KSL+: Pandemic Challenges Highlight Issues Already Facing Workers
Mar 25, 2021, 8:20 PM
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – A year out from the beginning of the pandemic, this week marked nearly a year since Utah Gov. Gary Herbert launched the Stay Safe, Stay Home initiative, encouraging people to stay home where they could, especially encouraging people to work from home when they could.
That marked a huge change for many people. Now we recognize that not all industries were able to move to working from home. Healthcare, restaurants, construction, hospitality, all still required most workers to show up on site every day. But in many industries, working from home was possible and required a quick pivot–and has created some big changes in many different industries. Cydni Tetro is the president of the Women Tech Council.
For her, the pandemic has highlighted many problems within our businesses that have been around for decades–and is pushing us to find solutions.
Editor’s note: interviews lightly edited for clarity and readability.
Cydni Tetro: One of the ones we’ve been talking a lot about, that, for me has gotten really heightened over the last three months is what’s been called the first female recession. That one weighs on me heavily, right? We started this pandemic, we’ve been fighting all sorts of challenges all of us, right? Physical, mental family, all of those challenges. And then the outcome of this entire thing becomes this female recession, where all of a sudden, we’re faced with losing 30 years of economic progress for women. And it’s kind of terrifying to think that that could possibly be true. From all the progress that we’ve made, and how important we know that women are in the entire economic ecosystem that we’re faced with. So for me, that’s one really big thing that I think has changed.
And that this marks a moment in time, every time there’s a recession, no matter what type of a recession it is, it becomes a requirement for a catalyst of change in order to impact a future better outcome. And so I think this is one of those categories, where if we don’t put our arms around it, and if we don’t get in action, the negative ramifications are far too great. It impacts families and impacts communities, it impacts careers, but it also just impacts at the very personal level of how do we have great minds thinking about all of the problems? How are we solving the world’s problems, and then our individual problems with the thinking that comes from these diverse groups that come together. So I feel like that’s a really big one.
Now, on the other side is innovation. The amount of innovation that we’ve seen from a technology perspective, I think, will truly transform us over the next decade. I don’t believe that holodecks are that far away, right? This ability to live in this virtual world, it’s coming. And it’s really interesting to think about what that means. But also just as digital first, this ability to create better work and live and live wherever you want and find ways for promotions, like the intersection of the two things that pandemics created. Those are really cool futures, right? We can be in different locations, and we can have powerful conversations. And we can make meaningful impact in ways that has never before been possible, that will create positive trajectory. So now we got to take all the challenges we’re still faced with that the vaccine doesn’t solve right. The vaccination does not solve the female recession, we have years of work to come out of that recovery. But if we do that, in combination with the other great things that the pandemic is creating a catalyst for, we can recover faster, and create better momentum as we move in the future.
We were already in a childcare crisis in the entire country prior to the pandemic, it’s now worse. We don’t even have all of our childcare workers back. And that is a really fundamental component. So for women, figuring out childcare, and how we address that is going to be really critical. Now, there’s a lot of innovative solutions that are coming out. The relief package that was signed also includes incentives in the childcare space, which is really great. But this requires also companies to start brainstorming. How do we make it more accessible? How do we make it close? How do we make it affordable? How do we make it safe? All of those things. So I think one of the things we have to be an action on especially for working moms, is childcare. And those women are so critical, and they’re providing for their families.
I think the other things are going to come from what happen has started happening in companies. We’ve all known that we can work really well when we’re all remote because we’ve all been doing that. This hybrid work is now going to require adjustments. Because what happens to your promotability, and your connectedness if half the team is not in the office some days and half of the team is? That is going to become a very intentional, I think maneuver in companies. One of the great things I think that happened is we’ve watched things like the exodus from Silicon Valley, to all sorts of other regions. People are now living where they really want to live in affordable lifestyles, things that are great for whatever their family circumstances are. That’s awesome. And so we want people to feel like they have these great careers wherever they are. But then how do we support that in this new world? And I think specifically for women, that’s something that we hear all the time that weighs on them. Like if I take this remote only job, can I have the same trajectory in my career as everyone else?
And then one of the other things that we’ve learned too, is that a lot of times, especially in tech, we jump companies to get promotions. We’re like, Okay, I’m going to jump from here to here to here. It’s expensive to lose an employee. It takes a lot of work to hire employees. So how about we figure out better ways to create promotions and fast pathways internally to these resources that helps women. It helps the entire company. It keeps those people who love what you’re doing and gives them accessibility. For a long time, we’ve been talking about this idea that people who by the time they’re 40, they’ had seven different careers. But you know, a whole generation before that everyone stayed in their companies for a really long time. And they did that for all sorts of reasons. I think we’re going to see this trajectory back, where we would like our employees to be a little more sticky, but it requires a different ecosystem that we might not have traditionally had to create. And so I think remote work promotes ability and flexibility. Women have talked about flexibility forever, it does not mean work less hours, it means hold me accountable for the things that you know I can do, and provide me an entire infrastructure that supports that. And I think we will see the company environments start to change that. And it will be required for all of these other components that we have to bring together.
