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Will we be the first fully remote customs broker? A year of working from home with A & A

#wfh #wfa #wfa&a?

Here we are, a year into being completely remote as a company.

We have about 80 people between our companies and we’ve been 99% remote since mid-March 2020. (We have 2-3 people that are in on a regular basis.)  No surprise, lots of people have been in the same situation.

A & A has a history of flexibility.

A & A has had remote workers since the 90’s when we would have great people who would tell us they would be leaving because of a family move, perhaps a spouse got a transfer to another location – and I remember the discussions “This person is great – it would be a shame to lose them – what if we set them up from home?”  This was really progressive thinking back then before Slack, Gmail, Zoom, etc.

Another real a-ha moment for me was back in 2003 – 18 years ago – when I had my first real taste of wi-fi on a laptop while in Hawaii for a friend’s wedding. It seems like ‘obviously!’ second nature now, but this picture is of a laptop on the balcony of the hotel I was staying at in Hawaii – and I distinctly remember connecting the laptop to the internet, picking it up, opening the balcony door, hearing the crashing waves, putting it down and continuing to ‘work’. It was an amazing epiphany of what the future of work could look like. Such a big deal that I took a picture of it.  

(for the tech geeks check out the modem card sticking out the right side, and there is a Motorola walkie-talkie behind it because that’s how the group of friends all stayed in touch back then – we thought we were so high tech with those things! WhatsApp didn’t even exist for another 6 years…)

Not everyone can work from anywhere.

Of course not every job can work from home or work from anywhere. I feel very fortunate that our industry, customs brokerage, is an essential service, and it is mainly knowledge work. We are dealing with reams of information coming at us from all different directions – from carriers, from exporters, importers, warehouse operators, freight forwarders, customs agencies, government departments – and it’s our role to make that flow of information as streamlined and as accurate as possible utilizing technology.

Multi-tasking is a myth – single tasking is the way!

I’ve worked in pretty much every role at A & A and I always found I did my best work when I wasn’t interrupted. There’s a saying “You don’t go to work to work, you go to work to get interrupted.” by Jason Fried, the Founder of Basecamp   He does a great Ted Talk on “Why work doesn’t happen at work.”  I remember one of my desk spots early on at A & A was near a photocopier. My back was to the photocopier. So guess what people would do if they were there making some copies? They would want to talk while standing there and waiting. Now let me be clear – I love people, I have 4 kids, I have friends – I LIKE PEOPLE. BUT, in our business, a truck driver is barreling down the highway, heading for the border, and we need to make sure her shipment is set up up and ready for their ETA – which could be in 45 minutes from now. Every minute counts… “Hi GB, how was your weekend?”… Me… “Uh, good, thanks!”.  “Yeah? What did you get up to?” .. Me.. “Uh, not much..” (Still looking at my screen, typing away, applying tariff classification, etc.) – it was micro-torture because I like people, but there’s no way I could concentrate and talk and type and make sure things were accurate at the same time. I could get way more done when I wasn’t interrupted. No question.

As goes the leader…

I’m a fan of remote working/working from anywhere. If one of our people asked me if they could move to Hawaii and keep their role, I see no reason why we wouldn’t say yes. In the past 12 months, we’ve hired people in Virginia, Toronto, Colorado, Detroit, Louisina, as well as local areas around our main offices in Surrey, Langley, and Blaine – and hiring the ‘out of town’ workers is something that is just second nature now – we don’t care where our great people are located – we just care about having great people! 

And our people have spoken!

This infographic below shows some of the statistics from a recent internal survey at A & A on whether our people would want to keep working from home if given the chance to come back – 97% want to stay at home… And working remotely has saved over ONE YEAR of time in commuting! That’s incredible for a company of our size.

Not so fast!

It’s easy to say “The office is dead, let’s stay home…” but we’re all in a bubble right now. We don’t know how people will react when everything is opened back up. I read this article yesterday and thought it was good advice:

“My employees have really embraced working from home. Should we downsize the corporate offices or wait to see how people feel post-pandemic?”

Many companies have been pleasantly surprised about how happy and productive workers have been at home; no wonder some firms are keen to cut their rent payments. But don’t be hasty, says human resources consultant Janet Salopek. What may seem like a budgetary no-brainer is a major upheaval for your firm. “Going entirely virtual is a complete cultural shift, and for culture shifts to be well thought out, it takes time,” says the founder of Salopek & Associates. She suggests considering many scenarios: back-to-the-office, work-from-home and a few hybrids. “Explore other options rather than all-or-nothing,” she says. And solicit employees’ feedback via surveys and continuing communication (you’re doing that already, right?). “Remember that even if people say they love working at home, they might think totally differently in a year, so it’s wise to keep the door open,” Salopek says. Remind yourself of other savings you’re enjoying—overhead, utilities, supplies—and treat paying rent as an investment in future options.
What will the future look like?

My prediction is that we will have either a fully remote team or some sort of hybrid like 2 days in the office, 3 from home. If we go fully remote, I could see some sort of monthly or quarterly parties or events to get people together. I also don’t want to be a company that forces anything one way or the other – there should be a natural flor or evolution. Although A & A has always led the way in many areas in our industry and I’d like to see us do that in this case as well.

As I am writing this, I see a new Harvard study published “Is ‘business as usual’ gone for good?”  Stay tuned!


NOTE: All details pertaining to CARM R2 processes are based on the current information available at the time of writing. As this is subject to change, it’s recommended you periodically check in with the CBSA or your customs broker.