Today, we will discuss how Western Dairy Transport works remotely and tells us about that transition and some of the tools and tactics that they use.
Speaker 1: Welcome to the JMARK Business Innovation Technology experience.
Interviewer: Okay. Why don’t you introduce yourself and we’ll go from there.
Jim: Okay. I’m Jim Peck, Chief Financial Officer of Western Dairy Transport, headquartered in Cabool, Missouri.
Interviewer: Okay. Cabool. So how long have you guys been… Or how much of the company right now has moved to a remote operation?
Jim: Well, as a transportation company, we’ve been remote… We’re a remote workforce for about two thirds of our staff, and the rest of our staff is located in several terminals around the United States, centered mainly in the Southwest area. So really the idea of social distancing has been sort of in our DNA. I mean, even in Cabool, I was counting up how many different areas we have people working, and there’s 10. 10 different areas. And we have a campus mentality. We have a shop, and we have a tank shop, and a body shop, and a safety office, and accounting and dispatch.
Jim: And when you’re located in a small town like we are, building a new facility that you would never be able to sell if you needed to, it seemed appropriate to more or less house in what’s already in the location there. So that goes to our advantage, and then some of our other locations have a mirrored image, where they have a dispatch area and they have a maintenance shop, and they have people that work in a fuel Island area and out on the yard. So we don’t have big gatherings of people so that the remote idea is already kind of in our DNA.
Interviewer: Great. So being in a small town, how has the current situation with COVID-19 and lock downs and stuff affected your community and the organization?
Jim: Well, I actually live in Springfield, Missouri, so I’m about 70 miles away. And I commute into the office four days a week, and I work from home one day a week. And I would say in the town of Cabool there have been no positives for the virus. We’ve done a lot of things just based on state orders and what we were supposed to live up to. We’ve split-shifted on one of the buildings where we have lots of people gathered. We’ve done a 4:00 AM to almost noon shift, and then a little afternoon to eight shift. But the town itself has been… They’re doing the same things that are required in other cities. Grocery stores are limiting how many people are in and which aisle you can go down, which direction, and the various aspects of businesses that aren’t supposed to be open as non essential.
Jim: And so I would say it looks a lot like, probably… Certainly Springfield, Missouri and other towns… In some of our other areas… We have a terminal in Phoenix, a big city, and they faced a little bit more probably pressure about how to react, and having some sort of paperwork saying they’re essential in their car, so if they do happen to get stopped then they can present that, “I’m doing a job, I’m essential. I’ve got to go to work.” Kind of stuff. But like I said, it’s so far so good. We’ve had no positives within our workforce. Even though we’re still out working, drivers are moving around, dispatchers are showing up to work and doing their job, and so we feel very fortunate in that aspect.
Interviewer: Wonderful. Well, fingers crossed.
Interviewer: So you said you’ve been remote for quite some time, or at least part of the organization has been remote for quite some time. Can you tell me a little bit about that transition and some of the tools and tactics that you guys use to maintain a culture and communication?
Jim: Well, when I would say remote, I was more speaking from how our business has operated. We have taken some steps… Because we really can’t get remote… You can’t turn a wrench from home, you have to go and work on the truck. You have to go and fuel the trucks, so a very small part of our workforce is really capable of going home and working. And so far, we, at the beginning kind of a month ago, we panicked and contacted JMARK and said, “Hey, what do you have by way of laptops if we were forced to send people home and work?” And so we acquired quite a few additional laptops, which strategically we’ll roll out as time allows, as replacement computers. But we wanted to have that ability, and we really haven’t had to act on that aspect other than we’ve prepped employee payroll people with ability to work from home. Although they haven’t yet, it’s important to plan and get those resources in place and test and make sure that it’s possible, so we’ve done that.
Jim: There are a few people like myself who have long commutes that have possibility from working from home or a normal schedule from working from home. Me it’s one day a week. Our CEO in Texas quite possibly works from home or mobile, I mean, he’s just out and about a lot. So there are aspects to terminal managers and people who have to go around and visit dairies, being remote. But it’s part of their job, it’s really not a shrinking back in and sending people home yet. And like I said, we’ve been fortunate to say that. And we are prepared, probably not as prepared as we should be, we’re just hoping for the best at this point.
