For some National Grid workers, the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t mean working from home.
It means living at work.
At an undisclosed location in central Massachusetts, the company’s electric and gas employees are working around the clock to make sure its systems remain up and running during difficult times.
They’re part of some 200 employees in New England and New York who volunteered to sequester themselves in centers like the one here in the Bay State, where the first wave of workers have eaten, slept, socialized, and continue to punch in and punch out since March 23, according to Phil Lavallee, director of the transmission control center for New England.
They’ll stay there until April 24, when a second wave will come in to do the same for the 30-day rotation cycle.
“It’s been a logistical challenge, to say the least, to have a normal, corporate office building turned into a hotel, motel, food service, whatever you name it,” Lavallee told Boston.com by phone Monday.
Utility workers are indeed essential employees in the commonwealth. They’re among the select industries needed on site every day, as thousands of other employees across Massachusetts have transitioned to a work life — and personal life — confined to the comforts of home.
But for those National Grid workers who are now sequestered, the job goes beyond obligation, according to Lavallee, who says the company has been fortunate that so many offered themselves up to the cause, supporting customers that include hospitals, medical equipment providers, and emergency services.
“They understood what the impact of not having power to our citizens and our customers could mean and they wanted to be part of that solution,” he said.
“Everyone knows how important their work is,” added Patrick Buckley, a manager for gas control.
At the control center, Lavallee’s electric-oriented team is responsible for making sure the transmission lines are fully operational and managing shifting demands on the system.
On the company’s gas side of the business, workers monitor pressure and flow, according to Buckley.
Although April — warm enough for folks to cut back on heating and still cool enough to go without the air conditioner a few more months — is routinely a low point in energy demand, both Lavallee and Buckley say they’ve seen usage drop amid the coronavirus fallout.
Schools and offices now unoccupied, the already low demand has dropped just a bit further down, they say.
“The workload (has) definitely cut down a little bit and most likely it will continue to do that the longer this goes on … We just take it day by day,” Lavallee said.
At the control center site, National Grid has brought in trailers with bunks and laundry services for employees, he said. There’s also basketball hoops, a gym, corn hole, and yes, even trivia nights.
Quite a few people take time to jog while off the clock, according to Lavallee, who said even after the weeks have passed by, morale is still high.
“We’re trying to make it as good as it can be,” he said.
But of course, there are challenges. For many, the shift in work life means a shift in family life, too.
Facetime sessions have helped many keep in touch, Lavallee said.
“I think that technology has been truly incredible,” he said.
Employees slated to take the next cycle later this month have been required to quarantine at home, according to Lavallee.
At the control center meanwhile, those on the clock have daily medical screenings, he said.
Lavallee sees this third week as a bit of a hump week, as workers inch closer to the end of their scheduled rotation.
But they remain committed.
“We’re doing our work,” Buckley said. “We’re happy to be here working. (We’ll) stay focused, and we’ll get the job done.”