Host Jaclyn 00:00:
Welcome to season two episode seven of TGS' Beneath the Subsurface podcast. This season, we're tackling the bigger picture problems facing the energy industry today. I'm Jaclyn Townsend and your moderator for today's chat with guest speakers, Tanya, Herwanger, EVP of Staff and Support and Carl Neuhaus VP of Well Data Products. Today, we're talking about the COVID effect and the growing gap we see between people and companies. We know this disruption will have long lasting effects, but what does it look like specific to business and how we work? It's been a good five to six months since the pandemic threw the world, a significant curve ball. And now that most of us are past the initial shock period. We're almost in this new phase of acceptance and testing while most of us are still trying to understand how to work, how to collaborate and simply how to live our lives. Amidst regulations, guidelines, and new rules. We're starting to see some clear gaps between people and companies.
Host Jaclyn 00:57:
So moving past the response and actions that companies have set in motion to maintain business continuity, you know, you've received all those emails from your business connections. Let's talk about what's happening now during this phase. What have we learned and what are we learning? So here to kick things off are Tanya and Carl, welcome to you both.
Hi Jaclyn. Hi Carl.
Hi everyone. Good morning.
Host Jaclyn 01:17:
So further to the introduction we're in this learning and testing phase, if you will, and what I want to know, and probably what our audience wants to know is from your perspective, what effect is COVID having on people, economics and innovation in the business setting. Carl, we'll kick things off with you. We've got virtual barriers and all sorts of other restrictions that are preventing us from meeting and interacting the way that we used to pre COVID. How do you build stronger relationships with customers, for instance, especially when meeting someone new?
Thank you, Jaclyn. That's a really good question. I want to start off by saying that we're very fortunate because we do have strong relationships with our existing customers. They're built on working together for a long time, and there's a, a lot of trust on both sides. So there's a lot of open communication and I think that it's helped us greatly. And now that everybody's gone remote, but we still have to go about our day-to-day business. Now with resources moving around on the customer side and moving around on our side, you do find yourself talking to people that you haven't met before, where you need to quickly establish rapport with that person, because ultimately you're trying to either solve the problem or you're trying to provide a service to them, to help our customers go about their, their day to day business. So I think in general, there's three things, three aspects to this. I want to briefly touch on.
Number one is any relationship is really built on trust. And when you don't know somebody, I think a good way to establish that trust. If you're not in the same room with that person and you can't kind of pick up on some of the soft body language cues is just acknowledging the situation that we're all in. And through that finding some common ground. If you have common ground, that really helps you establish your relationship with a person. And as we are going through some interesting times, our customers are doing the same thing. We have lots of customers who are facing reductions in their staff, and, there's uncertainty about their job, but they also have to go about their day-to-day business. Some customers have gone through bankruptcy. So just start the meeting by acknowledging that this is a new situation for all of us, but we still have to find ways to work together, helps relieve some of that pressure. And then all of a sudden, you're basically on the same team.
The second aspect is communication. When you meet somebody in person, it's really easy to understand how the conversation is going, how the conversation is progressing by somebody's body language or the way they hold their head or the way they gesticulate with their hands. On a video conference, that's a lot harder to pick up. So I think over communication is the keyword here. I encourage people to interrupt, to ask for clarification, to ask questions and also very honestly, and transparently say that something doesn't work for them. So before you go into a long discussion about something that the customer may not be interested in, I think it's totally okay for them to say that this is not something that's going to work. So there's no need to spend time on that. So by being overly transparent, if you will, that eliminates miscommunication and also quickly gets you back on track to where you have that common ground.
And then the third thing I think that's important is creative solutions. We're in an environment in terms of the market, in terms of the, the virus and pandemic. I don't think we've had that we've been in before. So you need to find solutions that you didn't think of before customers still need to go about their business. We need to go about our business. So how do we find overlap in the two? And the onus is really on us to understanding customer needs and then coming up with a creative solution on our end.
Host Jaclyn 05:13:
Thanks, Carl, you touched a little bit on communication, which is a really great point. How can we find ways to be genuine and add that personal touch when we have, you know, a screen in between us now, right? We're not able to meet in person anymore. What can we do to add those personal touches in our conversations to gain that trust?
