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Trucking companies have been nimble in adopting changes to their operations both on the road and in the office as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, industry executives said.
“Our company has probably gone through more change over the past two months than we probably ever have,” Roadrunner Freight President Frank Hurst told Transport Topics. “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 to a virtual sales force in a matter of days.” He noted that productivity and customer interactions have remained strong with the shift.
Roadrunner Transportation Systems ranks No. 17 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America.
“Many things have changed for us,” Amanda Thompson, chief people officer for U.S. Xpress, told TT. “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.”
The carrier also has deployed tools to help drivers navigate the challenges they are facing amid the pandemic.
“We are also increasing our use of technology to help support our drivers who clearly cannot work from home,” Thompson said. “We have added new features to our in-cab technology, including visibility of roughly 40,000 tractor/trailer parking locations.” The carrier added a grocery store locating feature to in-cab devices to help drivers track down meals.
U.S. Xpress also added technology to keep drivers safe when making deliveries, she said.
“We’ve worked to make the delivery process as frictionless as possible for them by attempting to digitize forms for them and our dedicated accounts,” Thompson said. “This builds on our efforts to streamline and improve efficiencies for both our drivers and customers.”
U.S. Xpress ranks No. 20 on the for-hire TT100.
Lynden Inc. has taken steps to embrace contactless transactions for drivers, said Executive Vice President Alex McKallor.
“We essentially got customers to agree to not require a signature and all that other stuff that’s very traditional in the business,” McKallor said. “That’s been very successful in minimizing contact.”
While Averitt Express is primarily communicating with customers virtually and over the phone, if an in-person meeting is required, it is done outside. “We might meet them in the parking lot or meet them out on the dock of their facility,” Amos Rogan, the carrier’s less-than-truckload operations leader, told TT. “An open air type of situation instead of being in a closed office space.” Averitt Express is ranked No. 32 on the for-hire TT100.
“The way we communicate with our associates has certainly changed. Now we’re having to do things on a more individualized basis in order to make sure we maintain the needed and necessary social distancing,” Rogan said. The company has removed tables and chairs from the driver break room to promote social distancing, and is providing them with boxed lunches to limit their exposure when on the road. They’re also provided with masks and cleaning wipes.
Lynden is ensuring equipment is kept clean and that workers are limiting contact, including staggering breaks so people aren’t together at once.
“Typically for truck drivers when they arrive to work, they skip the whole going into the locker room and talking with their friends,” Lynden’s McKallor said. “They go straight to the truck. The truck has been cleaned the day before. The interactions have been completely reduced.”
A Roadrunner truck on the road. (Roadrunner Transportation Systems via Facebook)
Going forward, carriers see lessons learned from the pandemic leading to permanent change.
“We’re evaluating longer-term telecommuting opportunities for our workforce, which has positively responded to working from home, and we have already been able to divest some real estate based on relocating staff to work-from-home,” said U.S. Xpress’ Thompson.
McKallor added, “My guess is we’re going to have more remote workers. That will certainly be a thing that will happen.” He also believes some of the proof-of-delivery and health assessment tools the company has adopted could remain longer-term.
Rogan noted that Averitt is likewise learning from the experience.
“The technology that we’re utilizing to work from home has afforded us flexibility we didn’t know that we had,” he said. “I think we learned that there are things that can be done without being in the office.”