Since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, governments around the world have acted with unprecedented speed to prevent the number of cases from spiking and overwhelming health-care systems, many of which are already operating near full capacity.
In Canada, new government containment measures have placed strict limitations on the size of public gatherings. This means the majority of workers are prevented from going to their normal work environments every day, whether that’s an office, a manufacturing plant, an arena or coffee shop.
If you’re a Canadian exporter, you have a whole host of other challenges to contend with. With international travel suspended, global centres of commerce almost completely shut down and foreign governments implementing strict new regulations, selling your goods and services in markets abroad just got a lot harder.
For the foreseeable future, doing your part to protect your employees and “flatten the curve” means conducting your operations remotely. While this is a daunting prospect, there are benefits. With the extraordinary range of technology solutions at our fingertips, we’re set up to collaborate and be productive remotely like never before. We also have instant access to the latest information from markets around the world from our many connected devices.
Here are some key resources and recommendations to help you successfully operate your export business remotely during this challenging time.
Leverage technology to boost remote collaboration and productivity
Many exporters are already taking advantage of the latest web-based and mobile collaboration and productivity tools in their day-to-day operations. And if you’re already using these kinds of tools in an office environment, the transition to remote work for you and your team will be that much easier. But make sure you’re using your technology to its fullest. It’s not uncommon for programs or tools to be used for only a fraction of their capabilities. Review the manual or take an online tutorial to discover how to use all of the features and the bells and whistles.
If you’re not yet using these solutions, there’s good news. Most of the leading tools are free or available as part of a free trial. They’re also easy to use and all you need to access them is an internet connection and a computer.
- Video conferencing: Having remote meetings using a video-conferencing app is a great way to collaborate and connect on a more meaningful level. There are many options for video conferencing, including Apple’s FaceTime, Skype, WebEx, Microsoft Teams and Zoom.
- Cloud storage: Consider using cloud storage solutions, like Dropbox or Google Drive, to upload and share documents and files, so your team can readily access them.
- Messaging: When you can’t walk over to a colleague’s desk to chat, take advantage of team messaging applications, like Slack. Many of the leading video-conferencing applications also include messaging tools.
- Project management: Web-based project management tools such as Wrike, Basecamp and Asana can help simplify and improve team collaboration for remote workers.
Consult trusted online resources for the latest information
In times of rapid change, when governments are enacting new rules and regulations almost daily, it’s up to you to arm yourself with the latest information to protect your business interests and do everything you can to continue meeting your customers’ needs.
There are many online resources providing timely information about COVID-19 and its global impact. For data on the spread of the virus itself in specific countries where you export your goods and services, WHO is the go-to resource. Its interactive dashboard provides up-to-date information about the status of COVID-19 in every country currently reporting cases.
If you’re selling to the United States, as many Canadian exporters are, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is another key source of trusted information on the spread of the virus south of the border and its implications for your export business. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the International Trade Administration are two other important organizations to monitor any developments that may affect your exports.
If you’re exporting to other markets, consult the relevant country-specific websites for border services, chambers of commerce, trade organizations, etc.
Ramp up your communication with export markets
While there’s a wealth of information available online, to get a more complete view of what’s going on in other markets, you need to connect with your network on the ground in each export market.
For example, you need to understand the impact the pandemic is having on demand for your products or services in your target countries. It’s also critical to get a handle on any new border regulations that could prevent your products from getting to market. On the positive side, your contacts may also be aware of new opportunities for your products as a result of the pandemic, or regulatory changes that could benefit your sales. The U.S., for example, has already announced tariff exemptions for certain medical supplies and related products currently in high demand.
To get access to this level of information, leverage your relationships and ramp up communications with your trusted business partners. Seek out the opinions of customs brokers, freight forwarders, importers, distributors, supply chain and channel partners and customers.
With travel restrictions making face-to-face meetings all but impossible, electronic communication is the only option. Whether you’re doing so via email, phone or video conference or any of the other tools your internal team has adopted for remote working, communicate with your network as often as possible to make sure you’re doing everything you can to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on your exports.
Look to the future
While operating remotely may seem challenging in the short term, it’s important to remember that the pandemic won’t last forever. Any steps you take today to improve your ability to run your business remotely will ultimately help you be more collaborative and productive overall—and better prepared for any future business challenges.