I think it goes back to being open and transparent in a way you're, you're getting insight to somebody's home. So people are a little bit more exposed than they would be in a business setting in a meeting room. And I think it's okay to acknowledge that. You talk about, your dog that's yapping, or if you hear background noise, maybe that's your kids. So you can, you can create that common ground to make light of it in a way to establish that we're all really in the same boat and we're all facing the same challenges and that's, you know, making fun of not being able to hear the other person or I don't know, tech issues or stuff like that. There's are things there's ways to lighten things up to where you can make the other person feel at ease in the conversation.
Host Jaclyn 06:22:
Tanya do you have anything to add on this subject?
You know, I think it's almost counter-intuitively you have to not ignore the fact that you're on screen. So clearly you need to speak differently when you're on screen. You need to maybe leave longer pauses at the end of your sentence to account for that milliseconds of lag until the other person hears what you're saying. So I think just being mindful of that, that you are communicating via a different medium is important. And I think it goes a long way to smoothing out the bumps of communicating via these virtual means that we have now.
Host Jaclyn 07:04:
That's a good point. So moving on, there are a lot of obvious benefits and downsides from remote working that we've all become familiar with in the past few months, enjoying flexible work hours, being able to multitask, getting laundry done per se, or prepping a more intricate meal for dinner throughout the day. But equally there are more available distractions. The kids are at home, running around, it can be harder to separate or achieve that work life balance. Tanya, what are some of the major challenges for people and companies in this remote limbo and how are people enabled to do their best work in this environment?
I think the introduction you just gave to that question captures rather well, one of the main challenges I have observed, and this is both for individuals and companies, and that is how do you balance work and home when you're working remotely? From the individual's perspective, how do you ensure that work doesn't consume your entire day? And I mean, that quite literally. So we all saw meetings getting earlier and earlier or later and later, or both, we all experienced weekdays blurring into weekends and public holidays, all but disappeared because they just became another day in front of your computer, on teams. Clearly this encroaches, on your family life. If you have a family and on your personal life, if you don't have a family.
It also makes for longer workdays, there are lots of reports published. I'm sure you've seen them as well. That point to longer work days during lockdown periods, as well as more emails and more meetings, albeit shorter ones, apparently. From the company's perspective, it's fair to ask, are you really producing your best work? If you are prepping, a more intricate, dinner, or stepping away to change the laundry. And if you're working longer hours and staying up late or getting up ultra early to attend those off the schedule meetings, are you not just running yourself to the ground and actually not bringing your best self to the task? You may be busier. You may be working longer hours and you may feel like you're getting through all of your tasks, but are you delivering the value that the company needs from you?
I think this is a really interesting development. And it's something that you touched on or hinted at in your introduction when you spoke about the growing gap between people and companies. And I can tell you it's a really delicate point. Most of the surveys that I have seen show that employees are saying that they're equally or even more productive working remotely, and many people want to keep it that way. Many people want to remain remote. I have no doubt. People actually feel more productive. I mean, I certainly do when I have a day at home and I'm sure people are ticking more items off of their to do lists. But the challenge is, if you're ticking off items from your to do list, does this automatically mean that you're delivering value to the company or the value that the company needs? It's a really difficult discussion to have, and it's not helped by the fact that I certainly haven't seen as many surveys testing the point of how individual productivity matches what the company needs. And it would be great to see some more surveys in that area.
Beyond this thorny issue, there are many others, like how do you onboard new employees so that they can pick up on and adopt company culture? How do you bond the team virtually, particularly if you have a new person joining the team that hasn't met anybody else, how do you deal with the new hybrid situation when you've got some people in the office and some people still remote, these are all things that we're still trying to work out. And, you know, all I can throw in is that there's no one size fits all solution. It's just really important to acknowledge the challenges, to see what other companies are doing, to try things out and then to keep what serves you and your company and your situation, and to drop the rest.
Host Jaclyn 11:43:
Yeah, some very deep points that will probably be addressed further on as we go into this, Carl, you have a large team. How, how are you dealing with some of the challenges and pain points that Tanya just touched on?
