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Source: NIWA – National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research

NIWA environmental monitoring technician Mike O’Driscoll has just installed two water level stations in Samoa and is starting on a third – all from the comfort of his Greymouth office.

With COVID-19 having put a stop to all Pacific travel for now, NIWA field staff have had to work out how to carry out their jobs without actually being there, making mastering the art of delivering training and support via video call an essential skill.

Mike does the training over the phone while a team from the Samoan government’s Water Resources Division on the ground does the actual hard work. “Fortunately we already know each other well, so we’re aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we can work it all out between us.”

Being hands-off is not ideal says Mike, but the team is capable and has been able to adapt to installing new equipment.

It takes a bit longer than normal with several phone calls and follow-up emails required, but video calling also has the advantage of being able to see in real time what to do if a problem crops up.

“The technology has worked surprisingly well – as long as the phone is pointed in the right direction!”

The water level stations will need to be checked over by NIWA once travel resumes, but for now they are operational and going well.

For his part, Mike says he can’t wait to get back to the Pacific again. “When you’re on the ground there the benefits are exponential compared to a video call. You can get so much more done and there are so many opportunities to teach people new skills.

“There is a lot of work in the pipeline and we are quietly hopeful we will be there in person next winter, all going well.”

NIWA’s Pacific Rim manager Doug Ramsay says while it’s not business as usual, the team is constantly coming up with innovative ways of ensuring we continue to deliver on our commitments in the Pacific.

“The effectiveness of our remote working is also testament to the strong relationships we have built up through the long-term approach we take to working with and supporting our Pacific colleagues.”