There’s a long tradition in logistics and transportation of pushing through at all costs when the chips are down. Those who succeed are those with the tenacity to keep going with energy, commitment, and hustle—those who don’t stop until they get the job done. They are what makes the industry so exciting, and they are the ones that we rely on to make sure the goods we need get where they need to be.
This current crisis is different, though. Fear, stress, and anxiety are not conducive to a high-performance environment and with the Coronavirus pandemic, employees have been experiencing this heightened state of alert for over half a year now. It’s a different type of challenge - one involving health and safety - and it’s one that we haven’t really experienced.
And while transportation and logistics professionals are among the hardiest and best, they may nonetheless feel the uncertainty of the current situation. Concerns for health, employment, and financial security may be tapping on the shoulders of employees in this industry as in all others in today’s environment.
So, how do you make sure you’re building people up when it may feel like the world (and industry) are falling down around you?
Let’s start with how we define a safe environment for our employees. Physical safety is imperative, but our employees’ mental wellness and financial safety are just as important. When a team member is worried about where their family’s next meal is coming from or that they may not have a job next month, it’s not easy for them to be 100% on.
The pandemic may still be affecting us through this winter, and it’s time for companies to reassess what is and what isn’t working. Many teams have been through massive changes in their work environment and workflows, going entirely remote or shifting back and forth between working from home and returning to socially distant workspaces. Concerns about healthcare, government, children’s education, the environment and equality are very real, and they are stretching many people close to their breaking point.
If we plan to keep America’s supply chain moving, to keep PPE and essential supplies flowing through whatever comes our way in the coming months, we need to put serious effort into protecting the people of transportation.
First and foremost, we must keep employees physically safe while doing their job, whether at home, in the office, onboard a barge, driving a truck, or working a dock or warehouse. For remote workers, this could mean providing equipment and funding for an ergonomically correct workspace. It could mean enhanced PPE and the redesign of office and warehouse spaces for those attending your physical locations.
In our offices, we’ve put several measures in place to reduce the risk of COVID transmission as much as possible:
- Reducing outside vendors and visitors to our locations
- Temperature checks for everyone entering the office
- Providing and enforcing the use hand sanitizers and sanitary wipes
- Deep cleaning and sanitizing the offices every night
- Redesigned workstations with plexiglass barriers
- Supporting a portion of the workforce in continuing to work remote to facilitate that physical distancing in-office
Job security and financial safety
We need to keep our employees engaged and connected so that our sense of service and care for each other is intact. The care we give employees in ensuring their security and stability translates directly into their ability to care for customers.
If your company had to reduce staff during COVID-19, you’re certainly not alone. I appreciate those are difficult decisions to make. Displaced team members may have moved on to new roles and that loss of talent can hinder the business long after the initial crisis is over.
As an alternative and to prevent future layoffs if business interruptions persist this winter, look for creative ways to develop your team that will serve you better going forward. In May, right in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis, we started an upskilling initiative to deliver valuable and engaging training remotely. We hired a partner to create a virtual training facility and created short, engaging micro-trainings that employees could work into their day (rather than burning them out with intensive, all-day training sessions).
Part of this included a skill-sharing initiative in which we tapped into the business-specific knowledge of team members and had them lead hour-long training sessions for their peers. The bonus with this skillshare activity is the level of engagement it creates. Employees were able to meet people from other teams, departments, and offices across the country in these virtual spaces and to learn from one another. That knowledge that is inherent to your own organization is so valuable and difficult to capture otherwise.
What’s more, it enabled us to avoid laying off a single employee. When the transportation industry is wildly in flux, you need to keep all hands on deck if you want to be positioned to jump back in when opportunity strikes.
Mental wellness and safe spaces
Employees need to see your empathy and willingness to respond to their needs in times of crisis. They need you to really listen. Simply asking how everyone is doing isn’t enough. “How are you?” is a polite, perfunctory question that begs an equally polite, indifferent answer.
Move past these barriers to open communication by providing an environment in which two-way communication is the norm and employees are empowered to share exactly how they’re feeling, even if that is, “I can’t take another minute of this.”
This can be a really difficult thing to do if your organization hasn’t been receptive to critical feedback in the past. But it’s worth getting it right. Employees need to know they can express a concern, make a complaint, or suggest a change without incurring the wrath of a team leader—or worse, their complete indifference. You can’t implement every idea that comes your way, but you can certainly communicate that you understood the ask and explain why you chose the path you did.
Online video events are also important, so the connection of face-to-face interaction doesn't fall off despite remote working distances. Zoom fatigue is a real issue, though. Make sure that your virtual team meetings, brainstorm sessions, and after-hours social networking have a purpose. If an online event is mandatory, keep it as brief and to the point as possible.
Commit to protecting, caring for, and loving your employees through this.
Love shouldn’t come across as a radical word in business. Keeping the people of transportation safe and secure is essential in protecting the supply chain. The Coronavirus pandemic is proving to be a long-lasting, ongoing issue, and we can't expect our employees to just grind their way through it without help.
As leaders, we must support our people through this, build them up, and give them the tools to do their best for every single customer with whom they come in contact with—and for each other. If we commit to putting employees’ wellbeing and safety top priority, who knows what we can accomplish together when this crisis passes.