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Optimisation, digitalisation and the importance of work culture through the pandemic

November 22 - 2021

Dorte Thuesen Christensen: Vice President Operations & Claims

Dorte Thuesen Christensen is globally responsible for Hafnia’s Operations and Claims and spans over 200 vessels. From a post fixture to post voyage perspective, Dorte and her teams optimise the way each vessel is run. 

“With the majority of the fleet trading in the pools we manage for our various partners, we aim to return the best possible earnings for our pool partners, while also delivering our contract services to our freight customers. My role is to ensure we carry out these tasks as effectively as possible each day and to continue developing our vision for the future.”

Dorte’s role spans a wide range of responsibilities, but there are a handful of respective areas that Operations and Claims set above others as the most important to address. 

“In Operations, our priority is to fulfill the contract, our mutually agreed charterparty, with the customer. If a customer has purchased transportation of cargo from Amsterdam to New York, the operator is responsible for a lot of decisions regarding how to best execute the voyage. These decisions are made based on significant data sets – both structured and unstructured. The operator ultimately aims at finding the voyage with the highest possible yield within the contractual specification. You could say that the operator acts as a spider in the web, connecting many different information points which need to be optimised and managed to make decisions that add the most value.”

“In Claims, we follow the lifecycle of a voyage after it has been completed to ensure we correctly invoice the customers for the services we performed according to the contract. This relates not only to the handling of the freight but also to additional time in port for loading and discharging, heating of the cargo, deviations, accelerations and more.”

One of the many areas Dorte has been particularly successful in is cultivating a tight-knit, team-first environment in her department. Like most parts of our business, however, this was also challenged by the pandemic. 

“Our teams in both Operations and Claims thrive in a collective, in-person setting where it is easy to reach out to each other to discuss challenges, perspectives and solutions. We were already familiar with Microsoft Teams for file sharing before the pandemic, and it did have a positive impact on eliminating geographic barriers when we began working from home. But while we were still doing well running the business remotely, we found very little “magic” happened when we weren’t together in person. We couldn’t have the casual chats that normally happen in the office, we lacked the sense of working side-by-side with each other and working life as a whole became more mechanical – the fun which we normally had in the office was missing. Hafnia is a people-first place, and the pandemic made it difficult to continue to connect with people on more than a task-to-task level. It became more challenging to dream bigger, to spark new ideas, and to innovate. So while we have become adept at using the digital tools available to us, we also acknowledge that they are no replacements for human interaction.” 

While Dorte and her team have returned to something of a “new normal” back in the Copenhagen office, she recognises that there is much to take away from the experience and that some effects of the pandemic are anything but temporary. 

“I think the pandemic has proven that many types of work can function remotely, but it comes at a cost. Company culture does not live on posters or fancy mouse pads but in people. When the people are apart for too long it dilutes the culture. You can immediately feel upon returning to the office that this is where the magic happens. Now that our Houston and Copenhagen teams are back in the office, we do talk about how often people can work remotely and what each team would like, and I think it’s key that we combine this flexibility with an understanding that we must take care of our culture. For most companies, the 9-5 day is long gone – so the pandemic is not so temporary when it comes to effects on company culture.”

Aside from work culture, another area of Operations and Claims influenced by the pandemic has been digitalisation. The process was already well on its way, but as Dorte explains, digitalisation has accelerated in her business areas and will only become more prevalent going forward. 

“We have explored and implemented digital solutions in various areas of our business with both success and failure; we have developed a few apps which make it easier for our operators to get access to the data they need when they need it. We know the pace of digitalisation will only increase, as we regularly see great suggestions for solutions both within the organisation and from external, non-shipping parties aiming to disrupt our relatively traditional industry. It’s quite exciting and I get inspired when the team come up with interesting ideas which we can develop. I believe we have to start internally with the things we can control and then grow from there. I still dream of solving the classic bill of lading challenge, where physical copies are eliminated by a solution that is lighter, faster and more secure for all parties involved. I know there is a digital answer for it.”

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