You really do see the grit and the resilience and the strength of women. It’s a powerful example, for the next generations of everything they’ve come through. But the creativity under which they’re taking circumstances, and applying solutions, and moving forward, I think is very meaningful. We’ve seen women who had started companies who lost everything, and figured out a way to come back and even raised capital and find growth paths. We found women who have creatively solved their childcare problems, or who have had found companies who have embraced with empathy, what that looks like.
Matt Rascon: When we come back we talk to one of those women and look at some industries making big shifts.
Amelia Wilcox: We were on track to just have the best 2020 ever. It was going to be our best year. We’d already done half of 2019 revenue just in Q1. So on track to double, and then we had a 98% revenue reduction. So we went to basically zero over the course of 10 days.
Matt Rascon: Amelia Wilcox built a company that brought massage therapists into offices as a wellbeing offering. But as people started working from home…business came to a screeching halt. But in the months since–she has worked to transition her companies existing technology platforms, connections, and clients, into a company offering virtual mental health services to employees.
Amelia Wilcox: And so that’s kind of where the lightbulb went off for me. And I said, Hey, there is a huge demand, the need is not going away anytime soon with the vaccine. It’s not going to just erase everyone’s mental and emotional disorders that we all developed from social isolation and the stress and fear and anxiety of the world we live in. So yeah, I recognized that there was this huge need and it wasn’t going anywhere. I also knew we’d already spent a decade building a system where we could manage licensing by state, we can manage scheduling and all the tools that we used for the massage business could easily be applied in this new model providing mental health care. And so that’s what we did. We pivoted, and now we offer teletherapy services to employees, their employers pay for it. And it comes together in this suite of prerecorded wellbeing services, including yoga, meditation, fitness, life coaching, there’s mental health videos, so people can kind of take care of themselves in whatever way they need to and kind of meet them where they’re at.
Matt Rascon: As the world gets back to normal, she says her company, Zenovate, will offer both on-site and virtual services.
Amelia Wilcox: I think what COVID has done is kind of opened up people’s eyes to having mental health issues is normal. And okay. And it’s, I think we’re starting to see the beginning of the destigmatization around mental health. So I feel like we have a very secure future in that space. But if the world, you know, goes back to the way it was pre-COVID, we’ve got the onsight service side of the business as well and we can start building that out. So I just feel like we’ve kind of got two horses in the race now that are on both sides. And we can continue to pivot more in one direction versus the other, depending on what the world does, but I feel a lot more safe and secure.
Matt Rascon: And for companies that make their money on people being in person, holding events, and traveling, the adjustments keep coming. I met up with one of the executives from Visit Salt Lake, Mark White.
Mark White: Visit Salt Lake is a nonprofit organization who is tasked with bringing visitors, meetings, conventions, trade shows to Salt Lake. And the whole idea is that we bring people here, they spend their money on our hotels or restaurants or attractions, they go away leaving their money behind. In fact, our research indicates that each convention delegate, on average spends about $971 during their visit.
Matt Rascon: Okay. So taking a look at the last year now, that really doesn’t work with the virus, right? So what has it been like?
Mark White: The last 12 months have been very, very tough for the visitor economy. The conventions that were to take place here at the Salt Palace, those alone resulted in a loss of about $316 million. And that’s not counting all of the other meetings, the athletic events, the skiers, and so on. So it has been really tough.
Matt Rascon: And that doesn’t include all the money that would have been going into restaurants and hotels.
Mark White: Absolutely. As everyone knows, restaurants and other organizations that are part of the visitor economy have closed up or scaled back their operations significantly. But there is some light at the end of the tunnel, the economy is improving, people are getting vaccinated, and as a result, people are feeling more comfortable to travel. Although the first half of 2021 looks pretty similar to 2020, the second half is starting to look good. We have more meetings and conventions on the books. This past February, we put another seven conventions on the books that will arrive in 2021 through 2024. And those seven conventions will attract approximately 34,000 people who will collectively spend around $33 million in our community. So things are looking up. The brand-new Hyatt Regency is on track to open in fall of 2022, we have a brand new $4.2 billion airport that is welcoming visitors right now. And our organization has some very long relationships with entities that plan conventions, and that’s proven to be very beneficial right now, as we come out of this pandemic.
Matt Rascon: I’m wondering, Visit Salt Lake, how is that funded? Is that a cut of the taxes from like hotels and things like that then, and so you guys have probably seen?
Mark White: Yeah, our budget has taken a hit. