Commentary: Growth despite the coronavirus

Hot spot logistics

Dealing with the coronavirus in one of Florida’s hot spots has been difficult, especially while growing a logistics company. Our business model focuses on delivering exceptional trucking service, which relies upon the quick and efficient dissemination of information between parties. My team is in constant communication with truck drivers, dispatchers, distribution center/shipping personnel and each other. Delivering excellence in service depends on solving problems before they occur, which in turn requires fluid internal communication. We did not realize how much we were taking for granted prior to the pandemic.

In March, it became clear to our team that the coronavirus was a significant public health risk, resulting in an immediate transition to remote work. Our team’s safety is our greatest priority. In the early days of working remotely, a few key challenges became apparent, with efficient internal communication coming to the forefront. 

Long-distance struggles

During “normal,” nonpandemic times, we communicate via company chat software — with several groups or channels for specific roles and actions. The software also allows for direct intracompany messaging. Though this technology allows for a visible and documented conversation, it proved cumbersome when our users increased dependency on the software and had to constantly toggle and scroll through different chats to get up to speed. There were clear delays and we had to adjust our methods, limiting message size and volume. We also used visual cues such as asterisks and caps for specific needs. Eliminating simple messages like “coffee break be right back” and the occasional joke helped streamline our chats but made us all realize how we take our physical proximity for granted. We pivoted and became more efficient out of necessity, but we also became more robotic and isolated, losing our personal touch.

We were all excited when Florida started loosening coronavirus restrictions and returned to our physical offices in May after a few months of working remotely. Although we managed to successfully service our clients and increase freight volume while away, the team was clearly spread thin and exhausted.  We implemented social distancing and safety protocols, invested in copious amounts of hand sanitizer, and got back to work. The immediate priority for our company was to recruit and train new employees in support of our growing operation. We managed to start a class of newly hired logistics coordinators just a few weeks later. If there was one positive change from the pandemic, it was that hiring became much easier with a significantly larger talent pool to choose from. However, just two weeks into training our new hires, we had a positive case of coronavirus in the office.

Trials of getting tested

Our first step in reaction to the news was an immediate return to remote work and getting all employees tested for coronavirus. We planned a testing schedule with two-hour intervals to ensure adequate staffing while our colleagues were out but soon learned two hours was an unrealistic time allotment for coronavirus testing. These events were occurring during the spike in Florida, and our team members were reporting long lines and delays. It took on average six hours per employee to get tested, with some waiting 12 hours. The biggest challenge was not the delay in testing, though, but the reliability of the results. The results were taking up to two weeks to come in as rapid testing kit supplies quickly became unavailable.

One employee actually received a false positive from a facility that they never tested at. This was followed by a clinic that initially reported a negative result calling an employee 10 days later to inform them the results were actually positive! Thankfully, this employee was still working remotely and took her quarantine seriously, so she did not expose anyone else to infection. Critical decision-making became difficult due to delayed and unreliable results. 

Back to business 

It is important to reiterate this was occurring during an increase in demand from our clients and absentee employees from testing, all while training new employees. Against all odds, we experienced a record month across all metrics in June. Although we were able to survive a company expansion while working remotely, it became clear we take in-person communication for granted. 

Whether for operational expediency, training new hires or even the occasional pun, in-person communication always wins provided there is enough hand sanitizer to go around! Today, with new coronavirus cases on a strong downward trend in Florida, we have returned to our physical office in downtown Tampa. We are excited to be doing our part to keep the economy moving and hope all companies can return to their offices soon.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of FreightWaves or its affiliates.