Return to the new normal?: Duke CEO talks to Fortune about steps forward vs. COVID concerns

Sending everyone home from the office during a pandemic is unprecedented and problematic. Bringing them back may be an even bigger unknown.

Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good, in a video interview with Fortune’s senior special correspondent Susie Gharib, revealed that the North Carolina-based utility will start returning workers back to offices as early as May 15. The process, though, will not be immediate or complete for some time.

“We want to make sure conditions are safe,” Good told Gharib. “I see scenarios where we are staggering hours, staggering days and different states coming back at different times.”

Duke Energy provides electricity and gas services in seven states, mainly in the southeastern U.S. Those include Georgia and Florida, which are reopening earlier than some other states.

The utility has a task force which includes company and other business leaders evaluating all the criteria necessary for a reopening.

“The task force is looking at the state requirements, federal requirements, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), best practices,” Good said. “We’re spent a lot of time with European (utility) colleagues to learn what they’ve learned.

“We’ll be checking, adjusting and then bringing more people back” depending how events unfold, she added.

Duke Energy has seen a drop in load during the pandemic, as many other utilities also have learned. And many, if not most, suspended disconnection policies for non-payment because of the economic collapse around the shutdown.

“We will make adjustments …around the longer term impact of the economy over time,” she said. “Right now the focus is on providing essential services.”

Duke Energy had utilized all manner of interactive tools for both employees and customers.

“Communication has been extraordinarily important,” Good said. This means “videos and podcasts and open forums where employees have the opportunity to ask questions. We’ve communicated with families by sending fliers to their homes.”

Click here to watch the Fortune interview.

On May 13, meanwhile, Power Engineering’s sister website POWERGRID International is playing host to a webcast on managing the utility workforce during the pandemic. It will feature utility leaders talking about their initiatives, adjustments and paths going forward. Please register there, as the webcast is free.

Author

  • Rod Walton is content director for Power Engineering, POWERGEN International and the online POWERGEN+ series. He is a 13-year veteran of covering the energy industry both as a newspaper journalist and trade publication editor. He can be reached at 918-831-9177 and rod.walton@clarionevents.com.

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