I think what Tanya said about people being more productive in checking off more of their things on their to do list that certainly contributes to days starting earlier and days getting longer. So when I look at my team, I think I'm very fortunate because everybody in the team really cares about the business and they care about their work and they care about their customers. So they, they want to be as productive as possible. They're really motivated. Now the flip side of that is that you're slowly burning yourself out. If you keep doing that for months and months and months where, you know, days blend into weekends, blend to holidays. So what we've been very open about, especially as the size of our team has been reduced to less than half of what we were at the beginning of the year. We've gotten really good at high grading, the things that we need to do.
So if there is a task, we decide as a team, what value that brings to the organization and how it moves us further ahead. And if there is a list of 20 things that we want to get done in the next couple of weeks, maybe there are five that we can actually postpone because they could be done, but don't really add value in the way that other tasks have value, that way you can make sure that the energy that you do spend, you actually spent on a high level and you produce a high quality result for the company, but also for customers.
Host Jaclyn 13:32:
I know from our perspective too, working at TGS, we're struggling with those same things and we have to find that balance for sure. So Carl, this is kind of a bigger question, in your perspective, how does remote limbo affect company culture?
That's a really good question. I think part of the TGS culture is open communication. So if there are things that aren't working, as well as they should for individuals, we usually bring those issues up and we discuss them with our peers. We discuss them with our managers and we move that information up the chain so that collectively we can do something about it. So in that way, I don't think that there's a specific effect on company culture. I think our company culture enables us very well to deal with these things because we have open communication and transparency and we can tackle challenges as a team because we lay those challenges out in the open. And I think people feel comfortable giving honest feedback about how they can be more productive and provide more value to the company and also to customers so that as managers and as senior leaders, we can address them in a way that provides solution that's most effective for the company as a whole.
I find, your response really interesting, your take on transparency and open communication and willingness to share, you know, where we are, productivity, challenges, et cetera. It's, actually one of the things that I've identified more as an issue at this particular point in time with respect to the, you know, people not feeling confident to do that because they're concerned about their jobs.
Host Jaclyn 15:28:
More so in our industry too, I think, right? Than any other industry.
Yeah, I think, no, I think that's a good point. There's this added layer of anxiety because of the market then because of the oil and gas industry specifically. So you don't want to be perceived as somebody who says no to something, if you can't do something. I've- so I'm aware of that, but I think at least for my team, we're not, I'm not really seeing that. I think we built a culture to where people feel comfortable speaking up because that's actually key to staying innovative. So people bring up 10 ideas and nine of them are bad, but there's one, that's a real gem, but if they didn't feel comfortable throwing these things out there, we wouldn't ever get to the gem one. Right. And I think that's a culture that each manager needs to cultivate and contribute to individually within their teams to make sure that teams are comfortable speaking up because ultimately the other consequences that if you, if you don't speak up, if you have an no transparency, it kind of works from the outside until it really doesn't work until you have some kind of catastrophic failure and you burn, you burn people out or people leave because they don't feel appreciated. So I think by allowing people to challenge certain things or ask for clarification and ask for context, you can create an environment where people do feel comfortable asking questions. We're just being honest and transparent without the risk of repercussions.
I know that if I had not been at TGS for six years already, when we went into this crisis and went into lock down and started working remotely, I would have struggled more than I actually did. I definitely called on those existing relationships and that existing understanding of how the company works and what its DNA is to navigate through the remote working period. And even with that knowledge, I've found that I was beginning to feel increasingly disconnected. And I found that actually interesting because I have a large team. I spoke to people every day. I spoke to my colleagues, but I had this growing sense of not being part of the bigger picture or not being, not always having as crisp a view of the bigger picture as I did before the remote working period. And I think if you don't have that cultural orientation, if you haven't absorbed a company's culture already, it's challenged during remote working or prolonged periods of remote working. And I'm not sure how you then transfer culture. How do I share my experience of what TGS is, with somebody else in this virtual world. And that goes hand in hand with bonding, I guess, you know, how do you, how do you bond in this remote environment? So I don't have a full answer. I can only share my perspective and my experience on, on culture and what I felt during the lockdown period.
Host Jaclyn 19:14:
Definitely a, I guess, a continuing topic that I think one of you guys touched on that we're not, we're not alone in this. It's not just TGS. It's lots of companies dealing with the same struggles. So it'll be interesting to see how TGS and, and other companies take these issues head on.
