COVID-19 will result in some permanent changes in the way trucking fleets operate.

COVID-19 will result in some permanent changes in the way trucking fleets operate.

Amman Wahab Nizamani / Wikimedia Commons

The trucking industry, like all businesses, had to quickly respond to the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic. The past few months have illustrated the importance of preparing for unforeseen emergences and the need to be flexible and innovative in your thinking and operations. Some changes – possibly for the better – will remain long after the virus is no longer viewed as a threat.

WorkHound CEO Max Farrell recently hosted a Zoom webinar about those changes with Jackie Giefer, director of operations at Bay & Bay Transportation; Mark Walker, chairman and CEO of TransLand; and Rebecca Brewster, president and COO of the American Transportation Research Institute.

Three primary areas emerged regarding how trucking fleets’ day-to-day operations will likely be permanently affected – for the better.

1. More use of paperless and contactless technology

“It was definitely a fast-moving change for all of us,” said Bay & Bay’s Giefer. “I do think there will be some positives that come out of it. We’ve had to kind of catapult some of our technologies; we were looking at a few things that due to the pandemic we pushed forward quite quickly.”

She predicted we’ll see more paperless operations in the future, with electronic bills of lading on the driver side, and more virtual meetings with customers on the sales side.

Farrell noted that “paperless and contactless is a big push right now, which is not only a safety gain, because it’s about sanitation, but it’s also an efficiency gain,” noting it can cut down on the number of times drivers have to walk from the truck to the security shack, from the truck to the warehouse to pay lumpers, and so on.

TransLand’s Walker said the crisis has provided opportunities for innovation, especially in “how we utilize our most valuable resource, and that’s our people. “The words “agility” and “resiliency” come to mind. We had to turn on a dime, and all of a sudden we had laptops available for everyone to work from home.”

2. Redefining the office

Giefer said Bay & Bay has had about 85% of its office staff working from home, with upper management staying in the office.

“Those that are working from home have been successful, thanks to our IT department,” she said. “They’ve grown accustomed to it and have become more effective. Personally, I think those who are at home are more at ease, and so when driver managers are talking to drivers, it’s more soothing. They’re not in a high-stress work environment.”

Remote work, Walker said, will also help parents who previously couldn’t come to work because they had to stay home with sick kids.

Companies may decide to downsize offices, which could save fleets money. “Commercial real estate is going to change,” Walker said. “I’m worried about what we’re going to do with all of the public office space when our office home becomes the new normal.”

At the same time, people may be spending less time on the road, even after it’s considered safe to do so.

“As an industry, we’ve figured out ways to communicate and network completely virtually,” Brewster said. “I think it will fundamentally change, not just for trucking but for all businesses, how we look at in-person events. You can’t replace talking to someone in person, but certainly figuring out a better balance between those events and doing things virtually... certainly the cost savings are there for not having to travel.”

3. New ways to onboard truck drivers

Both Walker and Giefer said changes to the ways they onboard drivers have made the process more efficient, a change that will benefit the companies even post-pandemic.

At Bay & Bay, Giefer said, there had been discussions about moving parts of its orientation to online even before the pandemic, primarily the paperwork, and “that catapulted. We did go a week or two with complete virtual orientation, which was a success, so we have stuck with over half being virtual,” using videos and electronic document signatures.

Bay & Bay is now using a hybrid model, putting drivers in rental cars to come to in-person orientation rather than the previous practice of flying them in, but many drivers are coming in with half of their orientation done. “There still needs to be some of that in-person touch,” she said, noting that virtual orientation works better for some drivers than others.

Walker said virtual orientation has been one of TransLand’s biggest productivity gains. “We’ve gone from a two-and-a half to three-day orientation to one and a half days, and we’ve moved parts of the orientation to video,” he said. “Drivers do still come into the office, but we’re able to socially distance.”

But he too said there’s an importance balance to strike between in-person and virtual. “We’re grateful for the opportunity to have high touch along with high tech. I think that’s really important. Anytime you can be more productive and intentional with your communication, the drivers appreciate that, and all the employees involved appreciate it. I think this’ll be one of our neatest outcomes from this.”

About the author
Deborah Lockridge

Deborah Lockridge

Editor and Associate Publisher

Reporting on trucking since 1990, Deborah is known for her award-winning magazine editorials and in-depth features on diverse issues, from the driver shortage to maintenance to rapidly changing technology.

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