As all of us around the globe continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of the virus on the supply chain has reverberated across the transportation industry.
From carriers and shippers to frontline workers like drivers and warehouse personnel, we have all felt the effects of the virus on how we work and interact with each other and what we’ve needed to do to stay healthy, safe and productive.
Regardless of where you live and work, “it affected us all the same,” said Brad Aimone, director of driver safety and services for Central Oregon Truck Company, a Redmond, OR-based over-the-road, irregular route flatbed trucking company.
Getting information out to the fleet was crucial to Central Oregon Trucking. Aimone leveraged the company’s app to share important details with drivers and other personnel, including a letter from the CEO and pertinent facts about the virus and potential hotspots.
“We took the app and mixed it with our private Facebook page to message drivers and reassure them with pertinent facts from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO),” said Aimone.
Communication was also critical for Maverick Transportation, a Little Rock, AR-based fleet that provides over-the-road and dedicated service to the flatbed, glass and specialized transportation markets.
“We began communicating with drivers and enabled a framework to have drivers share if they or their family members are sick,” said Wayne Brown, vice president of information technology (IT) for Maverick. “We also were transparent in sharing if COVID tests within the fleet came back positive or a consignee or shipper had an outbreak in a facility that a driver may be traveling to.”
Technology’s role in helping fleets navigate COVID-19
One of the ways that both Central Oregon Truck Company and Maverick dealt with the effects of COVID-19 was by relying on their respective technology stacks to ensure they stayed up and running.
“We were really prepared for this because of the technology we have in place,” said Brown. “Our virtual desktop components allowed us to make 95 percent of our workforce remote in early March so we could continue to conduct business and not change who we are as an organization.”
This includes leveraging Trimble in-cab technology to ensure drivers were engaged and aware, from wherever their routes took them.
“We send important messages to our drivers via Trimble in-cab displays to keep drivers informed,” said Aimone. “We also conduct a weekly podcast that more than 200 drivers listen in to so they remain informed while out on the road.”
Technology also played a role in work through the impact of the pandemic on the supply chain.
“The visibility our back office systems provide allowed us to stay nimble and agile,” said Brown. He noted that for a time Maverick was doing more brokerage loads than ever before, hustling to keep freight moving while navigating more deadhead miles and driver layovers due to increased closures.
This also includes items like in-cab navigation and routing to ensure drivers stay safe while getting freight where it needs to be.
“It keeps people safe and it allows us to make smarter decisions, such as using route analytics to trace drivers’ potential exposure at shippers and consignees.” said Brown.
Balancing technology with the human element
While technology has proven to be beneficial, part of the challenge is balancing it with the interpersonal aspects of the job.
“You can measure all the metrics you can imagine but at the end of the day it is the human element – they are the cog in the ecosystem,” said Aimone. “I had to consider things like ‘how do I care for a worker with symptoms?’ and ‘how do I get them home?’ There was no guidance on how to deal with this because we have never been faced with it.”
Aimone noted that they gave drivers recommendations on how to stay healthy while on the road, including using telemedicine resources, as well as working through social distancing and temperature checks at client sites.
“I am inspired by our drivers,” said Brown. “Taking care and worrying about your family while on the road is difficult and they never stopped putting themselves at risk to do their job and do it well.”
Taking care of office employees was also top of mind for both fleets, enabling remote working when able as well as implementing temperature checks, restricted access to certain areas and an abundance of hand sanitizer and face coverings. This also included a robust sanitization process of equipment as it came into the shop to further reduce the risk of exposure to the virus.
COVID-19’s long-term impact on the transportation industry
While the pandemic isn’t over, both Aimone and Brown are starting to think about the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on the transportation industry and the supply chain as a whole.
“How do you cause less touch throughout the supply chain?” asked Brown. “COVID-19 is going to accelerate the development of this.”
For Brown, this means a touchless workflow through the life of a load or an order to reduce paperwork and handling of physical documents.
“Too much paperwork has been an issue, even before this,” said Brown. “It will be important for us to work with shippers and receivers to explore more use of things like electronic proof of deliveries (ePODs) and electronic bills of lading (BOLs).”
Aimone noted that it is likely to further a trend towards changing how consumers buy things.
“The pandemic has shown the power of eCommerce and final mile deliveries,” said Aimone. “While this isn’t as much of a trend on the truckload side of the industry, it is definitely accelerating a trend toward online purchasing.”
A new perspective on transportation and the people behind it
While no one knows for certain the lasting effects of COVID-19, both Aimone and Brown have felt a renewed sense of appreciation for trucking and the transportation industry in light of the pandemic’s challenges.
“I am proud of how we have learned to lead in these different ways; it has been really challenging but incredibly rewarding,” said Brown. “By being transparent and relying on core values, we have stepped up to the challenge during an unprecedented scenario.”
Aimone echoed this sentiment. “Without the people there is nothing here at [Central Oregon Trucking]. Togetherness and recognition of unity is key and we did that.”