Reconfiguring a supply chain company for remote working

How do you make a supply chain work at distance? We spoke to several start-ups to find out

Image by Joshua Miranda from Pixabay

The pandemic has disrupted traditional working practices, shutting down offices and preventing the kind of contact we all take for granted, whether that be with other employees or clients. In the long term this might herald a major shift in how we all work, but in the short term, companies are having to figure out new strategies to allow employees to work and communicate remotely. We caught up with several supply chain start-ups to figure out how they are approaching the challenge.

Culture and communication

For Flock Freight it has been a big change, as “Previously, we didn't really have any remote employees and now we're all working from home,” says Vice President of Marketing Jeff Lerner, which has meant “the transition can be challenging.”

They have been focusing on “making sure that we have the communication and the transparency.”

We just all decided to start turning on our video all the time

Critical to this has been using Slack, which they already had a lot of experience with as a result of use before the crisis, “But we did implement a couple of things that have really helped drive the culture. First and foremost is we have an all hands every morning 7.30AM led by the CEO and the rest of the executive team, to really just give an update on the business, give an update on what's happening with stay at home orders and the workforce.”

Setting up a regular culture of communication has also been important for Plus One Robotics, getting “In the habit of doing video calls, so when we all went home to work … we just all decided to start turning on our video all the time,” notes Vice President of Sales David Scheffrahn. “It had an interesting side effect because we have two offices and we also have about five remote employees. It really increased the engagement of all the people who were already remote,” who now “feel much more tied into the culture than they were before the pandemic.”

To further add to the culture whilst they experienced remote working “the other thing that that we have done is given employees the freedom to come up with an idea and spend a little money on something that would be a fun idea. A couple weeks back, I was sitting here on my porch and received a care package from Plus One Robotics that one of our employees had decided to put together … and send out to all their co-workers. I've really been impressed with some of the initiative that different people just come up with an idea and say, hey, let's do that.”

Flock has also been fostering a sense that employees can take some creative freedom and connect in new ways. “We do virtual happy hours, especially when we have really big days or big weeks. We'll set something up and kind of everybody grabs their beverage of choice and it becomes a more casual conversation. We run contests and other kind of quirky things just to kind of keep that sense of community amongst each other,” says Lerner.

We're in this together for a bigger cause than just to make money and to grow a business

Lerner has also found that morale has been improved by “really just driving home the message that we should be both appreciative of the fact that we're having an impact on the supply chain. During a pandemic, we are helping get the shelves, restocked at supermarkets, which impacts all of us in our families. It’s kind of at that beginning of the day motivational [that we are] like we're in this together for a bigger cause than just to make money and to grow a business.”

Setting people up to succeed

Organisations also need to put in place supporting infrastructure in order to give their staff the best chance possible to succeed. “There's a handful of additional things that we've done, I think, just to try and take some of the pressure off people as they move to remote working,” says David Clear, Chief Revenue Officer at Vecna Robotics. These include creating “a stipend to allow people to set up proper workstations at home,” as well as “virtual childcare in place a few hours a week, where we can ensure that there's an entertainment provided for people who've got very young children.” These items have “actually helped quite a lot,” but also have been necessary as it “became apparent people were off to work remotely for quite a while.”

Remote installation

For on-demand warehousing, fulfillment, and logistics company Flexe, even though “We had an infrastructure in place to be able to adapt to a work from home workplace pretty quickly”, they had to “to think creatively” to make some other areas of their business work effectively notes Adrian Grigg VP, Business Development for Flexe.

They “typically go on site for some of our more complex warehousing implementations,” a situation that’s not always possible any more. This means they have needed to work on the capacity of to operate at distance “by using things like video chat and remote conferencing to drive successful implementations, which is a hugely important part of our business when we have new client launches.”

Whereas “our customers previously would have been saying ‘it's a robot, I don't know anything about it.’ Now it's okay, let's figure this out together

Vecna have also “Brought forward some of the work we've been doing around remote deployments,” requiring “ingenuity and patience” says Clear. The response has had some unexpected upsides.

“In the past when we're working with a lot of customers, there is very kind of clear line of demarcation around deployments. Our team will come on, they will conduct the deployment, they will train and get everybody up to speed and they will depart.”

However, now “by working through them through remote deployments, we probably involve some of our customers a little earlier in the process, and then [there is] a little bit more detail as part of that go live [process]”, which has led to customers being “a lot more engaged in the process itself.” Whereas “our customers previously would have been saying ‘it's a robot, I don't know anything about it.’ Now it's okay, let's figure this out together, make sure things are working, make sure things are efficient. Those are those are some of the positives we've seen really as part of this process.”

A helping hand

In order to help you work at your best throughout this crisis and beyond as we all shift to a new mode of working, here are some productivity tools for you to consider.

Communication tools

Video chat

Track & trace tools

Planning and management tools

Business intelligence & data visualization

Project management tools

Professional development

Social engagement

Wellbeing tools

For more insights from the frontlines of e-commerce, logistics and supply chains, listen to our Now or Never for Retail: Digitizing Your Supply Chain to Enhance Your Customer Experience and COVID-19 & the Last Mile: Rethinking the Approach to Demand Fluctuations webinars.

comments powered by Disqus