Interviewer: Okay. What are some of the preparations that you guys have taken other than acquiring laptops? Is there anything in terms of the leadership and the communication that you guys have begun to roll out or test?
Jim: Yeah. As part of our strategic initiative, we were looking for ways of making applications easier to get to from different spots. And because we’re located in so many different areas and our network is kind of headquartered in Cabool, we’ve already had some of those resources in place as far as a website that hosts all of our applications for those at a distance. And so that was already capable. Then I think the preparations are just to open those technology windows up to a few more people and experimenting with it, and seeing really in the future, does this service well? Should we have done this before now, before a crisis came? And make us more prepared for something like this to occur in the future, although we all hope it doesn’t ever occur again. But it really has brought a lot of strategic thinking. If nothing about action, it’s really been a lot about what would we do? What if? And a lot of communication really at management level saying, “How would we continue to do what we do?”
Interviewer: And what are some of the things you’re doing with… You mentioned you have to have some people come onsite, mechanics and things, to work on the trucks. What are some of the things you’re doing to maintain social distancing and to keep in compliance with everything for others that might be experiencing that same dilemma?
Jim: Sure, sure. Well, for one thing on our drivers, we really struggled to get the supplies we need. But we have been creative and had various managers go to local stores and buy products, because our big suppliers couldn’t come up with what we needed, as far as cleaning solutions and sanitizers and things. And we may have been a little late to the game, and that caused us to… People panicked, and panic bought and hoarded. And so lots of people weren’t having the availability of those products, but we have found them, even if it’s in farm stores places. And we’ve created our own solutions, and we’ve put them in our own bottles and our safety people made us label them correctly. We just wanted to sharpie up, “This is bleach, and this is… ” So we had to do all those activities.
Jim: And so our drivers were given some cleaning supplies to keep in their truck, hand sanitizers, and we’re trying to keep them stocked with that as they feel comfortable. Our trucks are shared by drivers, it isn’t one driver, one truck. So when it comes back into the terminal… And this is something we actually started four or five years ago, we did a driver survey about truck cleanliness and retention and various items. And that’s one thing that came up was sharing, especially if it’s a truck with a sleeper berth that someone else has been in. So we really upped our game several years ago about cleaning trucks and sanitizing them. And so we weren’t late to the game on that, and now we’ve just upped our supply to them and our consciousness of asking them, “How are things? Are you feeling like you’re being taken care of?”
Jim: And as far as office workers, I talked about our campus building situation. We’ve locked our buildings down and we’ve asked employees to pretty much stay in the building that you work in. And so, in a manner of speaking, that has been more of our remote experiences. We used to travel between buildings for meetings, or we used to go visit people. And now we’re doing more phone calls and emailing, and that’s impersonal. So it’s been a ongoing… Every day we run across, Well, what if we could do this?” So ideas have been generated of how to get closer to people. And of course, we were late to the game with webcams. We don’t have a lot of people with laptops like myself with a web cam, but we will get some webcams and we will establish some better ways of seeing and visiting with people remotely, even if it’s in the same town just a different building.
Jim: And I miss that. I have staff in four different buildings, so I have people I haven’t seen in a few weeks, and I’ve talked to and I have communicated with, but it just doesn’t seem to be the same. So we’d locked our buildings down and we’ve asked people not to make unnecessary trips between those buildings, not just in Cabool but in other places, so that staff feels comfortable that if something were to occur, they know that they didn’t… If there was a hit in another building and we didn’t transfer between the two, then we’d feel a bit more comfortable about addressing the situation specifically in that area, instead of having to send the whole company home, so to speak.
Interviewer: So with these buildings, like you’re describing, other than just picking up the phone, have you been able to maintain the communication and culture using some kind of chat? Or you mentioned you’re not really doing video, what other things are you working on?
