Commentary: Recommendations after coronavirus changed life in the USA

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

Things have been moving so incredibly fast there is almost a feeling of recurring whiplash.

I spent most of the last week talking to our industry friends about the challenges they are facing right now and gathering some best practices. The conversations ranged from informal emails, to the impromptu COVID-19 Best Practice Group I put together with Fuel Transport. Here are the three biggest keys to success:

1. The biggest challenge is creating connectivity

This may not come as a surprise – technology aside, the number one challenge for teams is staying connected. Without fail, every business leader I spoke to stressed the importance of a focus on connectedness as they have moved to remote work.

Rob Piccioni of Fuel Transport, and Matt Parry of Werner Enterprises spoke with me at length about staying connected to their teams while employees are working remotely. Your employees’ normal day has changed, and you need to change how you engage them. Things as simple as restructuring your team’s routine to do “check-ins” keeps them connected.

(Photo credit: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Connect on more than business. There were plenty of creative ideas out there. At CarrierDirect we did a “virtual happy hour” complete with awards like “best backdrop.” Staying connected is also about making employees feel like you care about them (more on this later) and not just the clients.

2. Planning is never wasted

The biggest difference between companies struggling, and those making a smooth(ish) transition came down to planning. You cannot just jump into the deep end of remote work or disaster recovery.

Some companies have been working on solutions for the last few years. David Noone of RWI Logistics shared with me about how he looked at the responsibilities of each role, and made changes to create an operating model that would allow for remote teams. Bob O’Donnell of Magna Transport and I talked about how he has been contingency planning in the event of an emergency switch to remote for quite some time – which includes systems and people. He had a real-life trial before when he had an office fire a few years ago.  

Every business leader talked about “proof of concept” – or how to test remote work before moving the whole team. Cindy Lee from Lync Logistics shared that her teams have been working from home once a week since January and Charley Dehoney of Manning’s Truck Brokerage laid out how he “stress-tested” their infrastructure over the last few weeks.

(Photo credit: Fuel Transport)

Work out the technical and personnel kinks. If you haven’t started already, you need to start now. The longer you wait, the more likely it could be catastrophic for your business. Even if the need does not arise, your business will be stronger for it.

3. Flexibility is king

Several leaders talked about the importance of flexibility – both for your clients and for your people.

Client demand has shifted asymmetrically – some need much more, and others need almost nothing. Leaders discussed building in flexibility by creating frameworks to describe their customers’ needs right now. That spectrum can range from  “valued customer but no needs right now” for one who has stopped shipping, to “customer has critical volumes and needs” for ones like groceries or medical equipment. The need to be flexible with resourcing, and truck capacity, has allowed those businesses to meet the surge in demand while retaining some sense of normalcy for customers and employees.

(Photo credit: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

This next point is the most important. There are long-term ramifications to your culture regarding how you handle this time. It is not news that this is unprecedented. Ryan Rogers from Covenant Transportation Group talked to me at length about how empathy was an incredibly important part of this time – like simply listening to their struggles outside of operating the business and helping where you can. Just as your clients need help, your people do, too. Their perception of how you supported them will have long-term impacts on your culture – both positive and negative. Is it just about business, or are you treating your employees with the care they need?

If you’re struggling with how to navigate this time, and are looking for a little guidance, feel free to reach out to me, or any of my teammates at CarrierDirect. We’re all in this together.