Host Jaclyn 19:34:
So this is a nice segue to move into a different topic, related to what we were just talking about, about productivity and innovation. We've learned that productivity, isn't the real challenge for teams. It's not difficult to remain task oriented when we're all in our own productivity, bubbles, if you will typically only meeting with coworkers when there's something to be done in any downturn, innovation is often the make or break driver for success. So Carl, what effect is this situation having on teams and the expectation to continue to collaborate and innovate? How does the lack of face to face interaction affect innovation?
Thank you, Jaclyn. I think it ties back a little bit to the culture issue that we just talked about in order to be innovative, you have to challenge the status quo. You have to throw things out there that you might not be sure of if, they actually work and just have to try a lot of different things. So you have to have a culture where that's permitted and encouraged, and that's what drives innovation. So I think from that perspective, TGS is actually fairly well positioned to stay innovative in the current environment.
Now, the one thing that's much harder to replicate is the face-to-face interaction. So when we have a difficult problem to solve the easiest way to solve it is to get a bunch of people into a meeting room, everybody with a marker and people talk and they draw something on the whiteboard and the setting can be a little bit chaotic at times because people talk over each other or they erase somebody else's picture, and then they draw something new or add onto it. And in the meeting room setting, that all works really well in a very short amount of time. You actually got a lot of ideas out there and probably focused in on few that that could really work and probably have a concrete plan of how to make them work.
Now, when you're all remote and on screen, that's a lot harder to replicate. So some of the meeting applications do actually have whiteboard apps that you can use, but if you have a mouse and not a stylus, doesn't really work as well. So it might work for context, but generally it changes the way people interact in this mess of figuring out the right solution.
So what I found works with my team, again, this just personal experience, we probably work harder on defining the problem statement. So invest a little more time into what it is you're actually trying to solve because people need to put some thought into it before they go into the meeting, instead of figuring out while you're talking over the other person. And then when you start the meeting, when you start the discussion with a well-defined problem statement, you actually have to give everybody the time to provide their input or raise their questions. And that goes back to Tanya's point a little bit. You have to speak more slowly. You have to, allow for that delay in the transmission. And you have to provide a little bit of space at the end for people to chime in so that people don't talk over each other. So if you then go around the room and everybody can present their input, then people collect their thoughts and again, provide their input to what was being said. And it's probably a little bit of a longer process at the end. You also need to write down, the main points and take notes and then circulate them and probably have a followup. So I think it's, it's possible to stay innovative, but you have to be very mindful of what you could call meeting etiquette, letting people finish. And just again, over-communicating asking for clarification.
Host Jaclyn 23:35:
Tanya, do you have anything to add on this subject?
Yes. I agree with what Carl has said. I think it requires a bit more effort in terms of facilitating the conversation or the collaboration and the sharing of ideas. And it takes a little more effort as well to ensure the flow. I think a lot of my experiences in sessions where we've, you know, tackled difficult subjects or come up with new ideas, there's a kind of energy that settles into the discussion, the kind of flow where people build on comment or an idea or a contribution from one of the other team members, and then takes that to the next level. And that it's a race until you arrive at it, the better solution, or the best solution. And that's a little, can be a little clumsy in the virtual setting. But as Carl said, if you manage that, if you anticipate for that and you manage that, I think it is still possible to achieve that kind of energy and outcome.
Host Jaclyn 24:47:
Yeah, I couldn't agree, I couldn't agree more. It takes more time or effort to do things, but it is definitely achievable.
So another aspect of this, if, if I, me personally thinking about how I arrive at solutions. Yes, it's through scheduled meetings where you talk about that solution. But a lot I actually get from talking to people that may not be directly involved. And those can be casual conversations over lunch or at the copy machine or the water cooler, so that you just kind of discuss things in passing. This is what's going on here. And then somebody else brings up an interesting point and you pursue that and you think about it a lot.
So one thing that's missing when you're all remote is the casual conversation that happens as you run into people. So if you think about your day and what's structured and what's kind of unstructured, how do you in an office setting, How do you replicate that when you're all remote? So I really make an effort with my team, for example, to have personal check-ins every day and have these daily stand up meetings, but also make an effort to call other people in other business units throughout the day, to where I check in with them. I talk about what's going on in, in my business, learn about what's going on in their business and just casually talk about this and that doesn't have to be a lot of time. Most of those calls are five minute conversations and you actually replicate a little bit of the atmosphere that you would have in an office setting.
