Even with the impact of COVID-19 on the freight industry, it’s not all doom and gloom. Here are the top trends to look for this year.
Looking back over the past year and trying to predict exactly how the road freight industry will further adapt in 2021 is an important exercise. We all know this business is about logistics, defined dates, costs, routes and timings, and the COVID-19 era has certainly thrown many curveballs our way. But, many of us have adapted, and it’s important that we learn from any mistakes made last year and accept that we will have to continue adapting – often on short notice – for the foreseeable future. Take a look at this year’s trends to be on the industry radar:
1. Prepare for unpredictability
This might sound like very basic advice, but if you are prepared in terms of client expectations, documentation, driver training and briefing, and border communications, then last-minute changes won’t have such devastating effects. Your staff and clients will be prepared and they will know what to do in the event of a border closing without warning, or if delays are much longer than expected.
If you play out all the worst case scenarios and train and prepare for them, you will be much more flexible and can prevent complete standstills wherever possible.
2. Build your network
Many of us are currently in the ‘same boat’, so to speak, so you’ll find that everyone is looking for ways to collaborate and assist. Now is the perfect time to build crucial connections and partnerships that keep your operations going.
It sounds like a small thing, but call the people who you previously only emailed – this can go a long way in ensuring your communication chain doesn’t break down when the time comes to make urgent changes to freight logistics.
3. Know your geography
It’s more important than ever to keep tabs with what is happening in neighbouring countries and also around the world. We’ve now seen that sub-Saharan Africa tends to follow the recommendations of the World Health Organisation when it comes to travel restrictions.
At the same time, however, countries have been opening and closing borders, depending on the level of COVID-19 infection within their countries, which means some sub-Saharan borders could be open while others are closed. Use your knowledge of the area, and experience over the past year, to make the best decisions for routes and timing this year.
4. Rework your budget
With the above points in mind, it’s vital to ensure you budget for all scenarios as well. Drivers will need to be tested, possibly quarantined, and there will be more downtime and delays. The best road freight managers will budget and plan for all eventualities.
Nobody has an infinite budget – which is actually something you need to budget for. If cuts need to happen, or certain routes or dates need to be changed in order to make the budget work. Make sure you get ahead of it now rather than later.
5. Don’t lose sight of the basics
It’s important not to lose sight of the basics of your operation. It’s easy to become so bogged down with new regulations and constant changes, that we forget to check basic things, such as the weather. Weather has a big impact on road freight as rainy seasons in different areas can cause flooding. With so many additional steps being added due to COVID-19, make sure you’re still checking all the ‘basics’. The last thing you want is to have delays because you were so focused on COVID-19 measures that you forgot to check for road closures.
Road freight is operated by people, which means human error occurs, particularly when checklists aren’t followed.
6. Reassure your clients
In some ways, COVID-19 may have a positive impact on how the industry communicates. Previously we could rely on automated systems (and we still do). But, road freight managers have been required to communicate with clients much more regularly than before – especially when curfews or border regulations are changed.
From our side, we think some of the new communication protocols will stay in place, as clients find it very reassuring when they receive daily or hourly updates (it depends entirely on the client, freight and circumstances). It’s likely that some of the new communication practices are here to stay, even once COVID-19 restrictions are no longer in place.