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Air cargo companies provide a lesson in staff well-being amidst COVID

At the end of 2020, it became evident that some entities always have the well-beings of their employees at the core of their business models — and there are those which harbour an entirely different view

A COMPANY’s output is only as good as the staff it hires, trains, respects and protects. Aircargoeye.com editor Thelma Etim, reveals how two randomly chosen air cargo businesses have been prioritising the welfare of their employees around the world and throughout the pandemic.

Her research shows that the impact the global health pandemic is having on businesses and personnel across the entire air cargo supply chain could not be more starkly polarised. Whilst some companies have imploded under such volatile market conditions — with sky-rocketing airfreight rates on key trade lanes, major capacity reductions and rising debts — others have found remarkable, innovative ways to survive and prosper.

At the end of last year, it became evident that some entities always have the well-beings of their employees at the core of their business models — and there are those which harbour an entirely different view. Today, into the second month of 2021, and with global COVID-19 vaccine distribution and immunisation programmes well under way, the fallout from the virus on the mental health of staff has emerged as a crucial factor, rather than just a mission statement on a company website.

The health crisis has overthrown traditional office working practices permanently, observes digital disruptor Cargo.One which has now become an entirely cloud-based operation, which means that the physical presence of employees has always been surplus to requirements. “Long before COVID-19 hit the globe, all our teams were equipped to work from home and from anywhere else they would choose,” Moritz Claussen, co-founder and managing director, points out.“These two factors, one having a very strong operating system within the company and two, having the right technical infrastructure in place. These made our decision to take the company ‘remote-first’ easy following the Coronavirus outbreak.”

Claussen adds: “In early March we took the decision to shut down the offices and quickly thereafter decided with the team that we would not be returning to the office until 2021. Whilst this move was primarily driven by the ambition to keep our team and their families safe, we also wanted to give them the liberty to plan ahead and not be stuck in a limbo of not knowing when to come back to an office. Thus, our team members started making [personal] arrangements for the new situation. They adapted and learned to live under the new circumstances,” he discloses. “Consequently, we have now decided to close our physical offices for good.”

In the meantime, the company is continuing to experiment with new technology, software and modernised systems to support this process and is also establishing a remote management function. “This will support the team with the challenges, opportunities and their own well-being in this new set-up.

“We strongly believe that we are creating a massive competitive advantage by being a ‘remote-first’ company and with an amazing work environment for professional and personal growth for talented people from all over the world,” he insists.

Cargo.One has also opened its virtual doors to recruit new team members in 13 countries, situated in six time zones. “And shortly, we will be adding eight additional countries to hire from. As a result, like never before, we are able to tap into an enormous talent pool that goes way beyond our hometown of Berlin or Germany, to assemble a stellar team,” Claussen declares.

In another part of the air cargo world, with offices located in China, global capacity broker Air Charter Service (ACS) found itself squarely in the eye of the storm when the first recorded Coronavirus cases were identified in Wuhan. The company’s swift and decisive action to safeguard its staff provided a global template for the imposition of national lockdown polices and severe restrictions curtailing the movement of people around the world.

“Since the start of the pandemic, ACS followed local government advice at all times with all global offices,” admits Ruan Courtney, chief operating officer (COO). “Our offices in China went into lockdown first and the dates that we started working from home differed depending on when each country [subsequently] went into lockdown.

“Working closely with our local office CEOs and administration staff, we monitored all local government communications and acted as soon as each country’s government issued the relevant guidance,” he points out. “As our offices in China went into lockdown first, our IT department had to find a home-working solution for these people. This meant that, by the time our other offices globally started locking down, our IT department already had experience with these structural IT hardware and software challenges to allow more efficient home-working for all offices.”

In a fairly timely manner, the company was able to gather crucial information about how the lockdown in the People’s Republic was affecting staff. “As the situation escalated, business continuity planning (BCP) meetings took place daily with the board of directors from 9 March [2020] onwards, allowing ACS to pivot its business very rapidly both commercially and internally,” he explains.

How were these dramatic workplace changes managed? “As COO, I sent worldwide e-mails three times a week with status updates on each office and with each e-mail focusing on a different theme, such as giving advice on best practices for working from home. There was also help from human resources who attended many webinars discussing health and well-being — even providing virtual fitness videos and classes from our resident gym coach.”

Whilst the pandemic did not result in any direct redundancies, it did slow down ACS’s recruitment activities for a short period. “However, we are now working back to our head-count plans. This has thrown up some new challenges as we look to find further creative ways to remotely onboard and train our new team members across the world,” Courtney admits.

Originally published at https://aircargoeye.com/ on 5 January, 2021.

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Thelma Etim

Thelma Etim

I am the editor of air cargo industry news website aircargoeye.com, an alternative news and comment outlet for the global airfreight business.