In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, trucking companies have been looking for ways to adapt and innovate to the changes the industry has faced.
In a recent survey by the American Transportation Research Institute and the Owner Operators Independent Drivers Association, data showed that about 80% of survey respondents, who were either small fleets or independent owner-operators, did not have a business plan ready for the major changes brought on by COVID-19.
“I think going forward, it would behoove everyone in the industry to think about what lessons we learned and how can we document that in our research and in [trucking] operation,” said ATRI president and COO, Rebecca Brewster. “How can we make sure, going forward, [that] this has less of an impact on us as an industry and as we service the nation’s needs?”
At the early June WorkHound webinar regarding long-term transportation changes amid the current health crisis, Brewster also added that a positive change for ATRI has been the “tremendous amounts of data” benefiting the industry as it progresses.
For some trucking companies, virtual on-boarding processes and paperless driver bill of ladings have lowered the need for in-person interactions so that employees and truckers can continue social distancing. Bay & Bay Transportation‘s director of operations, Jackie Giefer, said these changes are going to become a permanent part of her company. She also said she wants light to continue being shone on safer truck driver parking throughout the country following the protocols put in place from this pandemic.
“Our company has probably gone through more change over the past two months than we probably ever have,” said Frank Hurst, president of Roadrunner Freight. “We deployed technology to allow our folks to work from home. We reorganized our entire sales team during this process, as well. We really went from a customer-facing force to a virtual sales force in a matter of days.”
Permanent at-home work situations seem to be growing across many companies.
“Many things have changed for us,” said U.S. Xpress chief people officer, Amanda Thompson. “The biggest change is that today, our office staff is almost entirely operating from home. U.S. Xpress has moved from less than 1% of office employees working from home to more than 95% of office employees working from home. This was put in place in an extremely short period of time.”
U.S. Xpress has recently implemented methods of working with drivers to overcome pandemic-related obstacles.
“We are also increasing our use of technology to help support our drivers who clearly cannot work from home,” Thompson continued. “We have added new features to our in-cab technology, including visibility of roughly 40,000 tractor-trailer parking locations.” The company also added a feature for in-cab devices to locate grocery stores so drivers can find meals more easily.
The company has also deployed safety-centric tools for delivery drivers, said Thompson.
“We’ve worked to make the delivery process as frictionless as possible for [drivers] by attempting to digitize forms for them and our dedicated accounts. This builds on our efforts to streamline and improve efficiencies for both our drivers and customers,” she said.
Although proving difficult, this particular time is one of exciting, positive change, said chairman and CEO of TransLand, Mark Walker.
“Out of every one of these crisis situations comes wonderful opportunities for innovation, and we are seeing that across the board,” he explained. “The words ‘agility’ and ‘resiliency’ come to mind. We had to turn on a dime. All of a sudden, we had more employees capable of working from home. In two weeks’ time, we went from having our on-call people able to work from home to having virtually 100% of our office staff able to work from home.”
For Bay & Bay, company culture has also seen a positive boost, and Giefer says the company’s staff has actually become closer than ever.
“Our drivers are invaluable, and they are leaning on us every day now,” said Giefer. “They don’t get to sit and chat in truck stops with one another and share their experiences; they’re staying in the trucks. Now, they are calling us and telling us what’s going on out there. We are really staying in touch with our drivers. It has really pulled us all together as one big family.”
More positive outcomes, according to Brewster, are that the entire country has been focusing on the value of truck drivers, and that less detention time, and better overall treatment for truckers, have come to the forefront.
Last-mile delivery is also likely to become a huge part of the supply chain, as customers rely on receiving goods in a timely manner–which will give a boost to manufacturers, distributors, and the rest of the supply chain. The Paycheck Protection Plan has become a “tremendous safety net that helped alleviate a lot of anxiety and fear” for smaller businesses, according to TransLand’s Walker.