It has been a year since covid-19 initially arrived in canada.
A statement like this carries so much weight because of all the short- and long-term impacts this pandemic has brought forward to all of us
– personally and professionally. We have all seen the domino effect and felt the emotional buckling when adjusting to the new and everchanging realities that come each day.
During this time of uncertainty, the trucking industry has shown tremendous resilience and strength by operating as an essential service; keeping everyone – from the professional drivers, staff, maintenance teams and customers to their friends and families, who are connected to them – safe and protected; and serving businesses and communities across North America. Throughout the journey, private fleets have learned many lessons that have transformed them into the successful and triumphant companies they are today.
Private Motor Carrier had the opportunity to connect with Private Motor Truck Council members David Zavitz, Chief Administrative Officer with Canada Cartage, and Mark Scholtes, Vice-President, Customer Excellence, Coke Canada Bottling to discuss the lessons that each of them has learned over the past year, how this pandemic has shaped their companies, and the steps they’ve taken to move forward.
Describe the series of events that occurred at your company, once it became known that COVID-19 arrived in Canada.
David Zavitz – When COVID-19 really accelerated in Canada in March 2020, we debated not only what we should do, but how we should do it, and how fast we should do it. Even though there were a lot of unknowns in the early days, we decided that it was better to over-react rather than under-react.
The first major move was to try to get as many staff working from home as quickly as possible to safeguard their health and ensure our business continuity. Within a couple of weeks, we moved 350 staff members to home offices. In some cases, staff already had laptops, so they were relatively mobile. But other team members were working from desktop computers that were hard-wired into workstations. Our IT team had to configure and deploy 150 new laptops and facilitate some desktops to make the move as well. It was a major undertaking and our IT team pulled it off.
The next task was to secure as much PPE as possible – masks, disinfectants, hand sanitizer. Our safety team did an amazing job sourcing what we needed, even though supplies were short around the country.
Finally, we put a major emphasis on communication, and providing communications tools to our managers and employees. We have over 3,500 employees at facilities across the country, and we wanted them to be aware of what we were doing to ensure their safety, and we wanted them to know what they needed to do as well. We held daily 15-minute COVID-19 calls every morning at 9.00 a.m. with managers from across Canada. We did rapid-fire cross-country check-ups to see how their facility was doing from a health standpoint, and how our customers were doing. We also updated everyone on PPE availability, new health and safety SOPs, and other communications tools available to them. We reduced the frequency of these calls from daily to weekly meetings in May 2020, but we’re still doing them.
Mark Scholtes – We were monitoring the situation with COVID-19 long before it arrived in Canada. We designated a team to govern our business through the situation. We put the safety of our people and those we serve first and we stayed focused on our Mission to deliver optimism and create a better future for our employees, customers, consumers, and communities. These guiding principles have remained as the situation has evolved.
What steps did your company take to ensure the safety of your staff, professional drivers and customers?
David Zavitz – In addition to moving as many office staff as possible to home offices, and securing as much PPE as we could, we made physical changes to our buildings to force distancing in enclosed areas. At the start, we did this by blocking areas with caution tape or folding tables. As we came to understand that COVID-19 would be with us for a while, we installed more permanent barriers such as plexiglass shields at dispatch counters. We also adapted as public health directives changed, including mandatory mask usage.
Mark Scholtes – The safety of our people and the quality of our products are our highest priorities. Once we learned about COVID-19, our teams acted quickly to implement a number of measures to protect our employees, which remain in place today.
First and foremost, we asked any employee who felt unwell to stay home. We implemented a robust protocol for employees as they entered our facilities and introduced a COVID-19 ‘close contact questionnaire’ for employees who may have come into contact with someone not feeling well. We instituted physical distancing and hygiene protocols and provided hand sanitizers in all of our warehouses, offices, manufacturing facilities, and vehicles. We focused efforts on the cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces where our employees work, including our vehicles.
We also provided masks to all employees who work outside of their homes. Masks are mandatory in all Coke Canada Bottling facilities and for all frontline employees when they visit our customers.
We implemented shift-staggering, created physical distancing markers on the floors in our facilities and introduced expanded spaces for employees to take breaks and lunches. We instituted flexible work-from-home policies for most of our office staff and have only business-critical employees on-site at our facilities.
