It is a year since we first entered lockdown – when business as normal as we knew it pretty much came to a halt.
For Energy Assets, like most other businesses, the ‘stay at home’ order on March 23, 2020 had an immediate impact on our day-to-day operations and our people. However, as a provider of energy services, we still had a responsibility to safeguard the energy supply to public services and infrastructure, including hospitals, and to protect our most vulnerable citizens.
As a business, we had already instituted safer working practices because of COVID so we were well prepared in terms of PPE and risk assessments to ensure the safety of end user customers and our employees. We had all the necessary protocols in place to comply with government, NHS and our own health and safety guidelines.
Although our construction site activities were halted during the first lockdown, we continued with essential meter maintenance, ensured the flow of gas and electricity data for settlement, safeguarded the local energy networks under our ownership, and delivered essential utility connections.
However, what lockdown did mean was a fast adaptation to home working for hundreds of our employees.
As a responsible company, we already had well-rehearsed plans in place to manage unexpected events, for example covering IT failures or power outages. We had also anticipated the possibility of lockdown and had developed a COVID resilience plan, which we were able to roll out quickly.
It was a critical time with our people looking for leadership, direction, guidance and reassurance. At the same time, we needed to remain flexible and adaptable in a fluid situation to provide the best possible support to our customers.
What really stood us great stead was a strong team of motivated people, the industry knowledge of our leadership and a resilient business model founded on our core values of respect, integrity, teamwork, empowerment and innovate. It was a combination that positioned us well for withstanding the inevitable shocks of COVID.
Our plan was founded on an ethos of ‘Protect our People, Protect our Business’ to create the focus for how we could build back better from the disruption caused by the pandemic.
We knew there would be revenue implications, but as a business we entered lockdown in a very sound financial position, so for us the strategy of ‘emerging stronger’ was about staying as close to our customers as we could and helping our people through the difficult times.
It’s a cliché that people are the strongest asset of any business. We know this to be true, but it’s a message that also tends to overlook the fact that people are unique human beings, and that the pandemic would create all sorts of challenges and worries for families. So, we made regular staff communication, flexible working patterns, opportunities for remote networking, social interaction and wellbeing support a priority. We did this by launching a new intranet site to help our people stay connected, introducing a health and wellbeing programme, which included mental health support, and establishing COVID ‘champions’ at each of our nine regional offices to offer guidance and information.
At the same time, we realised that staying in touch with our customers was paramount – even though work volumes were lower than usual. What certainly helped was our vertically integrated ‘end-to-end business model – covering utilities construction, metering, data and networks – and which automatically provides multiple touch points for our customers.
As a business, we truly believe in partnership working, so with everyone in the same situation, we encouraged our people to call their contacts from time to time just to say, ‘How’s it going?’
As we all know, businesses and communities have had to adapt to restrictions and roadmaps as the pandemic has ebbed and flowed. For Energy Assets – and particularly for construction – this has meant the need to be flexible to stay in step with separate rules for England, Scotland and Wales.
Fast forward one year since the first lockdown and the outlook is much more positive. Science is riding to the rescue and although it will take time for our offices to become the hubbubs of activity we all cherish, there is no doubt that our policy of putting people first – customers, staff and stakeholders – has paid dividends. Our internal research indicates that these relationships are stronger than ever before.
This optimism is also borne out by growth across all our businesses, from major new metering contracts and utility network construction projects to rapidly rising local electricity and gas network connections under ownership.
We are also incredibly excited about the future and the opportunities right across the energy market that the drive to Net Zero will bring.
We operate in markets that are fundamental to the future prosperity of our country – advanced and smart energy metering, data collection and analytics; utility construction; and local network ownership. With the ever-increasing focus on energy efficiency, growing demand for housing, and the need for innovation in local network resilience to cope with greater electrification, we are strongly positioned for future, sustainable growth.
So, whether it’s delivering hydrogen networks, accelerating integration of renewables within our energy grids and in our homes and offices, enabling a national EV charging infrastructure, meeting the challenges of electrification in new build domestic heating, or transforming energy efficiency in the commercial and industrial space, the decade ahead will be like no other for our sector.
At Energy Assets, I know that we have the people, the expertise, the business strength and the vision to play our part in this exciting and sustainable future.