Employees working remotely is not a new concept. In fact, in 2019, 54% of US workers worked remotely at least once per month, 48% worked off-site at least once per week, and 30% worked remotely full-time, according to a report from OWL Labs. However, the onset of COVID-19 has made working from the home office the new normal. Companies that once managed four offices had to manage 4,000 home offices almost overnight.

And this may not be only a short-term change. ZDNet cited a Gartner study indicating that three-quarters of CFOs surveyed plan on permanently moving at least five percent of their workforce to a home office work environment after the COVID-19 crisis.

Many tasks routinely performed in the corporate office may be easily transferable to a home office. Employees can securely log into enterprise systems and do their work without any loss of business continuity. But there are some processes performed by centralized corporate office support staff that may not be as easy to manage in a decentralized office work environment.

The need to send physical business correspondence once managed by corporate mailrooms and shipping departments, has not gone away. There are still documents and contracts to review, samples to send, equipment to repair, and personal shipments to process. Leaving employees to improvise their own shipping processes can lead to loss of expense control, inefficiencies, and unsafe visits to local post offices or shipping centers.

Centralized control of remote shipping processes and expenditures across the enterprise

When conditions require employees to work from home, businesses lose an essential process control point, such as a centralized mail center. That’s why more businesses are providing their employees with remote access to multi-carrier management solutions (MCMS) as an essential part of their enterprise system portfolio. These solutions provide a fully automated one-stop shipping solution for UPS, FedEx, USPS, DHL, and other regional and local carriers, all from a home office environment. MCMS platforms operate as a virtual mail center, centralizing decision support control and ensuring accurate expense control.

As an enterprise cloud solution, IT administrators can quickly configure and roll out MCMS to thousands of home office locations. There is nothing to install. Employees log into MCMS apps using a standard browser. A corporate single sign-on (SSO) process validates the employee’s identity, and from there, the home office shipping solution walks users through shipping and mailing preparation processes.

MCMS capture all shipping transaction details, including content detail and subsequent tracking events, for all carriers and stores them in a cloud data repository, ensuring accurate expense accounting and reconciliation of carrier invoices. Dashboards and reports provide managers with enterprise-wide visibility over all corporate carrier spend, including warehouse shipping activity. Drilldowns and filters provide further detail about carrier charges, including special service fees. So even though physical shipping is decentralized in home offices, information management remains centralized.

Reduced support with convenient and simple home office shipping

Most employees are not logistics experts. They are untrained in the complexities of transportation and logistics, which to the uninitiated seem deceptively simple. In the absence of a standardized corporate shipping solution, they will waste valuable time manually entering data into single-carrier websites and make cost-ineffective carrier service selections. Many will call into corporate IT for support, wait on hold for carrier website support, or interrupt other employees for help.

An enterprise MCMS, with apps designed for home office use, simplifies workflows and greatly reduces the need for internal or external support. Corporate or personal address books automate ship-from and ship-to entries, and rate shopping business rules automatically select the best carrier service among a wide variety of global, national, regional, or local carrier services. Carrier compliant labels are printed on 8.5” x 11” paper stock, along with applicable customs forms for international shipments. MCMS platforms integrate with scales and thermal label printers for higher volume locations.

MCMS apps may also provide employees with a way to ship their own personal items without having to leave their home office. Rather than use the corporate carrier account to process personal shipments and potentially complicate expense reimbursements, MCMS apps provide employees with the option of using their own credit cards to pay for personal shipments at discounted carrier rates. This is more crucial now as employees are ordering goods online and have a need to process returns from their homes. An MCMS personal shipping capability keeps employees productive and safe, while ensuring a more disciplined use of corporate carrier services.

Safe 'no-contact' shipping

Every business has an obligation to keep their employees safe. Current World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines emphasize the importance of social distancing as a hedge against the spread of pandemic infection. This imperative is undermined if an employee takes time out of his or her working day to stand in line at the local post office or carrier shipping center.

MCMS apps enable employees to process shipments from the comfort and safety of their own homes. They print a carrier compliance label, affix it to the carton or envelope, and use the app to request a carrier pickup service from their doorstep. Or they can deposit their shipment in a locker or carrier drop-off box. This removes the need to come into close contact with carrier service personnel.

While the country is slowly moving closer to business as usual from the COVID-19 crisis, there are still hurdles to jump and remote employees that will need to ship. It is up to each company to provide the tools to help them do that job, while being able to maintain visibility and cost control.

For over 25 years, Bob Malley has helped thousands of businesses reduce costs and streamline logistics with transportation software solutions. As managing director of Pierbridge, Inc., Bob has built an international organization that has successfully established Transtream as an industry-leading multi-carrier management platform that powers some of the largest shipping operations in the world.