We continue to carefully follow guidelines provided by the local health authorities and take precautionary steps to do what we can to help prevent the further spread of the virus. We know the situation is still ever-evolving and we are monitoring it closely.
As the virus’s presence spread across the country, what organization(s) did your company look to for information, guidance, steps for procedures, etc.
David Zavitz – As a national company, we relied on Health Canada’s website for guidance on health and safety protocols. They also had great downloadable PDFs of posters and infographics that we used at our buildings and published in our monthly employee newsletter. We also collaborated with some of our larger customers as they developed their facility safety plans, and we incorporated many of their best practices into our documentation.
Mark Scholtes – Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been in close contact with and have continued to follow the guidance of our local public health authorities in all of the communities that we operate in across Canada.
We know that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose a very real public health risk here in Canada, and we remain as diligent today with our safety protocols as we have ever been.
Once received, what steps did your company take to communicate this ongoing flow of information to your team?
David Zavitz – Communication was a big part of our COVID-19 business continuity planning. This included daily COVID-19 cross-country check-up conference calls. We published 12 COVID-19 updates to staff and drivers in the first 16 weeks of the pandemic. We held a company-wide Town Hall conference call in April to share news and answer employee questions. We publicly post our Facility Health & Safety SOPs and Guidelines as well as our Facility Action Plan throughout all of our buildings. The Action Plan is our playbook if an employee is suspected or confirmed of having COVID and gives guidance to supervisors on the steps to take in their building. Part of that plan is 100% transparency with the local staff. If we have an employee who suspects they might have COVID, we let everyone know so that staff are aware of what’s happening. It’s their workplace, so they should know what’s going on.
Mark Scholtes – We have increased communications from our leadership teams and COVID-19 response team, introduced new channels like regular town halls and senior leader check-ins as well as a newsletter for frontline and hourly workers. We also developed a drum beat of COVID-19 communications for our frontline leaders to deliver in crew talks and highly visible signage throughout our facilities. In addition, we cascade daily safety reminders to thousands of our employees through the company-issued technology that they carry with them every day.
How did your company handle the physical and psychological well-being of its team throughout this time of uncertainty?
David Zavitz – In addition to the PPE, SOPs, and physical alterations to our buildings, we built a COVID-19 health screening app that employees must complete on their phones before they come into work each day. Our HR team has also been diligent in communicating the mental health resources we have available to employees through our benefits provider. And finally, if an employee has to miss work for an extended period, our HR team helped to explain the various financial assistance options that we have available.
Mark Scholtes – When the pandemic first hit, we moved quickly to extend our short-term disability benefits related to COVID-19 to all employees, who didn’t already have coverage and waived the usual waiting period, so coverage was effective to receive immediately. This year, we’ve continued to extend STD benefits for COVID-19 positive claims for all employees, including part-time, seasonal, interns, etc., that do not have coverage.
Knowing that COVID-19 has added incredible mental and emotional strain to all of our lives, we’ve executed against our broader health and wellness initiatives. We launched a national “I Am Human” campaign that focuses on diversity, inclusion, and all the things that make us human including the importance of feeling comfortable to talk openly about the mental and emotional challenges that many of us are currently experiencing. We leverage key national initiatives throughout the year, such as Mental Health Awareness Week, to drive home key messages with all of our employees. We have also launched our Thirst for Knowledge webinar series, a monthly education series which focuses on two pillars: professional development and well-being, facilitated by our own Coke Canada Bottling employees. We also continue to promote our benefits program to all employees, which includes access to numerous resources regarding mental health and well-being, as well as access to our Family Assistance Provider for confidential support for our employees and their families. We’ve made sure that our benefits include Psychologist, Social Worker, and Psychotherapist coverage for every employee in Canada.
We know that investing in our people means investing in our business. If we’re going to deliver our Mission of optimism, we need to look after ourselves and each other.
Looking back at the past year, what were some of your company’s biggest challenges and opportunities that were presented while operating as an ‘essential service’ in a pandemic?
