The effect of COVID-19 on business has had a significant impact – to say the least. As borders close, supply chains halt, and revenues diminish, the current business environment is throwing greater challenges than many of us have faced in our entire working lives.
Some businesses are using some quick-thinking and changing their business models to stay afloat. Examples include restaurants delivering to supplement the lost income from dine-in guests; the manufacturing of automotive components halting to create emergency face masks and oxygen tents, and distilleries manufacturing hand sanitiser over gin.
But businesses which are asset-heavy and unable to pivot, including airlines and hotels, are required to look at other ways to stay afloat. One example of this is Qantas, who employed one of the largest workforces in Australia – of which two-thirds have now sadly been stood down. To rescue its business and do the right thing by its people, Qantas is working with other business leaders, like Woolworths, to redeploy its employees into demand areas. Qantas has also managed to borrow money against its aircraft to generate income to keep afloat while the fleet is grounded.
The same concept applies to fleet vehicles and their drivers, whether they be delivery vehicles, ride-sharing, sales executives, compliance officers or other.
Sometimes doing the unexpected in such times can also get you desired results. For example, my wife is a marketing manager for a significant financial investment company, and as you can imagine, with share values crashing, they should be reacting. And they are. They are increasing their advertising spend.
I completely understand that it seems alien to spend money during a crisis, but no one will debate spending money on something that will save you money in the long-term is an opportune investment. If there is one thing that COVID-19 has taught us, it is that the business world is not linear – rather an interwoven cycle of dependencies. The best way to deal with this model is to treat the response in the same way – by using assets flexibly and for multiple purposes.
For fleet managers, now is the time to be creative with your business so you can utilise your assets: the vehicles themselves as well as their drivers. Spending money to fit a proper fleet management system during this time of crisis allows for easy redeployment. This could be in the form of using fleet vehicles and their drivers for supermarket deliveries; transporting the less able; helping in the distribution and delivery of crucial healthcare applications, or even connect with partner organisations. This then turns your assets from either a liability or sunk cost that’s doing nothing, into one that is generating income and supporting the community.
The other aspect to consider is your requirement to exercise a duty-of-care for your existing workforce, regardless of any temporary redeployment. While the business may be slowing, your responsibility for your people’s safety and wellbeing does not diminish. Understanding how your vehicles are being treated, so you can modify a driver’s behaviour becomes more critical at times of crisis in your business. Minimising business risk is vital in ‘squeezing’ times. The distraction or disruption of an accident could be catastrophic. Therefore, it would be far preferable to modify a driver’s behaviour before a vehicle is lost; coupled with the liability of a recovering staff member.
An added societal benefit could be that should the unthinkable happen, and a driver contracts COVID-19, you may be able to trace their route, both before and after, to aid in understanding who else may be at risk.
Understand also, that while your staff may be operating from remote locations and may not be using it for work – if you have provided a vehicle – you are responsible for it being safe regardless of it being used for the business or privately. A vehicle’s health is harder to understand if you never see it – making remote monitoring a must.
With social isolation becoming widespread practice for the foreseeable future, it is better to detect problems upfront and have a plan to deal with them, than let them occur at inopportune times when people may not be so readily available to help as they once were. Having a proper fleet management system that can detect future problems helps protect businesses against these issues.
In many ways, the technology we have available is a great asset in helping us get through the COVID-19 pandemic. While it is true that technology creates extra dependencies through greater connections, it is also true that it allows for greater agility, repurposing and redeployment.
The trick now is to realise its true potential, use it, and serve each other rather than accepting defeat. As Leigh Sales noted on ABC’s 730 program last week, “If you think the answer is more resources for hospitals, you’re wrong. If you think it’s the government, wrong again. And it’s not the scientists working on a vaccine either. The answer is you”. Use what you have in the best possible way.