Optimizing Natural Gas business performance in a Work-at-Home workforce

By Monica Bellino 

Working to cope with the “new normal” COVID-19 thrust upon us, suddenly shifting from an in-office to a work-at-home workforce poses implications for natural gas businesses and their employees. The pros and cons of a remote workforce have been debated for many years. Now, more than ever, we must evaluate the business impact of “where” and “how” we work. Ford Motor’s CEO, Jim Hackett, dubs a work environment where one must physically be in order to do their job a “place-dependent workspace” and, largely, this is how natural gas businesses have been undertaken, with functional team members collocated in a common office space. But with COVID-19, we face a new paradigm that poses the question, are we more productive at home, together in an office, or is the optimal answer a combination of both?

With technology advancements and the increasing globalization of business, the convention of a physical work location has evolved considerably over recent decades, spawning many studies detailing the pros and cons of remote working. Let us consider some of the gathered data:

Pros:

  • 77% of remote employees report higher productivity
  • Average increase of 13% in employee performance
  • Companies with remote employees report 25% lower attrition
  • 82% of remote employees report lower stress
  • Remote employees are 52% less likely to take time off work

Cons:

  • 21% of remote employees report struggling with loneliness
  • Collaboration and communication challenges were a concern for 21% of remote employees
  • Management’s inability to track productivity and lack of employee discipline
  • Concerns about the inability to see work being timely and properly completed

While this data reinforces the potential business benefits of remote work, it also underscores challenges to overcome both technologically and in terms of individual worker motivation and performance. As we know, the two are intertwined in terms of how they affect each other.

Technology plays a huge roll in how successful your employees will be at home, whether it be part-time or full-time. With the advancement of the cloud and products like Microsoft 356 and G-Suite, digital collaboration is the best it has ever been. Throw in video conferencing products like Zoom or JoinMe and the sense of remote worker isolation can be alleviated, while enhancing collaboration and communication at the same time. But these types of tools only cover a small piece of what your teams need to support your natural gas business.

In conversations with natural gas operators, the leading challenge mentioned is the quality and accessibility of business data; the data pertaining to supporting and billing end users, managing supply, enabling trading and risk functions and getting a handle of logistics both before and after the city gate. So much of the work with this data relies on spreadsheets or single-function applications that data reconciliation, requiring constant coworker communication, is a significant challenge every day. And recent feedback indicates further distancing coworkers from each other only compounds the problem.

The answer to this problem is well within reach … a centralized repository of operations data that every employee may access, whenever needed, a single version of accurate business information, updated in real-time. With such in place, whether operating with an in-office or remote workforce, worker productivity is unencumbered, driving business productivity and efficiency. Without it, in-office frustration of chasing information across a slew of spreadsheets or single-function systems is only exacerbated by employees and managers working remotely. If you are experiencing this, you are not alone – it is more common than you would think, but it does not have to be this way.

If the current situation in which we find ourselves does not challenge us to rethink the way we work and where we do that work, nothing probably will. Every business has different needs; some require employees to be in a specific location to do their job, but most of us in the natural gas industry aren’t dependent on a geographical location – we simply need suitable tools to do our job, no matter where we are. There are solutions in our industry proven to enable superior productivity, while at the same time enhancing employee morale. Happy workers are more productive workers and more productive workers yield top and bottom-line performance improvement. If your Natural Gas business is not operating this way, you are falling behind your competition and, most certainly, needlessly costing yourself money.

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Monica Bellino is VP of Customer Success at nGenue