4 business lessons from leading and shipping in the time of a pandemic

By Lee Spratt

  • Pandemic logistics measures can help companies of all sizes better prepare for any future volume peaks.
  • Leading teams in a pandemic world calls for more flexibility, communication and trust.

Imagine a time when you can walk freely through the streets without having to worry about an “invisible, lurking enemy” or wearing a mask or shield on your face to protect you and others from a particular virus. Yes, we can all imagine what some might call “the good ol’ days.”

For my team at DHL eCommerce Solutions in the Americas, the pre-pandemic days were an important time in our growth journey, but it has been trial by fire that has made us shine.

When I think about what lessons we learned in 2020 as a division and how these can be applied to companies of any size, four key ones stand out.

1. A company is as good as its logistics operation: At DHL eCommerce Solutions Americas throughout 2020, we had several online merchants approach us to ship their excess volume due to the boom in e-commerce volumes. Many online merchant companies did not have a proper logistics strategy in place, forecasting, or procedures to manage their volumes.

We expanded our forecasting process and began peak preparation with our customers earlier in the year than usual. Through our established peak preparedness checklist, we provided guidance on additional transportation pickups, supply orders, shipment documentation, communication on holiday closures, and tips on barcode and label quality. Our customer checklist and guidelines resulted in procedures companies can use for future smoother peak season planning.

 2. Bending without breaking: I would venture to say flexibility was one characteristic every company, no matter the size or industry, had to take on during the pandemic. This was certainly the case in the logistics industry. For our division, we flexed our flexibility muscles with our remote workers and invested in our people. 

Although a remote workforce setup was not something new to our organization, having almost 100 percent of our desk-level employees working from home at one time was definitely something new. Along with flexibility came the approach to lead fearlessly and with trust. Trusting our workforce to do the right job with a more hands-off and virtual approach. For some Managers and leaders, this can be quite challenging, but it called for reciprocal trust, accountability measures and camaraderie.

The pandemic also showed how investing in your workforce, not only through safety infrastructure measures and protocols, goes a long way. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve showed our appreciation to our frontline workers through various ongoing initiatives, including lunches, appreciation initiatives, and peak season monetary incentives that resulted in positive feedback.

Want it Delivered?

Why go looking for the latest logistics trends and business insights when you can have them delivered right to you?

3. Don’t be afraid to communicate even when the future looks bleak: Winston Churchill once said, “The difference between mere management and leadership is communication.” A great orator, Churchill knew that communication, even during the bleakest of times, was of the utmost importance to help steer his country in the right direction and lift people’s spirits. Similarly, when faced with a global pandemic, many organizations learned that even when things were uncertain, clear and concise communication helped steer the way. In our organization, the message of our mission “Excellence. Simply delivered.” and our purpose “Connecting people, improving lives” still rang true and was clearer than ever.

In some small way, providing weekly business updates to our teams helped ease the grip of uncertainty that we all faced in our private lives. Offering ongoing two-way communication with supervisors, town hall forums for open communication and virtual celebrations helped the organization stay connected. It was clear that even when there were no answers or times were tough, the best way forward was to communicate.

4. It’s okay to change your plans: In June 2020, our division in the U.S. prepared and invested in a back-to-the-office plan for our corporate offices that included automatic doors, increased sanitation and safety measures. The rise in COVID-19 cases in the middle of the summer called for a correction in our course. As a result, back-to-the-office plans were halted, although, as an essential business, our offices and all our facilities remained open. This course correction focused on protecting our workforce first and demonstrated that plans are not written in stone.

Lessons abound in this pandemic world, and as one of the fastest-growing industries, e-commerce will continue to transform. So, for those merchants boosting their online product offerings or just joining the world of e-commerce, remember you can never plan too far in advance or forecast for peak; you must remain flexible, communicate and course correct, when necessary.

Published: March 2021

Images: DHL; Pixabay

Lee Spratt

CEO, DHL eCommerce Solutions, Americas

With more than three decades of experience in the logistics and technology industries, Lee Spratt has served as CEO for DHL eCommerce Solutions Americas since 2008. He oversees the Americas operation that encompasses 20 distribution centers and three corporate offices in the United States and Canada with approximately 3,000 employees. Before his current role at DHL, he held several leadership positions focused on the U.S. domestic market. Lee also held upper management positions in ecommerce software and telecommunications companies. A native of North Carolina, Lee is passionate about helping his B2C online merchant customers thrive.

Related videos, links & information