HYDRO OTTAWA – ON BALANCE, THESE THREE TALENTED WOMEN FOUND SUCCESS
Balancing the demands of work with those of home? Difficult, even at the best of times. But during a pandemic?
And while working for an essential service provider that is responsible for powering our community’s homes, businesses, hospitals and other essential institutions at a time when it needed it most? A steep challenge for anyone.
For Donna Burnett Vachon, Director, Change and Organization Development; Laurie Heuff, Director, Distribution Engineering and Asset Management; and Sarah Green, Director, Planning and Program Management for IM & IT – that’s a challenge that these three committed Hydro Ottawa employees met head-on over the past year.
Achieving the home/work balance hasn’t been easy, says Donna, acknowledging that some of the goals she set at the beginning of the year eventually succumbed to the pandemic. But, she is quick to add, the most important ones were met. “And even if we didn’t complete a particular project, we generally made substantial progress.”
At home, Donna and her family had to deal with a situation many have faced during the pandemic; fulfilling the educational and social needs of their children. Fortunately, at ages 11 and 13, their two kids were anxious to display their emerging self-sufficiency and tech savviness, giving Donna a little more breathing room to focus on the serious challenge of supporting Hydro Ottawa’s pandemic response and recovery plans, ensuring employees had the information and resources needed to stay safe, connected and engaged whether working in the field, the office or from home.
While few clouds have been darker than the pandemic, Donna and her team did find a silver lining. “We learned some things along the way that will benefit us long after the pandemic ends,” she says.
“For example, COVID-19 forced us to ramp up efforts to modernize our approach to learning, ensuring opportunities are available to employees anytime, anywhere on any device. This is one change that will help us better meet the learning and development needs of our employees well into the future.”
Laurie, too, says she was forced to trim her expectations for 2020.
Or, as she puts it, “I had to accept the fact that perfection might not always be possible.” Nonetheless, that didn’t stop her team from completing two major projects – a successful 2021-2025 Rate
Application to the Ontario Energy Board and, the big one, securing an ISO 55001:2014 certification, the highest achievement for compliance with best practices in the utility industry for asset management.
Not only is Hydro Ottawa the first electric utility in Canada to receive this certification, it is one of only four North American utilities to do so.
Then, of course, there was that balancing act between home and work. “I have three very active children (ages 5, 8 and 11),” says Laurie. “Before the pandemic, my husband and I were constantly driving them to various events and activities. Now, we spend our time at home.” Though not always ideal, Laurie says she’s come to appreciate the pause in their normally active life and the additional time it’s given them together.
The mother of an 8-year-old, Sarah’s live-in mother-in-law also requires care. “It is definitely stressful at times for my husband and I,” she says, “but we celebrate the moments of success and time spent together. Leave the difficult moments behind and the rest will still be there tomorrow.”
For Sarah, one of those welcome moments of success came when she was tasked with overseeing the COVID-19 response plan for IT.
“The response plan included ensuring employees could connect securely from home, creating new protocols for touchless support of systems, working closely with our cyber security group to implement responses to emerging threat vectors, and implementing new technology solutions to ensure the safety and productivity of employees.”
The goal – in addition to safety and efficiency – was to provide additional value-added services for customers.
In spite of the constant disruptions caused by the pandemic, Sarah says all of the IT projects were delivered on time – and delivered the expected benefits. She says she was especially proud of her team’s completion of two key initiatives.
“We completed a multi-year strategic initiative to connect our substations via fibre optic cable. This not only improved the reliability of communication but formed the basis for a self-healing grid. We also implemented Google Workspace, enabling our employees to work remotely but still remain connected with their colleagues.”
Donna, Laurie and Sarah made their presence felt – in an exceptionally positive way – during a difficult time. But they weren’t alone.
Throughout the year, women in various parts of the company contributed significantly to Hydro Ottawa’s business priorities and direction as it adapted to very unique circumstances.