Over the past month we have been surveying our customers to learn about the various ways COVID has affected your lives, both in work and at home. At the same time, we performed the same survey with our own staff here at ELP.
In our surveys we asked, “Could you tell us a few unexpected challenges you have faced through COVID (outside of the obvious, like decreased flights, finances, etc.). And one positive thing you have personally experienced in this time.”
It was very interesting to see the parallels between our staff and yours, both in their positive and negative experiences.
Professional isolation appeared to be the number one negative affect reported in our survey. We all know social distancing has been a challenge in our personal lives and caused us to feel isolated. However, I didn’t realize that the impact of social isolation also related to our professional lives. I think we all took for granted what social interactions in the workplace really meant to us.
The ELP staff has also expressed this loss. “We used to have brainstorming sessions while playing a game of foosball in the employee lounge. Now our brainstorming sessions have to be more deliberate.” Finding new ways to connect is the challenge I think we are all facing.
One Customer wrote:
“The biggest challenge for me has been losing out on one-on-one time with important people in the company (senior leaders, execs, etc.). I never realized how many opportunities I had before COVID to hold quick (yet important) conversations with those people, and working remotely has quickly shown me that I can no longer count on those interactions happening organically.“
One of the challenges reported has been a lack of remote solutions. We all have have disaster plans in place, where remote or back-up facilities are set-up to run operations in case of disasters, such as hurricanes, fires, etc. But as one customer explained, our back-up facilities pose the same issues when considering social distancing and safety measures for staff. Remote working is difficult when it comes to hardware and software that is inaccessible outside of your operation.
In our observation, IT as well as crew scheduling personnel have really struggled with remote solutions. In many instances, the hardware and software requirements are just not in place.
Although we stated in our initial question we wanted to hear about the less obvious challenges, all those surveyed mentioned decreased flight loads. However, not for the obvious financial reasons. Almost everyone surveyed stated the decrease in flight loads posed indirect issues. Mainly the uncertainty in the schedules posed staffing challenges and necessitated enormous manual processes.
“Consolidating our flying, plus adding in mainline routes resulted in a lot of new challenges and an even greater number of pairing modifications for multiple months. Most changes were simple, but the volume required all hands on deck. This also has made projecting Scheduling staffing as well as crew member staffing difficult, as we weren’t sure how many hours we would be flying from month to month.”
Decreased flight loads also gave Carriers a moment to breath, take pause, and re-evaluate. One person stated, “…with decreased flight loads, we learned more about cost and how to schedule more efficiently…With finances, we realized that there is a lot we really did not need, including layovers at high cost stations. We wanted everything because some of the other carriers told us we wanted it.”
Many customers explained that this period of time allowed for opportunities to look at improving efficiencies, re-structuring, and re-evaluating policies.
Some surveyed reported how amazing their staff have been at being flexible to changing policies and re-evaluating processes.
For ELP, we found the same positive experience. As the carriers have dealt with financial freezes, the slow-down obviously trickled down to ELP. We took this as an opportunity to re-structure and re-evaluate what we thought we needed.
For example, we took this time to re-structure and implement a new Research & Development Department. We recognized the need to foresee the future requirements of our customers, instead of reacting to their current issues.
We found ways, like our customers, to be more efficient and take a good look at our processes. I guess you could call that one of the silver-linings to this horrible time.
“This slow-down gave me the opportunity to have more light-bulb moments. As our customers were having to deal with an enormous number of manual processes with no solutions, and out-of-norm situations that presented themselves, I recognized how flexible software would be the solution to unforeseen issues like the ones our customers are currently facing. I decided to start and head our new R & D Department to re-think how we build solutions. Creating flexible software for the future is how we solve problems we don’t know that exist.Erwin Ponce, President and Founder, ELP Aviation
Every one of those responding to our survey stated how this time allowed many of us to spend more time with our families and cherish those that are most important. We have been able to huddle together and stand together not just with our own families, but with our work families. For example one said, “The positive has really been how people have been willing to contribute any way they can while dealing with the challenges. From wearing a mask for 10 hours during their shift, to putting up with frequent changes to policies and procedures.”
Our staff expressed most of the same sentiments. We are so full of pride to see how our employees all came to the needs of the others, from changing work environments to accommodating policy changes.
I will end this article with what one respondent so eloquently stated, “Work from home healed a lot of families…Our families watched more TV together, cooked/ate together and sometimes even cried together. The togetherness was never really omitted previously, we just never realized how much you were missing out on, until now.”