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Impact of the Work From Home (WFH) movement

One of the most sweeping global shifts since early 2020 has been the rise of the Work From Home (WFH) movement. Importers, logistics professionals, and border agencies alike are working from home offices or kitchen tables--many of us surrounded by family pets and remote-schooling children.

This week, we’ll take a closer look at some of the impacts the WFH movement has had on our industry.

Logistics professionals working from home

Like many industries, the logistics industry as a whole has historically operated on the premise of staff congregating in a common workplace. Whether focused on transportation or Customs brokerage, the office facilitated many things from staff groups working on data entry, customer service, or technical support. A common gathering space served HR functions like team building, training and mentoring.

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The migration to WFH has been challenging.

Certain nuances of a specific job function may be missed or do not translate well to a remote environment when training staff. Effective online training requires a different skillset than in-person training. 

Technologically, remote work poses challenges to logistics and customs firms based on a number of factors, including having the necessary equipment hardware (laptops, desktop computers, dual monitors), software and operating system requirements, and internet speed in any given location (or on any given day).

While these factors have the potential to decrease productivity--it also forces some organizations to emphasize using established technologies such as optical character recognition (OCR).

Although the bright side is harder to see, there are some benefits to logistics companies operating remotely.

  • Employees take less sick time. Even if they were ill, they still tend to log on and work from home.
  • Employees seem to be somewhat less stressed from not having to commute to and from work.
  • Some job productivity improves. In the customs industry, tariff specialists, trade advisors, and IT support among some of the positions tend to improve productivity because of fewer distractions that can be typically found in the office.
  • Costs for consumable items, such as stationery, coffee and as well as utilities and maintenance, etc, are reduced.

Importers working from home

Importers face similar challenges related to training and managing remote teams and the ongoing challenge of home-based technologies keeping pace with the demands of their industry.

Another challenge importers face is supply chain communications between trade partners. In a 24-7 global trade environment, fatigue has become a real issue given the constant need for connectivity between supply chain partners and shared information in a time-sensitive environment.

For importers, the benefits of WFH include:

  • The ability to work longer hours with the lack of “social” interruptions in a shared workspace
  • More flexibility to leave the work environment to refresh and reenergize throughout the day

Border agencies (CBSA/CBP) working from home

Government departments have really struggled to maintain their operations during this time--including having adequate resources to service the supply chain. 

There is a disconnect between WFH employees and department heads responsible for decision-making, and the various policies in place for industry. All government departments who rely on shared data between departments continue to struggle with systems issues.

The WFH environment impacted CBSA/CPB so significantly that they were forced to review their outdated policies and procedures. This afforded them the opportunity to implement more effective technological processes, which has proven beneficial for the trade chain community as it has reduced the cost and delays caused by outdated paper processes and procedures.

So now the million-dollar question: will these changes be permanent or will office life as we knew it returns? 

As the pandemic is overcome and the economy shows signs of recovery, companies will need to decide on how to manage their employees’ productivity and may choose to allocate resources for this purpose, both at home and in the office. 

This period of time has been pivotal for all of us to assess our current technologies, workspace requirements, and collaborative processes, both internal and external.

At Cole, we’ve been deeply grateful to our clients and staff during this past year. They have proved to us that in the face of global change, our best resource remains constant: our people.

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Overcoming challenges. It's what we do.

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