Jim: Well, this was one of those that… There’s a, I don’t know if you would call this the stages of grief, but it was a… Okay, so this thing is happening, and we’re a bit insulated from the happenings of New York City and Washington and California, and some of the big hotspots. And so it’s almost with disbelief that this thing is occurring and that we’re getting shut down and that… So we go through the stage of, “Okay, we accept it. It’s reality, we have to deal with it.” And then we go into a delay. “Okay, well, we were going to do these three steps in forwarding our business, but since this has occurred we’ll just delay. We won’t do those right away.” And now we’re kind of in… I don’t know how many stages there are to this, but now we’re in the, “Oh my gosh, we can’t delay forever. We’ve got to move on with business. Business is moving forward, and so what do we do?” And so I think again, maybe a little late to the game, but now we’re kind of considering, “Okay, how do we push forward?”
Jim: And I’ve been talking with Gary there at JMARK about resources of how do we do some of these things? And we haven’t really had the need or wanted the need in the past. And so we use Google Mail and Hangouts, and so we figured out that Hangouts has a lot of capabilities, and we can do video calls without cameras and share screens, and we can collaborate online. And Google Docs have been used forever. I don’t use them. From an accounting standpoint, I don’t want people meddling in what I’m doing, and I don’t want the editing going on like that. But now I think we’re considering the… We’re looking at our employee handbook, it needs to be updated. It’s needed to be updated for… We haven’t done it in a year or two. And we have an HR committee, and we canceled our last HR committee meeting, and so we haven’t gotten together.
Jim: And again, that’s one of those, “Well, we’ll delay, delay.” Well, it’s at the point now, we can’t delay forever. We’ve got to get going on this. So I think we’ve decided that we’ll either use the Hangouts to share screen and Google Docs combination, or we’ll figure out how to get some webcams. We have some in conference rooms and things, but they’re not really set up to be personal, like conference gatherings where we’ve got five people that we need to meet. And I think there’s quite a bit of benefit to mood and culture, and knowing what people are thinking by being able to gather with them physically. And have them present themselves on a video instead of behind the scenes, rolling their eyes like, “Oh, this is stupid, and I’m not… ” You know? So it’s really important I think, to get in front of the camera and present yourself and say, “Look, this is what we need to do, this is how we need to do it. Let’s move forward, let’s get it done.”
Jim: So again, I think a lot of these changes will really improve how we do business in the future, make us more efficient. Our traveled between buildings has been a waste of time, honestly, for a while. And this will create the ability for us to do things personally, but not personally, physically. So I see that, again, we’ll take a bad situation and turn it into something that’s going to make us better in the future. So anyway, I really see positives coming out of it.
Interviewer: That’s great. So in your operations, this has made you step back and go, “You know, we could do this better, we could do this better, we could do this better. We really don’t need this, we really don’t need that.”
Jim: Yeah, absolutely.
Interviewer: That’s wonderful. You said you’ve been working remote one day a week or so for a while now, what are some tips that you would give somebody who is not used to working remote to stay productive or to lead their teams, or to stay in communication with their teams? Is there anything that you’ve found to be helpful?
Jim: You know, I would say… With just once a week, I would say at first I really dug into things, and used my time alone as isolation and productive time. As I got to know the staff a little bit… And I didn’t do a day at home until I had been around for about a year, I did in the office five days a week. And really that drive five days a week just became a beat down, so the Wednesday became my break in the middle of the week to not do that. And I think the stages of working from home, same thing. Started off really strong, really productive, really more self-isolating, doing things that needed concentration and a lot of thought, and that transitioned into errand day because I’m at home, and people at home realized I’m here and I can help with things.
Jim: So interruptions, and… Summertime was horrible working from home, because it was like when the kids got up, it was something that Dad needed to do. And we’ve transitioned from now, in my office here, my college age son has moved home and he’s right behind me in this corner. He’s not here right now because he’s still in bed, because that’s what college students do. But they moved him all online, and so I’m kind of sharing my office at times. He has to come in and do video calls with professors too, and because it’s one day a week, it’s not a big hassle. I can pick up my laptop and leave the room, it’s no big deal. But I find today, in this kind of situation we’re in, my work from home has become more of what it should have been in that mid stage, of more communication, more reaching out, more… Just because I’m at home doesn’t mean I can’t find out how things are going.
