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How Britain’s biggest water company is tackling the current health pandemic

About the blog

Stuart White
Stuart White, Head of Media Relations at Thames Water.

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  • How Britain’s biggest water company is tackling the current health pandemic

I’d like to start by thanking everyone in the water industry for their complete dedication to maintaining essential services during these challenging times. It’s never been more important to keep pipes flowing and I’ve been extremely impressed, but not surprised, by the way the industry has pulled together to take care of the nation.

Our public value and customers’ appreciation has been noticed and felt. Often taken for granted, the lockdown has raised the profile of utility companies, and it’s our opportunity now to ensure this closer connection has a positive and lasting benefit. We’re all going without a meal in a restaurant or sunny day on the beach, and we’re surviving, but it’s clear we can’t live without essential water services.

The situation we are in is unique, especially the social distancing measures, and we’ve had to adapt. Having utility workers classified as key workers early was important. We moved to home working for those who can very quickly, and we found new technology solutions for other key functions, like call centres, soon after. The use of Microsoft Teams, our internal digital solution, is up nearly 100% in April and it’s been extremely effective in keeping people connected. As a media team, we are holding daily face-to-face catch-up meetings digitally and are able to share content, media alerts and information centrally.

To protect those working on our sites, including the large water and sewage works in the capital, we restricted access to non-essential visitors immediately. Another key part of our continuity plan included looking at how we can bring in extra or redeploy existing staff to fill critical roles. We have been re-training people and even speaking to those who have left the company for potential emergency cover.

I’ve been extremely impressed, but not surprised, by the way the industry has pulled together to take care of the nation

To support those working on our vast network, which stretches 109,000km, we ran a media awareness campaign at the start of the lockdown. It was important the community knew they could expect to see Thames Water engineers in the street still out working. This ‘key worker’ messaging has since flowed through all our news releases. To further reduce the risk of supply interruptions, we’ve bolstered our 24-hour rapid response team by minimising planned work and to get to an incident quicker. The quieter roads are helping, especially in London. Non-essential work, such as meter readings, have been cancelled, and staff are only entering customers’ homes for emergencies.

To comfort our workforce and send a sign of reassurance to our customers, we confirmed we would not use the Government’s coronavirus job retention scheme to furlough any of our 6,000 employees. While we continue to assess the impact on our business and adapt, it’s clear all of our people have an important role to play – as water and waste services do not stop.   

It’s also important to note that we’re doing all we can to support the communities we serve in other ways. This includes a wide range of options for those who are facing financial difficulties as a result of the crisis.

As mentioned, the industry has really pulled together on this. We’re all open to the unique challenges we face and are willing to help with any rising issues. These cross-industry workstreams were established for Brexit and are robust. The fact they were already in place gave us a flying start, as we know each other and were able to get into a normal working rhythm very quickly.

Looking forward, we’re now looking at plans on how we can start to return people to work. It will be no surprise we believe testing individuals is key, although the care sector must take priority. If we know individuals may have immunity, for example, they carry less risk.

Today, the future is uncertain. I lost Glastonbury, my family holiday to Portugal in July is surely off, I might not get to celebrate Liverpool winning the Premier League, but the main thing is we stay safe and bounce back. This a change moment for us all.

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