30 March 2022

Celebrating our champions through COVID-19

We owe thanks to our team for their strength, resilience and camaraderie in the face of COVID-19. Regional Manager, Tom Cash, sheds light on the team's experience and commitment to our customers.

The real heroes of the pandemic

Hundreds of thousands of doctors, nurses, paramedics, allied health professionals and aged care workers have rightly been described as “heroes of the pandemic” for their tireless work on the front lines of the COVID-19 outbreak.

For more than two years now, these workers have dealt with the worst of the crisis; they often put their own lives in danger to help others. Daily, they have been surrounded by death, grief and fear and have made great sacrifice to tend to the health and wellbeing of others.

WHO Director-General Dr Ghebreyesus has described front-line workers as “the backbone of every health system”[i]. The heroism of our health professionals is inimitable. But other service industries too, from hospitality and retail through to supply chain consigning, have their share of champions.

Businesses around the world owe thanks to their teams for their strength, resilience and camaraderie that get them through tough times, such as the pandemic. We are one of them. At efm, our team is critical to our offering, and we owe our thanks to them.

For this article we spoke with efm Regional Manager - Enterprise, Tom Cash, to understand the experience of the team.

COVID, severe weather, and war create supply chain challenges

The COVID outbreak is shining a spotlight on the vulnerability of global and local supply chains. Countless consignments worth billions of dollars are being delayed due to bottlenecks caused by border closures, labour shortages, and mandated public health requirements.

Across the world, ocean freight has been impacted by port closures and container shortages. Trucking capacity has been strained due to lengthy lockdowns, reduced labour availability and higher demand for food and medical supply consignment. Air freight availability also fell because of a sharp reduction in passenger flights.

As of March 2022, the situation with COVID continues to evolve, however severe flooding in South Australia, the Northern Territory and along the east coast from Brisbane to Lismore is only adding to the supply chain chaos. At the end of January, the rail connection between Perth and the east coast was washed out. In late February, severe storms cut several major connecting roads between Brisbane, the NSW north coast and the rest of the country. This damage can take weeks to months to repair.

In logistics, crisis comes in waves and challenges escalate. For example, when armed conflict erupted in Ukraine in February, it added more pressure to global supply chains in energy goods and manufacturing (as an example, the world’s largest freighter plane has been destroyed in the fighting[ii]). All of this represents a critical load on the nation’s supply chains leading to delays, frustration, and cost blowouts. To navigate these problems requires a steady hand coupled with creative thinking.

A logistics response to global chaos

As a fourth-party logistics provider (4PL), our team bridges the gap between the customer and the carrier. This means that when shipments are delayed it is our team that jumps in and manages the situation for a customer, finding and implementing an alternative wherever possible.

It is the commitment of our people that has enabled us to respond to the changing circumstances and to face uncertainty head on.

Like many of our partners and competitors, efm has noticed an increase in anxiety among our customers, their end-users and workers all along the very stretched and pandemic-affected supply chain. Some of the biggest impacts have been a labour shortage in warehouses and in truck cabins.

To expand on this, frustrations for carriers and drivers have been aplenty, including the requirement to be tested every 72 hours and the corresponding risk for drivers of getting stuck interstate away from their families due to closed borders. As a result, many drivers abandoned long-haul and took more local jobs or have exited the industry entirely, placing further pressure on carriers’ ability to service their customers.

In addition, the floods impacting the East to West rail line, as well as in NSW and QLD have impacted busy interstate lanes and linehaul supply. Aside from delays, this is having a knock-on effect on the cost to serve these areas nearly doubling in some cases, forcing some carriers to impose a disaster levy to cover these increased costs. In addition to this, there is still a labour shortage in key roles such as forklift drivers and warehouse operators, both within the carriers and their customers.

Essentially, the industry finds itself in an ongoing series of bottlenecks and delays, where everyone is experiencing capacity issues and access to additional resources is limited due to the ongoing challenges. That’s the bad news. The good news is that efm has been able to pivot and adapt to the new conditions. For instance, staffing in key positions is stable, and our supportive company culture is helping everybody to cope with the stresses and strains of everything that is going on around them.

“Ready for anything”: the efm mindset

Systems are in place at efm to ensure that we can cope with the extra demands placed on us by the current chaotic conditions. Every effort is being made to create balance in workloads. Accountability and good communication from senior leaders means there is transparency, trust, and confidence across the whole workforce. Team members know they can speak up and get help if they are sinking under the weight of their daily workload.

The efm mindset also helps. We start by acknowledging that there are things out of our control – like viruses, floods, and war – but we seek to have influence over the things within our grasp. In these circumstances, our Customer Service and Account Management teams are in the eye of the storm and represent the frontline of efm: customer interface. No matter how fierce the storm around us, we must navigate a way through to keep our customers’ freight moving.

Our strength is an ability to be creative and find innovative operational solutions, such as changing our “last mile” delivery models as a way of dealing with the driver shortage. A “milk run” by one driver from a central depot might not be as efficient as the “hub and spoke” method but can result in better service because the delivery is highly controlled and more consistent.

Account Managers working closely with the Customer Service team must also adjust their communications with customers to manage expectations as some delays are unavoidable. We try to negotiate solutions on a case-by-case basis, such as setting cut-off dates for incoming orders and being clear with end-users about when a delivery is likely. We never promise what we can’t deliver.

A focus on what we can control

The supply chain crisis is multi-factored and global, and we cannot control any freight movement until the shipment lands on Australian shores. From that moment, we try to expedite critical freight movement through our partners' networks. Our Commercial team will work with the Operations crew to give customers options with the cost-benefit of each solution carefully set out. This might mean some “out of the box” thinking, but that is what efm does best, and our OneFlo technology gives us the metrics and tools to make the implausible possible.

Everyone at efm knows they have a role to play, and interdisciplinary teamwork is the bedrock of what we do. The Customer Service team deserves recognition for the hard work they put into managing the thousands of incoming queries. The Account Managers must also be nimble in chasing up problems and responding with solutions. Behind the scenes, the Support Services team within efm is the backbone of these functions, enabling the customer-focussed solutions the team puts forward every day.

In a period of uncertainty, our commitment is certain

We still have a long way to go with the new Omicron variant, there is no end in sight to the war in eastern Europe, and recovery from the severe weather events of January and February is an unknown at this point.

On the whole, the efm team has stepped up to deal with the very real frustrations expressed by customers who are nervously waiting for their consignments. We have weathered the storm, even when there are no easy answers. Overall, we think that we’ve been able to keep our customers relatively happy despite the difficult circumstances.

The only certainties in these uncertain times is that the efm workforce team is ready for anything and that we owe our immense thanks to them for their passion, energy and unrivalled commitment to our customers.

[1] https://edition.cnn.com/travel...

[ii] https://www1.racgp.org.au/news...

efm team walking to meeting

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