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Working Smarter for Brighter Future

How and where people work will change in the post-Covid world with organisations such as ESB now focusing on smart working practices

From multinationals to sole traders, all around the country people have had to embrace new ways of working to manage during Covid-19. For organisations and employees alike, this has accelerated the transition to remote working.

As an essential service provider, and an employer of around 7,000 people, ESB’s ability to support a smooth transition to remote working at scale was critical.

“When lockdown came, ESB was able to seamlessly transition more than 4,000 of our office-based employees to home working,” says Sarah Claxton, head of organisational development at ESB, adding how its other staff continue to work on various sites across the group's generation and networks businesses. 

“While technology was key to enabling that, the fact that we already had good systems in place to give people direction and accountability meant that we could keep our business on track and continue to serve our customers over an extended and challenging period of time,” she says.

Having good systems in place paid dividends. “The last eight months have been characterised by high levels of self-direction and initiative because our dedicated workforce has clear goals, values and understands their role and responsibilities,” Claxton explains.

Lessons learned

Despite the success of the transition, it created new challenges for many workers. “Trying to work from home while caring for children, or dealing with overcrowded living spaces, or indeed coping with isolation, brings real challenges and at ESB, we are looking forward to leaving those behind,” she adds. 

“Smart working means having choices that don’t exist now in the context of the pandemic.  However, we have learned a huge amount during this crisis about how we can nurture a more inclusive and flexible culture by managing people in smarter ways and using technology to level the playing field for everyone.”

When lockdown came, ESB was able to seamlessly transition more than 4,000 of our office-based employees to home working


ESB’s smart working vision is to enable managers and employees to figure out the best way to serve their customers and deliver the organisation’s Brighter Future strategy while taking into consideration their own unique circumstances, as well as some basic parameters set by the business.

Some of these parameters apply everywhere at ESB, such as keeping people safe, putting customer needs first and nurturing diversity and inclusion.

Others are more specific to remote and flexible work practices. These include the need to choose “virtual first” and to continue to stay socially connected with colleagues using video communications platforms.

Virtual first for ESB means that meetings should mostly take place online, regardless of whether people are working in an office, at home, or in another location.

That way everyone joins every meeting on an equal footing. It also means that the company is opting for a solution that minimises unnecessary travel and therefore, recognising safety while reducing carbon emissions. It is part of a much wider set of initiatives to enhance smart working across ESB.

For instance, in September, when 48 graduates started on ESB’s award-winning Graduate Development Programme, their induction took place fully online for the first time, giving the latest additions to the organisation a glimpse of the company’s future working practices. ESB’s talent acquisition team has also been attending virtual graduate fairs with all job interviews now taking place online.

Leading the Transition

Creating a high-performance culture underpinned by a positive employee experience is all part of ESB’s ambition to lead Ireland’s transition to a secure, affordable, low-carbon future powered by clean electricity.  

“Climate change is the biggest challenge facing humanity, and the electricity sector is in the fortunate position of being able to deliver transformational change to help,” says Pat Naughton, executive director of people and organisational development at ESB.

It’s a path ESB has been on for some time but, to get to zero emissions from energy by 2050, it needs to innovate, adapt and disrupt traditional ways of doing things, he says.

Working smarter is not new a new concept for ESB and goes far beyond remote working


“We recognise diversity as a real lever of change and we want to continue to make ESB a diverse and inclusive organisation for all,” adds Naughton.

“We are doing this by creating an environment that allows our people to be the best they can be. That helps us attract and retain talented people, embrace the workplace of the future, and develop the latest solutions to meet the needs of our customers. We are constantly looking for ways to enable colleagues to adopt work practices and technologies that enhance their own experience and those of our customers.”

Working smarter is not new a new concept for ESB and goes far beyond remote working.

For example, ESB Networks has developed mobile apps for network technicians to allow them to access detailed site and safety information from their smartphones, rather than having to carry around large documents or return to depots in between jobs. 

ESB’s power generation business is also using drone technology and AI to monitor the performance of its wind asset portfolio, providing vital information to allow for efficient and clean energy output.

At ESB, smart working is ultimately about enhancing performance and delivering for customers. It is based on a trust-based work culture where employees have the tools, support and leadership to choose when, where and how they work in the best way.

“We know from the research we have carried out that most of our employees don’t want to return to the office full time after the pandemic, yet there are others who are really struggling at home. We are working to accommodate both groups so that everyone feels a sense of belonging, and everyone is empowered and motivated to deliver for our customers,” says Sarah Claxton.   

“For the most part, people in the future will come to the office to collaborate, to build social networks and engage in learning and development. They won’t commute for the sake of sitting in front of a screen or having a meeting with their team,” she adds.

“Our offices will still play a very important role in our future but when we go back, we don’t plan to go backwards.”

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