The Foreign Service Journal, June 2020

FCS VP VOICE | BY JAY CARREIRO AFSA NEWS 50 JUNE 2020 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA USAID VP. Contact: Still Making Things Work for U.S. Companies During the week of March 15, as the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated its cold relent- lessness, the Commerce Department—along with other government agencies inWashington, D.C.—finally began to take decisive action. That week, the depart- ment decided to quickly (by government standards) shift its operations to virtual platforms to protect its employees and clients. By the following week, about 90 percent of the Commercial Service was working remotely in some form or another. Overseas, embassies and consulates were slightly ahead of the pack, stream- lining—and in some cases, curtailing—operations completely. Stateside, companies canceled business trips and annual meetings, and show organizers postponed, and then later canceled, major trade shows all over the world. Given the face-to-face, transactional nature of international business, com- mercial work became an early casualty as fear over the pandemic spread. These were clearly uncharted waters for everyone, and our clients as well as our com- mercial officers had to figure out a way forward under this new normal. All the while, kids were out of school practically everywhere, and their schools were figuring out how distance learning was going to work. As a result, parents were now wonder- ing how to cope with a new, uncertain work-life balance. While overall economic activity has slowed signifi- cantly, the economy itself did not stop working, and busi- nesses continue to adapt. They know they need to posi- tion themselves for the future, whatever that may look like. No one understands this more than our commercial officers and our professional commercial staff worldwide. Our folks in the field have continued to interface with clients and partners daily, finding new and innovative ways to connect people and businesses, pushing the limits of available technology. As we all continue to adapt to the circumstances and challenges, new virtual services will likely become an important additional tool in the commercial toolbox. Let’s hope the technology can keep up, and that the department will make the necessary investment in those tools and the people who make it all work. n Our folks in the field have continued to interface with clients and partners daily, finding new and innovative ways to connect people and businesses. AFSA Engages in Virtual Structured Conversations AFSA’s Professional Policy Issues department began a series of virtual structured conversations in April, checking in with members and hearing about their concerns in the field during the COVID-19 pandemic. The first conversations in this series were with FSOs at the FS-2 level. PPI held six structured conversation sessions for FS-2 officers and planned to hold several sessions with specialists in May. Attending sessions from AFSA were President Eric Rubin, State VP Tom Yazdgerdi, PPI Direc- tor Julie Nutter and Labor Management Counselor Col- leen Fallon-Lenaghan. Between six and 10 officers participate in each structured conversation, where members can discuss the ups and downs of their Foreign Service careers and the challenges of Foreign Service life. AFSA has been hold- ing in-person structured conversations since 2016. But social distancing has spurred the association to start offering virtual ses- sions, which—for the first time—allow AFSA members posted overseas to partici- pate. These direct conversa- tions enable AFSA to faith- fully represent members’ interests to agency manage- ment and to the Foreign Ser- vice’s bipartisan supporters in Congress. AFSA plans to continue these sessions in a virtual format at least until the pandemic is over, and perhaps beyond. AFSA members are always welcome to email concerns to member@afsa. org. n