By Reza Hemmati
In the first two installments of this series on immediate actions fleet managers can take to address the pandemic’s continued impact on transportation, we addressed adopting new strategies for fuel cards, preventive maintenance, fleet safety, regulatory compliance, data analysis, and off-site audits. While economic and social uncertainty continue, we have an opportunity to prepare for the challenges of a post-COVID economy. As business leaders look ahead to a new year, now is the time to improve fleet culture and policies with these additional four steps.
Concern for the driver shortage is nothing new in our industry. In fact, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) identified the shortage as the industry’s top concern for the past four consecutive years. Despite the pandemic’s negative impact on freight demand in early 2020, industry analysts predict the demand for qualified drivers will increase as the economy bounces back, returning to the concerning levels of those experienced in 2018 and 2019. In response, fleet managers are tasked with ensuring talented employees are properly trained and retained for the long haul.
When it comes to driver retention, it’s not always about money. As in any industry, retention for commercial drivers requires fleet managers to deeply understand their team member’s working habits to gauge engagement and productivity and address challenges head on. While often overlooked, fleet data can be an extremely effective tool to improve employee satisfaction and, ultimately, retain talent. The massive datasets generated from fleet telematics and electronic logging devices provide comprehensive analytics that offer ample insight into driver behavior. For example, data analysis enables fleet managers to identify drivers who fall short of assigned key performance indicators (KPIs) and take corrective action to ensure those drivers have the support they need. When incorporated into a fleetwide educational program, this data can also identify gaps in company education, where multiple drivers might need additional training and development in order to meet their goals.
The pandemic has shed light on the importance of prioritizing mental health and work-life balance in corporate culture. For too long, the culture of commercial transportation has deprioritized one important pillar of work-life balance: sleep. Not only do well-rested drivers have dramatically fewer accidents, studies find drivers with good sleep habits are 30% less likely to quit.
ELD data provides a timestamp indicating when a driver stops to rest, offering a much-needed glimpse into driver REM cycles. This information allows fleet managers to evaluate and provide guidance on proper rest to achieve optimal performance along routes. We know drivers need at least two periods of night sleep per week to perform efficiently. Fleet managers should look at this data to evaluate evening rest hours and work with shipping partners to build schedules that are “biocompatible” to a driver’s needs and preferences.
Even with these precautions, many drivers still struggle to fall asleep during the 10-hour rest window required under hours of service (HOS) regulation. To address this, fleets should consider offering educational programs and resources to teach drivers the importance of sleep and good habits to help achieve at least six hours of quality shut-eye over a 10-hour rest period.
While drivers often take center stage, fleets are made up of many vital players including maintenance technicians. It’s important to recognize this team’s valuable contributions and crucial role in keeping vehicles rolling down the road by implementing a robust plan for both training and retention. Building a work culture that recognizes and respects maintenance technicians will pay dividends in the end.
To ensure employee and customer safety, fleets are providing personal protection equipment, like masks, face shields, and sanitizers, to maintenance teams and other employees, accumulating additional costs. While these changes adequately address risk for on-the-ground staff like maintenance technicians, shipping customers might not have visibility into the revenue upside for these additional costs. Given this disconnect, it’s important for fleets to educate their shipping partners and ensure these necessary costs are adequately explained and billed over multiple contracts.
LESSONS OF COVID
The pandemic has taught the industry many important lessons and given us new best practices to carry into the new year. When it comes to sanitation and pandemic protocol, change is constant, and every shipper has different requirements. To manage this, it’s beneficial to assign drivers regular routes versus one-off deliveries. Not only does this allow them to build familiarity and consistency, but it ensures both driver and shipper understand each other’s sanitation policies.
Trucking can be a solitary job; most drivers have been social distancing at work since they first earned their commercial driving licenses. The pandemic has further limited their already sparse social opportunities, so it’s increasingly important for fleets to improve and maintain strong channels of in-cab communication. These systems allow fleet managers to check-in socially and professionally to understand how drivers cope with the uncertainty of the times.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Reza Hemmati is the vice president of product management at Spireon. For more insights on what steps your company can take to succeed post COVID, watch Spireon’s webinar, “Top 10 Steps Fleets Can Take Now to Succeed Post-COVID.” Find out more, visit www.spireon.com.