David Zavitz – The biggest challenge in the first few weeks of the pandemic was simply the unknown. Was the economy going to crash? Would the border and our customers’ supply chains be shut down? Would we have to dramatically downsize our business to survive? However, as Canadians adapted and we learned more about the virus, our challenge shifted from “would we have enough work” to “how can we keep up with increased demand.” Because a big part of our business is food, beverages, beer, alcohol, and pharmacy deliveries, our customers were busier than ever. And many of them pivoted to more on-line ordering and home deliveries; so we pivoted with them. We are now a much bigger home delivery and e-commerce carrier than we were pre-pandemic.
Mark Scholtes – During the COVID-19 pandemic, we knew our customers were facing incredibly difficult times, and that there was an important opportunity for us to help them build their resilience in any way that we could. We launched a national campaign, #LoveYourLocal, grounded in our local bottler presence in communities across Canada and our commitment to our independent customers who operate in those same communities. #LoveYourLocal is an urgent call to action - support local businesses as they struggle through these unprecedented challenges and our #LoveYourLocal creative can now be seen on the back of 90 of our delivery trucks from Victoria to Quebec City. We believe that strong local businesses are the backbone of strong communities and we are doing our part to support them.
Our Mission is to deliver optimism for our consumers, communities, and customers, and the pandemic brought a heightened focus on another way that we could best make an impact in the communities where we operate. Some of our initiatives include collaborating with Food Banks Canada to manufacture 500 much-needed protective PET face shields for local food bank volunteers, launching Coca-Cola Rapid Response Resource Canada (www.cokerapidresponseresourcecanada.com), providing free resources to restaurants and foodservice operators during the crisis and creating and distributing protective countertop shields to local businesses in the Greater Toronto Area to help consumers confidentially shop and engage with store operators. We have also engaged with organizations across the country to try and make a difference where we can, providing free beverages that allow for a moment of refreshment for healthcare workers, first responders, as well as residents of economically disadvantaged communities. We’ve had so many of our own employees go above and beyond to make a difference in their local communities, on their own time. It’s really been quite inspiring.
What were some of the lessons learned during this time?
David Zavitz – In a crisis of this magnitude, it’s better to over-react than under-react. When we were faced with decisions such as shifting staff to home office, purchasing PPE, or investing in office safety retrofits, we decided to spend the money. We’re glad we did.
We’ve had a few COVID cases over the past year at our offices, but no large-scale outbreaks. We’re thankful for that.
Mark Scholtes – The importance of having guiding principles is our greatest learning: put safety first every time and stay focused on your mission. You will always make the right decision.
I think I’ve also personally learned so much about resiliency. Over the course of a stressful and unforgettable year, my team, and truly all our employees, have never ceased to amaze me. I’ve seen and heard countless stories of our employees going above and beyond, and I feel humbled and grateful each and every day.
Looking ahead, how has this experience shaped your company for the future?
David Zavitz – Well, we now have a fantastic pandemic response plan in place but I hope we never have to use it again. I think COVID-19 has made us into a more responsive, nimble service provider. Necessity is the mother of invention, and we had to re-invent ourselves with some of our customers to keep pace with them. That’s a positive that will come out of this. E-commerce and home delivery will be still be here post-pandemic, and we are better positioned to handle these types of fulfillment and deliveries.
Mark Scholtes – Coke Canada Bottling is a new, family-owned business formed only two years ago. When our new owners took the reins in 2018, they brought a long-term commitment to the business, supporting our vision of being the “best bottler, built by the best people”.
They have invested in the company for the long haul. Although this experience has proved infinitely challenging in so many ways, as our President Todd Parsons often says, “We’ll get through this and we’ll come out stronger in the end.” I truly believe this. This challenging time has brought out a resilience in our company, and our people, that has no doubt shaped our company for many years to come.
Anything you wish to add?
Mark Scholtes – I’d like to thank our drivers, warehouse employees, sales and merchandising teams, plant employees, service technicians, and each of our employees who works in our facilities to service our customers everyday, while always remaining optimistic. Without their tireless efforts, in a very difficult environment, I am certain our business would not be where it is today.
Note from the Editor: Looking ahead, it’s apparent that the presence of COVID-19 will remain in Canada for some time; however, as we all continue to learn, grow and build resiliency against the pandemic together, know that the private fleet industry – our heroes of the highway – are here to help, serve and protect us all. Thank you.