• Fri. May 27th, 2022



How NRG’s CEO Mauricio Gutierrez Manages A Workforce Split Between The Field And Their Homes

This month we’re looking at how to lead high-performing virtual teams. We’ve spoken with Accenture North America CEO Jimmy Etheredge, and Bank of America’s COO and CTO, Cathy Bessant. Today, we speak with CEO Mauricio Gutierrez of NRG Energy, who provides electrical power for approximately 3.7 million customers.

What has happened since March, when work-from-home plans were instituted?

March was a changing moment where we all realized it was not business as usual. But our preparation started before that. We had a pandemic and infectious disease policy that we triggered before March. We were monitoring the situation very closely before the beginning in March.

At NRG we produce electricity and sell electricity to our customers. We’re a critical infrastructure in our country. So, we quickly moved to a split workforce. There were people who had to stay in the field: the frontline employees were literally keeping the lights on, going to the power plants every day. Also, we had people in the dispatch centers and operations rooms to ensure that electricity was being sent to the electric market, and in our call center, supporting our customers. These frontline workers had to show up every day to their sites so we could provide this very critical service.

For the rest, I decided to close the offices in March, and we went to remote work status. Today about 95% of people who can work remotely are working remotely. You can see the split that exists between the two.

That’s the environment we have been in over the last few months – this split workforce.

Protecting frontline workers

The guiding principal from the outset was very clear. In order to fulfill our purpose and the social contract with our customers, we needed to protect the safety of our workers. If we could do that, we could continue providing this vital resource to the community as a whole.

The first thing we needed was a realization that not all of us have the opportunity to be at home. Many of our colleagues were in the frontlines keeping the lights on and serving our customers. This is general awareness from the whole organization is needed: these frontline workers need recognition. We need to be grateful to them for doing their jobs.

We committed to protect their safety and wellbeing, and we did a number of things. We established protocols that we had to rollout. We established social distancing rules, mandatory face coverings, temperature check-ins, trainings on what to expect, tracing protocols. We had a central repository of information kept in real time. We had deep cleaning processes. We banned travel and visitors at our sites. We only had critical staffing. There were a number of things we had to do to make sure everybody felt safe and well during this time.

Strengthening communication for virtual workers

There were also specific actions we took for people working from home: we had to completely rethink our communication strategy. I started to do a lot more video messages, as opposed to memos. We understood fairly quickly that in this time of uncertainty, we needed to provide more information to employees. We created a landing page with all the information we had available from trusted sources.

It was important to create a feedback culture. We needed to hear from people. It was not enough to provide information. We implemented “pandemic check in” surveys to understand how they were feeling and what changes we needed to make.

Through pandemic check in surveys, we learned that social isolation was something people were really feeling. We’re not alone here, but everyone was surprised at how well we were able to operate from home. We didn’t lose any operational capability during this time. People were very comfortable doing their work from home, but social isolation was starting to take a toll. That prompted us to expand wellness tools. We expanded access to virtual doctors and general wellness and mindfulness resources to use from home.

Lessons learned

There are a few lessons, in general. The first one is communication. I can’t stress enough the importance of communication during this time: it has to be more frequent and more transparent than before the pandemic. This is not just a one-way communication; this really has to be two-way communication.

Seconded, we really needed to think beyond safety. We have a very strong safety culture, but we needed to extend that to wellbeing. Not just physical, but mental and financial as well. We put a lot of focus on those two other aspects as well.

What will change going forward?

One thing I didn’t fully realize before was just the technical capabilities we have today that allow us to rethink where we work, how we work, and the tools that are available to us. Six months ago, I would have said what we’re doing today was impossible.

Usually you get these changes when there is a major shift, like this pandemic, that forces you to see the world in a different way. This is one of the great characteristics, to be able to adapt and be able to say, “We did it this way, but that doesn’t mean we have to do it this way forever.”

One of the things we have done is launch something called Workplace 21, which asks, “How can we imagine the workforce in the future, knowing what we do now?” Workplace 21 is looking beyond the pandemic, to see how some of the changes might become incorporated, with the guiding principle of better fulfilling our purpose as an organization.


For more insights on how to lead high-performing teams, join us on September 24 for an executive education webinar with insights drawn from research. Or download our free resource, an eBook on how to lead high-performing virtual teams.

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