testarticlepage

Together We Will Prevail: Insights on the Impact of Coronavirus in Fleet


 



By
Jasmine Glasheen and Donald Dunphy

April 2020


The fleet industry has been through economic downturns in the past, but those have developed over time. The coronavirus pandemic, on the other hand, hit the industry within a matter of weeks…and there’s no definite ending to the crisis. As such, fleet managers have found themselves without a clear set of guidelines to follow to navigate their businesses during the outbreak. 
 
We interviewed NAFA board members to get their insights on how fleet professionals can best contend with the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, to emerge stronger (and more resilient) on the other side. 

 
Increase Sanitization Protocols for Shared Vehicles
 
NAFA Board of Directors Secretary/Treasurer Kathy Wellik, CAFM, is Director for Iowa State University Transportation Services. Wellik––like all of us––must face this pandemic head-on in every level of her personal and professional life. She says that Iowa State University Transportation Services is taking a few key actions to move forward at this crucial moment. 
 
“Clean, clean, clean, wipe, social distance and spray,” Wellik says. “We do not allow our vendors into our shops. They must leave all deliveries outside, so we do not expose our staff to additional folks throughout the day. We have deep cleaned every vehicle, and when a vehicle is rented out and returned, we deep clean it again.”

 

This is a human crisis and, above all, empathy and concern are vital. Try to help each other. Make sure your staff is doing well. Reach out to them and provide resources if they are struggling. Times like these make all staff realize how much you care about their well-being and want to keep them employed.

 
The cleaning regimen extends to wiping down door handles, kiosks, and surfaces multiple times a day. “We also offer wipes to each customer so they can feel comfortable in sanitizing the vehicles,” Wellik says. “We have containers of hand sanitizer everywhere.”
 
“Each department and the university as a whole have emergency plans in place for situations similar as this,” Wellik said, recognizing that no one could have imagined needing prep to this scale. “We have had times, such as when the ’bird flu’ was present, and some of the same precautions from that time are also followed now.” 
 
The coronavirus pandemic, however, is unique both in its pace of impact and in its severity. Mark A. Smith, CAFM, Vice President of Account Management and Customer Success at Trimble Inc., says that first and foremost, fleets need to focus on driver safety. 
 
“This is particularly important in situations where multiple people are in vehicles (for example utility fleets),” Smith said, “or where multiple people are sharing vehicles (for example service or delivery fleets). It is critical that fleet managers ensure that vehicles are properly cleaned frequently in addition to being properly maintained.”

 
Prepare for Lags in Your Supply Chain 
 
The stark reality of the era we’re in is that even fleet operators that follow all the outlined protocols will not be able to escape the effects of coronavirus. There’s no avoiding that the industry (and world at large) is under the influence of a global maelstrom, but fleet professionals can take steps to ensure their business is better positioned to weather the storm. 
 
“I think many fleet leaders are feeling frustrated at this time because, even though they have done everything right, and may have taken flack for their former abundance of caution, they could never have known how bad it could get.” Wellik quickly follows, “No one could have seen this at this level. But now that we know, we can plan for it with precedence that can quiet the naysayers. And those who did plan carefully had baselines from which to act, which is critical when things change daily, and practically hourly.”
 
Fleet managers may need to re-evaluate their replacement cycles, as many original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have shut down production entirely during this time. While they may be able to place orders for new vehicles, most vehicles won’t be shipped until the implications of this virus have ground to a halt. Auctions and used auto retailers have also shut down in certain areas, which will affect the resale value of existing fleet vehicles for a time.  

 
Create Standards for Digital Communication 
 
Communication will take center stage for successful organizations in the months that follow. However, fleet leaders will rely on digital platforms––such as videoconferencing––to give each dialogue the human touch. According to Steven Saltzgiver, CAFS, Manager with Mercury Associates, Inc., fleet managers need to work quickly with their organization to assemble a communication plan with consistent talking points. 
 
“Then,” he continues, “managers must engage directly with their employees, preferably face to face (or Skype technology or MS Teams, etc.) so employees can discern for themselves what is being communicated to lessen doubt or confusion. Managers should hold listening sessions so employees can ask important questions about how the company plans to deal with the crisis and how they might be impacted.”
 
Mark Smith says fleet managers also need to continue to manage KPIs (key performance indicators) and exceptions in this new environment. “If your sales team is all working from home and unable to visit customers, you should expect to see a huge decrease in mileage and fuel costs... validate that this actually happens.”
 
“Is it temporary,” he asks, “or will you see an increase in the average monthly run rate when things return to normal as your team does more customer visits to catch up on what they missed?”
 
Smith says that how each company navigates communication during this time will ultimately determine whether they succeed or fail. “Savvy fleet managers who are proactive will emerge in a better place,” he said. “They will have leveraged this as an opportunity to shine and show what they are truly capable of. Less savvy fleet managers will emerge neutral or worse off.”
 
And even amid the uncertainty, Kathy Wellik recognizes the positives that came from this crisis––namely, a strong feeling of community among her employees and coworkers. “It is wonderful that we all have come together and know what to do,” she said. “We have WebEx online staff calls first thing each morning and again in the afternoon to keep in touch.”

 
Additionally, in response to downtime being afforded to them, Wellik’s crew turned a team-building exercise into a service project, sewing facemasks for those most in need during this crisis. “I am proud of our Transportation Services Team for being willing to use their many talents to help the community,” Wellik says.
 
 
Use Downtime for Fleet Training and Certifications
 
Iowa State University Transportation Services had to reduce staff and some staff are working from home. “Our students are also now doing online learning, so many of them have moved back home and are not in town anymore,” Wellik said, noting the sudden shift of the environment was, “like you lost family and never got to say goodbye.” On a positive note, University Transportation Services have utilized idle time from the coronavirus shutdowns as time to do all the things they wanted to accomplish but could not devote time to. 
 
“We have deep cleaned our buildings and have been doing miscellaneous projects around the department,” Wellik said, adding, “We also brainstormed together items that can be done at home for technicians who normally can’t work from home. I have asked that all technicians sign up for the fuel and maintenance certificates through NAFA when it gets to the point where they must work from home. I have also asked those who are not ASE-certified use this time to get their certifications.”


In response to so much downtime being afforded to them, Wellik’s crew turned a team-building exercise into a service project, fabricating facemasks for those most in need during this crisis. “I am proud of our Transportation Services Team for being willing to use their many talents to help the community,” Wellik says.
 
Many State DMV offices have closed, which means that some drivers will have expired tags until those agencies come back on-line. Between delayed auto production, drivers falling ill, and concerns about which services are deemed “non-essential,” it’s easy to see how fleet operatives might have difficulty keeping their staff motivated. However, Steve Saltzgiver maintains that mobility as an industry is not only here to stay, but it’s never been more important than now.
 
“I believe after the COVID-19 virus mobility solutions will have become even more important,” Saltzgiver said “As we dealt with the virus, we found the extra value of mobility being used in the more nontraditional and emerging areas like product and food delivery services. As an example, companies like Uber Eats, Door Dash and Grub Hub accelerated as mobility solutions when traditional modes of transportation sit idle.”
 
As a final note, Wellik recognizes this is a human crisis and, above all, empathy and concern are vital. “Try to help each other. Make sure your staff is doing well. Reach out to them and provide resources if they are struggling. Times like these make all staff realize how much you care about their well-being and want to keep them employed.”


Explore More Articles...