Jim: It used to be Wednesdays was my day that I’d just not worry about things, I’d do it on Thursday when I got back. But now that I don’t see quite a few people on a regular basis, Wednesday’s just any other day. And when I’m at home, I don’t necessarily plan for doing those high concentration items, I just treat it like any other business day and do my work and reach out when I can. I do bring home a few projects that are a little more intense, and I take some time off to the side and work on those.
Jim: But I would say that my days at home now look more like my days in the office than ever. And I’m glad for that, because I didn’t know what was going to become of the broken days that I was getting involved with on the home basis. But kids being home doing their schoolwork has created an environment where everyone has something to do. And I’m just hoping that my internet service provider can keep up with all the devices that are trying to stream through the same connection. So far, so good. We haven’t had any issues, so I’m hopeful.
Interviewer: How has the culture of the company been affected through the situation, with staying in the buildings and a few people remote? How has that affected the culture of the company?
Jim: You know, I don’t think we know yet. I think the split shifting we did with some departments that can do their work any time of day, they’re in the same building with another group. So the dispatchers have to be there during the day, and we weren’t able to split shift them. And I think that has caused some irritation, some jealousy maybe, between departments. Like, “Why do I have to get up at 3:00 AM and come to the office when nobody else has to do it?” Kind of thing. So that’s not something we’ll continue. I mean, that social distancing that we did with that is a temporary, and I guess unless somebody told me they really got used to the 4:00 AM and they want to continue doing that, I guess I wouldn’t be opposed to it. But I see that as temporary, and I don’t know where we go from here.
Jim: Culturally, I think, and maybe every company that has multiple locations struggles with the idea that a headquarters location which houses some people, some decision makers or more decision makers, becomes a little bit of a… I don’t want to say bad word, but the, “Oh, Cabool said… They blame us for that.” And I think some of this remote work and ability to connect with people by video, I think we could use to create a culture which we’ve always wanted, that connected us better between our bigger terminals that are located in other States, that we can get on a video call and say, “Hey, look what’s going on.” We can include them in these committee meetings that we’ve pretty much just circled around Cabool people to deal with. You know, an HR issue.
Jim: But we have people in other locations concerned about what we’re doing in Human Resources. And we could include them, and we should. Now that we’re all separate, there’s no barrier there to adding that. And although we haven’t taken advantage of that yet, I think that has some really long lasting ability to make us more unified as a business and more on the same page, which will always benefit us. We never benefit from a location who thinks they’re being mistreated by an HQ type situation. Every company I’ve ever worked for has had that problem, so it’d be nice to overcome it a little bit.
Interviewer: Absolutely. I’m reminded… We had a company rally recently where somebody brought up the concern about culture, and then somebody else piped in and said, “You know, since I’ve been working remote, I see more culture than ever before. You know, I’m interacting with more people, I’m talking with more people, I’m chatting with more people, I’m videoing with everybody, and I see them in their workplace, and we talk about interests and it’s just expanding the culture.” Whereas the previous idea was a lot of people think you have to be in close proximity to build a desired culture. It’s kind of a change of perspective.
Jim: Yeah. And when everybody gets forced into it, it’s not just the odd ball that’s choosing to do something, it’s everybody engages. We’ve had several projects going on, and typically when we have some resource helping us, whether it’s JMARK or another company, doing some sort of software version for us, the common thought was, “Well, I wonder where they are? I Wonder what they’re… ” You know? And you’re hearing that accent. You’re like, “Well, they’re probably in the Northeast, or they’re… ” So it’s interesting now to understand. One of the ladies in my office had a call with a guy from the Truckload Carriers Association about some data inputs that we use with them to benchmark with other people.
