching for important information by calling it out in the subject line.

If your email takes the shotgun approach with more than one clear line of focus, schedule a meeting or pick up the phone.  This has always been true, and is especially now with email being a primary work from home communication tool.

4. Embrace Collaboration & Communications Technologies

Virtual team collaboration tools and video meeting platforms are how we make this work. Be willing to try them, and be willing to evaluate and give up the ones that don’t work for your utility.

Lean on your IT people to assist implementation of these new business and communications tools. Ask IT to help find solutions that work across all platforms and locations so people can work from anywhere. Even if you’re an old dog, now is the time to earn your COVID-19 merit badge for learning these new tricks.

Pioneer Utility Resources uses Microsoft Teams and to coordinate with remote team members.  GoToMeeting supports meetings with other #UtilityPioneers.

5. Create Your Virtual Meeting Space

In Zoom, I use backgrounds to create an instant office.

Have you noticed that during the COVID-19 quarantine, national TV news outlets are communicating with reporters and interviewees by video conference from their homes? Reporters have set up visually appealing places in their homes from which they are being viewed. It’s amazing what a little bookshelf, plant, painting, or sculpture behind your table or desk can do to amp up your pro vibe during video-based meetings.

If you don’t have an uncluttered, visually appealing place near your desk, some video-based meeting platforms allow you to use a photo as your virtual background (here’s how to add a background in Zoom). A picture of your garden, the view from your last mountain conquest, or a pretty landscape pulled from the internet can make a difference. A photo of your niece’s birthday party, not so much. Bonus points if you turn your company logo into a red carpet style photo wall.

6. Out of Sight, Out of Mind

On the subject of video meetings, please, use your camera. Seeing your face makes us feel connected, and reduces the sense of isolation. You’ve always looked like that, and we miss you!

My friends at Northern Wasco County PUD shared pictures of their staff during a Microsoft Teams meeting. Using cameras helps create community!

Consider putting your laptop on a stack of books to raise the camera to eye level, and you’ll feel a lot better about how you’re looking to your colleagues. No one wants to see your ceiling!

Wearing a business casual shirt or top for video meetings now makes the sweatpants and slippers OK. Just don’t stand up.

7. Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time

Working from home offers a lot of leeway for organizing your workflow. If your concentration is best in the morning, put your brain-power tasks up front in your day. Does your brain comes alive at 2 pm.? Schedule that time for creative work. If you’ve been meaning to walk more, take some 15-minute breaks and get outdoors. Let your energetic cycles lead how you use your time to get your work done.

There are things to learn every day as we adapt to working from home. So much workplace change can be uncomfortable, but electric utility people are resilient. Our work is essential, and it’s the people we do it with who make it meaningful. Good communication practices that engage people are more important than ever.

Want to share tips with your public power peers?
Send ideas for blog content to Megan.