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The Hoggett Bowers 2 Minute Interview: David Hinton

David Hinton, CEO, South East Water

What challenge did you tackle and overcome in your business this week?

Whilst I love working within the water industry one thing it does do is give you a different relationship with the weather, we don’t welcome long dry periods, short very hot periods or even snow days.  These extremes either create high demand or pose risks to our underground assets.  So in truth I love a bit of constant warm drizzle.

Following a lot of planning and lessons learnt from last year this week we have begun the rollout of customer communications ahead of the summer to help customers manage water demand.  We expect higher than usual demand as more staycations are taken and gardening continues to be a growingly popular activity.

Which ongoing business challenge is occupying your thoughts this week/month?

Linked to the above we are also busy ensuring we will have all our assets some 83 treatment works, 250 boreholes and 9,000 miles of pipework working to capacity ahead of the summer.  This includes returning to operation a 20 million litre storage reservoir that was impacted by a sink hole and prioritising normal key maintenance activity. 

We have had 2 national lockdowns and a range of regional tier variations over many months. In what way has your approach to these lockdowns / tier restrictions permanently influenced your own way of working and have you made, or will you make any further adjustments as we slowly begin to emerge from the 3rd lockdown?

Immediate response was to get all office workers home and all field staff working on only key service issues and limiting contact with others. 

Proud to say we relocated our office staff, some 700 in total and had them all working from home within 2 weeks.  This included home working for our entire call centre.  Our overriding mantra has been government advice plus.  We have seen very strong staff survey results on how we handled the situation, which was very pleasing.

Given the reliance on technology during lockdowns, do you now envisage an acceleration in digital/workforce transformation in the short-medium term?

The move to work from home has undoubtedly provided us with digital tools faster than we would have achieved otherwise.  For example I often reflect that if we had decided to move our call centre to be home based the project plan would have spanned 18 months to 2 years, not 2 weeks.  Zoom and other platforms have been invaluable but with the obvious limitations, they however really improved our ability to undertake mass communication in a truly agile way which is one benefit that will definitely persist.

What are the new working norms starting to look like for your organisation?

First thing to say is our approach is highly bottom up we have engaged with staff a lot on this issue and the overwhelming message is “more flexibility in working arrangements please”.  This message was received loud and clear from both field and office staff.  Typically the preference is a mix of office and homeworking averaging at around 2 to 3 days of each.  We have a lot of diversity of roles at South East Water and are developing an approach where these are grouped into, fluid, fixed and field categories and working patterns and flexibility tailored to these categories.

There is a dramatic reduction in carbon footprints during lockdowns, what is your business planning to do to help continue this going forward?

Working in a sector so intrinsically linked to the environment has meant this has been front of mind for some time now and we are moving through programmes to increase the amount of green energy we buy, add solar energy to our energy portfolio and phase in electric vehicles into our car and van fleets.

In terms of personal well-being, what changes have you made, and will you stick to them post lockdown?

I have been a keen cyclist for some years now but the lockdown converted me to become an indoor one!  I am a keen user of Zwift and in particular the workout programmes it runs.  These programmes provide nowhere to hide they need to be completed by a certain day or they time out and when you are in the programme it controls the resistance and the power you need to put down.  You can’t take it easy you either do it or get off.  I have seen real fitness improvements doing this and I will definitely keep it going although I hope to be back out on the roads a bit more in the warmer months.

Who or what has inspired you this week?

Sorry cycling again, Mark Cavendish, he hadn’t had a race win since 2018 and many thought he would be retiring soon then he produces 4 stage wins out of 8 stages in the Tour of Turkey in the same style and aggression he exhibited in his previous 147 victories.  A great and very popular comeback.

Given the recent announcements pertaining to a roadmap out of lockdown are you planning to book a summer holiday this year? If so where ideally would you like to go?

Yes two actually, Cornwall mid-summer (sun, sand and surf) and hopefully Majorca in October (food, wine and cycling).

Any words of wisdom?

Water is a finite life giving natural resource and we should all cherish it.