Embracing a new working culture
Water communities around the world are adapting to working remotely following lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Microsoft Teams and Zoom have become commonly used online tools as people adjust to working from home while balancing personal and professional lives.
One recent example is Australian utility Coliban Water, which recently reported that its staff were working 97 per cent remotely while keeping operations running optimally.
While it's clear that water professionals are adapting, it raises the question of how will the current decentralised and more digital ways of working potentially shape water sector culture in the future?
Will people become so used to an improved home and work life balance that they won't feel the need to return to lengthy commutes to sit in offices from the hours of 9-5?
We reached out to the Global Water Technology Hub Alliance (GWTHA), which was formed during the European Water Technology Week in Leeuwarden, to find out.
In the video below you can hear from three individuals: Yossi Yaacoby, VP of engineering from Israeli water utility, Mekorot; Dean Amhaus, president and CEO of The Water Council from Milwaukee in the US and also Hein Molenkamp, managing director of the Water Alliance in the Netherlands.
“We’ve over the bridge”
Yaacoby reported that around 95 per cent of Mekorot’s 2200 employees, which provide water to 80 per cent of Israel, are successfully working remotely.
“The way of working is changing dramatically,” he told Aquatech Online. “I didn't meet my employees for over a month, yet we are working 12-14 hours a day without compromise."
Commenting on whether such a model is sustainable in the long-term, he added: "We're over the bridge…Because people like the way they are working from their homes, getting the same achievements and the same targets and the same missions.
“They are not in terrible traffic jams every morning and every afternoon for hours. People will enjoy the way they can work remotely.”
Meanwhile, Amhaus was more cautious when discussing a switch to fully digital and decentralised communications in the future.
“We miss that free-flowing conversation, banter and staff interaction during staff meetings - having that interaction is important," he said.
As humans, we crave human interaction
The Water Council is the midst of reformulating its BREW (Business – Research – Entrepreneurship – in Water) program for start-ups and small entrepreneurs, which is hinged on interaction. The concept brings together small businesses to the premises in Milwaukee to interact with utilities and corporations.
“There’s something really important about having people sit down to dinner together with the CEO and 10-15 start-up companies,” adds Amhaus. “You can't do that from a video standpoint…there's a dynamic that occurs only when you have that personal interaction. As humans, we crave that as well."
Meanwhile, Molenkamp believes there will be a middle ground between the two approaches moving forward.
“If you see how quickly everyone is moving to digital meetings, I'm sure a lot of those meetings will keep going," he said. "I also think that once in a while, people see each other and shake hands, which will be important. There will be more we can do more efficiently around the world."
Andrew Walker, programme manager of the GWTHA, added: “Innovators are seeking alternative ways of finding and proposing their solutions to end-users, given that physical events are not currently possible. The demand is still there, and the innovations, too. The Global Water Tech Hub Alliance is helping to bridge this gap digitally.”