And I guess another aspect is to, to one of the points that Tanya brought up earlier, feeling disconnected. It helps me feel connected to the rest of the business, that when you're all in the same office, you kind of have an understanding of what's going on, but when you're all remote, it's really easy to feel like you're inside of this bubble and you're not connected to what the company is doing as a whole. So just making an effort to talk to people. And in my experience, nobody, nobody minds taking a phone call and nobody minds talking to you. It doesn't matter who it is in the company.
Host Jaclyn 27:02:
Yep. All great points. So moving on, we've talked a lot about relationships, communication, culture, innovation, and there is this, there is a subject that plays a role in all of those things that, that some might actually gloss over and forget to mention. And that is the psychology behind everything we've discussed. Earlier I said that productivity wasn't the issue. And as far as performance goes, it's not, but Tanya, there seems to be this no-frills just stay productive no matter what attitude. And probably more so in the oil and gas sector, since we've been hit with this double whammy of COVID plus the industry downturn, as we mentioned, how is this affecting us?
You know, Jaclyn I think there's a lot of anxiety as a result of what we've seen and experienced in the last five months. And in fact, what we continue to experience from what you rightly describe as a double whammy situation or a double crisis, people are worried about their jobs.
Many have seen colleagues leave over the past few months. They're not sure whether, you know, they themselves will, continue to have a job in the future. And companies are worried about their financial stability. I mean, I don't mean to be doom and gloom, but that is kind of our reality in this moment. And I think when you're in a crisis, you default to this all hands on deck. And I think companies are looking to employees and expecting them to be fully focused on driving results right now. And that's totally understandable. Employees on the other hand will be eager to be seen, to be doing everything that they can and everything that they're being asked to do. And what I have observed is that people are reluctant to take time off, for example, or they're reluctant to say that they need support or reluctant to say, you know, I've worked 12 hours everyday this week and it's Friday. And I have a commitment with my family.
There's a certain reluctance to bring that forward because you're concerned about your job and, and that's a legitimate concern in the environment that we're at. So I think it's important. And Carl has touched on this. It's important and it's incumbent on managers to foster an honest and supportive environment. I think that's really key to how we deal with the situation. I think employees need to feel safe to raise concerns. They need to feel safe to ask for support and they need to feel okay to take time off, for example. I also think the little things make a difference just every day humanity, if I can use that expression, I think we need to pause to celebrate the successes, whether those successes are big or small.
I think when you're in a crisis, it's really easy to just focus on the shortfalls. The, the bits we didn't get done. The, you know, project was a little late or we didn't hit the targets or I don't know that kind of stuff, whatever didn't happen, it's just easier to focus on that. But that actually only adds to the anxiety. So I think it's important to just pause and to celebrate all of the things we did accomplish. I think it's also important to acknowledge people's contributions and people's sacrifices I spoke about earlier meetings and later meetings, a few minutes ago, I think if somebody accepts your invite to a meeting at 10 o'clock, you should start that meeting by saying thank you. And you shouldn't take it for granted that that person was obligated to take that call at 10 o'clock. And I think we don't do enough of that. And by we, I mean the collective we, because we're just, you know, we just want to get into that discussion to talk about the reason why we set up the meeting.
As team members. We can check in on each other, just give your colleague a call and say, Hey, how are you doing? I don't have a reason to call. I'm just calling to check in on you, stand up for each other if we need to and offer practical help. I mean, lots of times I've learned from other people going, you know what, that's how I handled this situation, sharing our own experiences and offering practical help. It's not a high tech answer. I know not a high tech solution, but bringing a little everyday humanity to the situation diffuses what is legitimate anxiety as a result of the double whammy or the double crisis that we find ourselves in.
Host Jaclyn 32:05:
Yeah, I think that was a real answer. And like you said, a very human point of view because some, a lot of times we do forget were in work mode and, you know, we forget there are other humans on the other side of the screen, Carl, what say you?
