Utility Company’s COVID-19 Transition to Remote Work

Electrical Utility Tower

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused worldwide disruptions to the way we live and work. All around the world, organizations need to respond to the immense challenges the crisis presents, and find alternative ways of working to minimize the impact it has on operations. This article on a COVID-19 forced transition to a work-from-home environment was written and published on May 21, 2020 on LinkedIn by Dennis Buchanan, Telecommunications Technician II at Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, who has kindly given his permission to republish it here.

COVID Transition

Dennis Buchanan

by Dennis Buchanan

Like many essential businesses, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC) has had to transition its employees to a work-from-home environment. This transition took place in such a short time frame that it felt as if it were overnight. The Telecommunications and IT departments shifted into high gear and enacted the established emergency protocols to allow the workforce to continue to be productive.

Customer service representatives (CSR’s) can VPN into the network to assist co-op members. Dispatchers can direct crews from newly established home offices by using desktop control stations and communicating through the DMR TIER III radio system. The shift to our new normal, due to the COVID 19 Pandemic, may have taken place overnight, but the ability to do so has been behind the scenes for many years.

Without the dedicated team of individuals who had the knowledge and foresight to work with leadership to establish this action plan, the swift transition to a remote workforce could have been delayed

The long series of decisions to change REC’s operations from central locations to a distributive workforce has led to the realization and continued success of REC to meet its commitments to its Members to provide safe and reliable power during this critical time. It began with the transition from an AS400 computer environment and a four-hop 2 GHz microwave system to a desktop computer environment with a network to support it.

The first step was to build two towers keeping the same four –hops and transitioning to a new 6 GHz digital microwave system using only six T-1 circuits. Three for each district at the time. It wasn’t long for the demand for more bandwidth began to be apparent and the T-1’s were aggregated. That was an intermediate step in the process.

If one site is lost, traffic automatically reroutes around the fault

Since that first step, there has been a consistent, steady upgrade of all equipment, size of the network, and technology to get us to the point where REC could go to remote workforce overnight. Improvements in the telephone system, large microwave network, a new and expanded 12 site DMR TIER III Radio system, provides the backbone of the telecommunications systems. Additional systems added in the most recent year as Mobile Workforce working on a Cellular FAN network makes it possible for line crews and foreman to work out of their trucks.

Now, Telecommunication and IT personnel can monitor and correct problems remotely through the extensive REC communication network comprised of fourteen microwave sites, connecting CISCO network equipment together with multiple routes in the microwave scheme. If one site is lost, traffic automatically reroutes around the fault.

The new work-from-home environment can be credited to teamwork, dedication to the design plan and strong execution

A CISCO phone system provides interoffice VOIP traffic, and with which REC stays in contact with its Members. SCADA keeps track of what is going on in over 100 substations and multiple DSP’s. The AMR system continues to read meters and monitor the extent of outages by pinging meters and cellphone networks talk to downline devices to act as a secondary system to the rest of the REC Telecommunications network.

Without the dedicated team of individuals who had the knowledge and foresight to work with leadership to establish this action plan, the swift transition to a remote workforce could have been delayed. The new work-from-home environment can be credited to teamwork, dedication to the design plan and strong execution. Emergency planning and deliberate changes to the existing work and communication environments are the keys to being able to support the people who keep the lights on for the members of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative.


More and more organizations around the world have been forced to transition to remote work during the COVID-19 crisis. To find out how Tait can help you and your team stay safe and connected from home during disruptive emergency events like COVID-19, click here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.