More than a year after the COVID-19 outbreak first took the world by storm, the global economy is finally beginning its journey down the path of recovery. Governments in several countries have taken up mass vaccination drives on a war footing to mitigate the pandemic’s disastrous economic impact. Some, such as Israel, are already resuming to a semblance of a pre-pandemic normal while others, such as New Zealand, Australia, the US, and the UK, are expected to soon follow suit. Businesses in these countries are now gearing up to call employees back to physical offices.

But daily commutes in the post-pandemic environment will not be as simple as flicking a switch and resuming where we left off. Safety has become the foremost concern for employers and employees in the year since the lockdowns were first initiated, even as COVID-19 has grown more potent and viral with its spread. What this means, from a safety perspective, is that there is no room to let up – and this rules out public transportation as an option for daily commute. With buses and subways requiring individuals to travel with strangers for extended durations in a confined environment, even those who are fully vaccinated and taking adequate safety precautions are still at risk.

As a result, enterprises are looking at providing employee transport to their workforce – and therein lies the rub.

Challenges with Employee Transportation: Before and After a Pandemic

Daily commutes have ever been a critical aspect of the relationship between an organization and its employees. Several studies have shown how long commutes can impact critical parameters such as retention, productivity, and happiness. It is also heavy on the employees’ pocket; a 2019 Business Insider analysis revealed that employees in the US spend as much as $5,000 every year just traveling to and from their place of work.

Most organizations tend to mitigate the latter by providing transport facilities to their employees. Yet, the former concern – that of time taken to commute – does not get satisfactorily addressed due to the dependence on inefficient manual routing and scheduling processes. Transport teams also frequently struggle with support challenges such as vehicle breakdowns and ETA-related issues (such as delays, inaccurate pick-up/drop-off times, employee no-shows, no contact with the driver, etc.), apart from cumbersome and repetitive administrative tasks. These are on top of other critical concerns such as ensuring a safe and secure commute experience for employees, especially female workers.

The pandemic has added another snag. In addition to ensuring that existing challenges are addressed, transport teams must now also ensure that the risk of accidental transmission during daily commutes is minimized. This requires sanitizing vehicles before and after trips, implementing in-vehicle safety compliance (such as social distancing and wearing face masks), avoiding COVID-19 hotspots during route planning, conducting regular temperature checks for drivers, collecting self-attestations from employees, etc. Naturally, achieving all of this manual will be extremely difficult – if not impossible.

Digital fleet management solutions: Harnessing tech to fight dynamic challenges

However, enterprises can easily solve these bottlenecks with cloud-based fleet management solutions that can automate, digitize, and streamline their employee transport operations. Using technologies such as AI, machine learning, data analytics, geofencing, and GPS, these solutions can not only make life easier for transport admins but also significantly improve the employee transport experience by making it safer, swifter, and hassle-free.

How technology can optimize employee transport operations

Real-time location data for improved route planning, vehicle tracking, on-road mobility, and cost-efficiency

Digital fleet management software such as Safetrax. constantly collect locational data points during trips, including vehicle stoppage frequency, stoppage time, pick-up/drop-off locations, average wait time, average trip duration, total travel time, etc. These data points are then combined with roster-related data such as employee schedules and individual transport requirements to create automated routes.

As the location of each vehicle in the fleet is also monitored in real-time, digital fleet management software can also provide more accurate ETA updates while automatically updating routes based on dynamic, on-ground conditions (such as traffic logjams, etc.). Information about changes to trip schedules can also be communicated seamlessly, thus eliminating potential communication breakdowns. All of this combines to reduce the average trip duration, enable optimal utilization of vehicle seating capacity, reduce the number of trips taken, and bring down the cost of transport operations – all the while improving employee commute experience.

Geofencing, employee applications, and in-vehicle cameras for better employee safety

Employee safety is one of the most essential aspects of employee transport operations. Digital fleet management solutions such as Safetrax allow enterprises to ensure safer commutes by using a slew of technological interventions. Geofencing, for instance, can be applied to routes to raise alerts in case a vehicle deviates from its system-defined route, allowing them to initiate more immediate interventions. Employee apps also have an SOS button that can be used to immediately notify the admin team in case of an emergency while in-vehicle camera integrations also allow transport managers to check in on their fleet from time to time. Furthermore, employees can update their boarding/deboarding status on the app; this information is immediately reflected in the centralized console operated by the transport team.

For female employees, such software provides an extra layer of intervention by allowing transport admins to flexibly change driver shifts and timings to avoid over-familiarity and its potential risks. The system also accounts for gender-based requirements during route planning, thus ensuring that female employees are never alone in the vehicle and are assigned escort guards during commutes.

These technologies have also been adapted for the post-outbreak scenario. For instance, through geofencing, transport admins can flexibly define ‘red zones’ to avoid pick-ups/drop-offs in areas with COVID-19 cases. In-vehicle camera integrations, on the other hand, can be used to ensure that safety and social distancing protocols are followed in each vehicle across the fleet, as well as to identify possible breaches. The employee apps can also be used to ensure contactless boarding, thus ensuring safer employee commutes in a post-pandemic age.

Automated checklists and digital rosters to solve the COVID conundrum

Manually managing sanitization and hygiene protocols necessitated by the pandemic can be time-consuming. However, transport teams can streamline this process with digital fleet management solutions. Automated checklists can track critical information such as self-attested employee health certificates, regular driver temperature checks, and vehicle sanitization schedules to minimize the possibility of accidental COVID-19 transmission. These checklists can also be used to monitor in-vehicle inventory of essential safety equipment such as face masks, sanitizers, etc.

However, even after taking these precautionary measures, there is still a risk of transmission. In such cases, digital employee rosters and driver schedules enabled by digital fleet management apps ensure swift identification, containment, and mitigation of the situation by giving a seamless overview of all employees who have shared a physical space with the infected individuals. The speed and accuracy of such a proactive, real-time digital approach cannot be replicated by manual information processing, regardless of the effort put in.

Eliminating paper trails and manual processes to reduce administrative hassles

Routes created by manual route planning often deviate from the actual route traveled, leading to major fluctuations in transport cost estimations. The approvals for these cost overheads generate additional paperwork for transport teams which are often already struggling with the burden of planning for multiple trips every day. This situation is further complicated by administrative tasks such as employee no-shows etc. that add to their crippling workload.

Digital fleet management solutions address these concerns by digitizing and automating repetitive tasks. For instance, employee no-shows can be automatically updated by the data collected from the boarding/deboarding status while transport approvals become more streamlined through more precise cost estimation. With technology taking over these menial tasks, transport managers are freer to make more strategic and value-oriented interventions.

Enabling better employee transport experiences is no longer a luxury for enterprises looking to thrive in a post-pandemic world – it has become an absolute necessity. As has been highlighted above, cloud-based digital fleet management software can help enterprises to meet this critical requirement by ensuring that their employees’ commute to the workplace is safer, swifter, and more pleasant.