Jim: And she didn’t know where he was, and really at this time, in this season we’re in, no one really concerns themselves so much with where you are now because that’s all we have to connect with. But he said, “Well I’m in Tennessee, and the tornadoes… I actually had to go to the office because my home doesn’t have internet or power yet,” and these tornadoes were a couple of days ago. So that’s interesting to, like you say, the culture to connect even with external to your company people, that you get to hear what’s going on, and not just hear but see. And it is definitely a connection, a people connection. And I’ve said this comment… I mean, I have three… A 20 year old, an 18 year old and a 16 year old. For years I’ve heard people say, “Those millennials need to put down their devices and just put their head up and get social.”
Jim: And then when this all started I heard people saying, “Those millennials are out spreading the disease. They’re not… ” And I’m like, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Why is it always that group of people that are screwing us over?” But I think it’s quite natural, the transition from where we are today back to what would be a normal life, will be, I think, a little less pain for people and their devices. I think devices are used to connect with people. I mean, those kids that are walking around with those devices looking at them all day, are engaging with videos people are putting on, and snapping people on Snapchat and Instagram, and all the things they want us old people to stay off of. But I think it’s really interesting, and I don’t think this is quite the crater that it could be, thanks in part to the technology we already had. So…
Interviewer: Wonderful. Well, to close up here, can you tell me a little bit about what Western Dairy… And how you’ve seen the company come together, and how you’ve seen the community come together to improve the situation and just make light of a bad situation, so to speak?
Jim: Yeah. Yeah. So part of it was back to the drivers creating an environment where they feel like… Their work got difficult with things closing down, and their inability to get in and get food. Many of our drivers are more local, so they go back to a terminal everyday so they don’t feel the same. But we do have maybe 15% of our workforce that’s out over the road all the time. And so, getting touchpoints for them, getting cleaning supplies… On Interstate 20 in Texas, we did a chicken express meal pack, and provided those for drivers that would stop at a place we had set up there. And we weren’t the first carrier to do that, but we wanted to be a part of that, of appreciation and a tangible, “Thank you, and here’s a meal.”
Jim: And we may have even had supplies at that time, I’m not sure, I wasn’t there for that. But our local town has very few restaurants, just because it’s a town of 2000 people or so. And so we’ve tried to take care of some of those local businesses by ordering lunch for the office from them, and going and picking that up from them, and keeping them doing at least some business so that they can stay afloat.
Jim: I’m trying to think if there was other ways. On Facebook I know we’ve been doing contests, like coloring contests to appreciate a driver stuff, and various other things I’ve looked at on Facebook. I’m not a big Facebook user, but I know that we’ve got some staff doing that, and trying to get the word out that a lot of our drivers or driver’s families are connected to us on Facebook, just being remote like that. So, like I said, I’m sure there’s many, many other ways that people haven’t shared. I know locally in Springfield, there’s a lot of reaching out. Our church has been doing online services, I’m sure most have. And we do a small group meeting on Wednesday nights, and it’s been two guys and a mic, and they do a Facebook Live presentation, and there’s games and jokes and things. And they let us comment, and then they read some of our comments online live,.
Jim: So it’s been pretty interactive. It’s not what we want, but it’s sure better than the alternative of just being alone and away from everyone all the time. Like lots of other things… Like I said, my life doesn’t look a lot different other than I’m stuck at home with kids when I’m home, but I still get the ability to go to work, actually get to go to an office and do that. So I’m fortunate to have that. Life is fairly normal, I guess.
Jim: So I just hope other people are doing the same. I mean, I’ve seen neighbors I’ve never seen before out walking, because they have nothing else to do. And we make sure we stay six feet from them, but it’s just interesting to see faces and say hello too. I’m like, “I’ve lived here five years. Where have you been? Where do you live? Wow.”
Interviewer: That’s great.
Interviewer: Well, thank you so much for your time, and appreciate everything that Western Dairy is doing to keep everything moving out to the communities that you serve, and I’ll keep in touch. Thanks for [crosstalk 00:29:04].
Jim: All right. Thank you so much.
Interviewer: Thanks a lot.
Jim: All right.
Interviewer: Bye bye.
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