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What a year 2020 has been

Well, QConference is a wrap and it was a very successful conference by any measure. It was very exciting to finally be able to have face-to-face interactions and, as QLD Branch President, I felt honoured to welcome everyone to the conference and the dinner.

A common theme from many of the keynotes was “What a year 2020 has been”. I think it will definitely go down as one of the most challenging: starting with bushfires, drought and ending still with COVID hanging over our heads as the very recent outbreak in Adelaide has shown. I think we all cannot wait to see the back of 2020.

However, one thing that has continued to occur throughout these challenges is that drinking water still flowed to customers and everyone still got to flush their toilets. Once again, the water industry just kept on keeping on — fire, drought or pestilence aside.

What I have also noticed about the water industry during this year, is the leadership that we have shown. Usually a very traditional industry, we’ve shown how well we can adapt and respond rapidly to changing business needs and the uncertainty that has been thrown at us.

Let’s not forget that COVID has provided opportunities. There’s nothing like a disaster to focus the ability to do things differently, quickly — rapid transformational change. Some of these are:

  • The amazing research that is occurring and not only on the vaccine that we are all waiting for, but also testing our wastewater for COVID. The result being the community is now interested in wastewater and we should be capitalising on that.
  • Distributed working arrangements. I remember, not that very long ago, when it was the established norm in the conservative water industry that if you weren’t at work or seen at work, you weren’t working. Well, haven’t we smashed that myth this year? Distributed working arrangements are here to stay and I believe that productivity gains have already been realised with limited commuting, decreased sick leave — as normal flu didn’t seem to impact as greatly and people stayed home if they were sick — and greater family interactions. Going forward, I don’t believe that businesses will ever see 100% of their workforce back in the office 100% of the time. This change has taken not only a crisis to bring to fruition but also leadership to implement these changes. We have leaders in most of the water businesses who are truly leading by example and working remotely.
  • The other opportunity that the epidemic has provided is the increased use of online technologies and forums. It has become almost a competition these days to see who has the best Zoom background, showing us all the places we used to travel to overseas… and who knows when that will happen again?

These examples have demonstrated the flexibility of the industry and the rapid embracing of new ways of working.

Now to the conference, 'sharing learnings: a growth opportunity'. In this time of challenge it is very important to remember that we are not alone. Someone in the water industry has previously struggled and solved the problem you are dealing with. One thing I learnt while in the regions is that it is important to reach out and learn from others and also support and share knowledge and experiences with others.

The conference definitely lived up to the sharing of experiences and the combination of NQWater and QWater really provided the opportunity and platform for this to occur. It was one of the only times that we had a more regionally focused stream running side-by-side with a SEQ stream. This provided opportunities we haven’t seen in the past. Both streams were equally attended by regionally mixed audiences. It was an an amazing feat and really showed that no matter where you work in the water industry, there is something to learn.

The enhanced opportunity for online technology has allowed us to reach out further to our more regional members, a focus for me as the QLD Branch President. We have trialled regional hubs for our technical events in Townsville, Mackay and Bundaberg. One of our webinars even had participants from overseas and the UAE.

Stay tuned for another exciting year in 2021 as the branch continues to share and support our Queensland members.