I completely agree with, with what Tanya said. Two things I want to touch on the everyday humanity? I think it starts by acknowledging that our individual situations are different and somebody may have had a really rough day for reasons that you don't know and you don't need to know. And I think it's okay to just acknowledge that and cut people some slack. So when we come together, we all come together from a completely different background. We've had a different course of the day. So at that 10 o'clock meeting, just be nice to each other. I think that's, I guess that's an easy way to put it, on the flip side of that, because everybody's situation is different. I think the company as a whole can implement policies to ameliorate some of the anxiety, but we're not going to be able to make it go away completely because the market is still the market our businesses is the business. Our customers are going through difficult times. So this is just a difficult time and we can try to smooth things over, but at the end of the day, this is just the situation we're in.
So the way you could use that, or what you do about that is what Tanya touched on in terms of highlighting our successes. If we look at the last five to six months, we've probably been more innovative, more creative and have accelerated a few really important initiatives that we would not have done otherwise. So if you look back, yes, it was really stressful, long days, weekends, et cetera. But I feel proud of what we've accomplished as a team and how we've managed, as a team again, to navigate the company through this situation. And how we've actually done really well in certain areas, because it highlighted things that were critical that we had to focus a hundred percent of our attention on. And now we solve those really, really important challenges that may have taken us a year or two in a different situation. And you can highlight individual contributions to that. And you can just, I guess, remind people of the fact that, yes, this is very stressful, but we've all risen to the occasion and if your team have risen to the occasion and they've delivered some really, really good things, I think that's something to be proud of, you know, something to highlight.
Host Jaclyn 34:46:
Thanks and a final few questions for both of you. What's the solution now, is there one? And what are the tools to bring everything back together? And what are other, what do you see other companies doing and what is TGS doing? Tanya, you want to go first?
Sure. I think the situation is fluid. So we're still learning. We're still trying to implement the lessons from the early phase of this. I don't think there's a one size fits all solution. I think it very much depends how you bring your pieces back together. It depends on what your starting point was, what your culture is, how you manage the period remote and how you want to piece them back together. It isn't a given you want to piece them back together, exactly as they were before. Maybe there are some bits that's Carl has said that you want to keep because they worked well and you want to transfer those into the next phase. So I think we're all just really working on how the picture is gonna look like post this situation. And it's a work in progress. I think you have, you know, you have some solutions for some issues that you've been clearly able to identify. You've responded to, but the whole piecing the bits together, I think it's still a work in progress.
Host Jaclyn 36:13:
Carl final words?
I agree with Tanya that this is definitely a work in progress. So for us as a company and as senior leaders, that means that we can provide some general guidelines, but then really need to allow for some flexibility, as we're implementing those guidelines navigating through this, towards a normal that might look a little bit different than the normal that we started with. Now, the question that remains is how you continue to build team cohesion in light of all of this. And even though we are an international company with people in different parts of the world, connecting to BUs remotely, for the most part, we've relied on in person events for team building and creating these shared experiences to where we bond as a team.
And the, question that we need to ask ourselves is can we replicate that? Can we recreate that virtually? And the answer seems to be yes, because if you look at some of the companies where most of the employee base is actually remote, one of the tools that they use to make new team members connected to each other, but also make them feel connected to the teams that they're joining. They're making groups of people solve an online challenge in kind of a video game setting. And based on the surveys that they take after this, it actually shows that you can create this sense of cohesion and sense of belonging with an online experience. So I think that's very encouraging and going forward. That's definitely one of the tools that we need to look at as we navigate towards whatever the new normal looks like.
Host Jaclyn 37:45:
Well, Carl and Tanya, thank you for a very open and honest conversation. That's all the time we have today. Things are changing weekly, even daily in some cases. So we'll just have to wait and see how things pan out, but there are obvious actions and items that companies and employees alike should be aware of during this unprecedented time. I think a key takeaway is to not get left behind as change happens and to address issues as they arise head on. I also think people are seeking authenticity during this time from their colleagues and their leadership. So again, thank you for that today. And thanks to our audience for tuning in. If you're hungry for more resources from the topics of this episode, be sure to check out the show notes where we've included some insightful links and food for thought. And of course, if you liked this episode, don't forget to subscribe to this podcast wherever you listen to podcasts. And you can also sign up to be notified by email for every episode on tgs.com. Thanks for listening to another episode of Beneath the Subsurface.
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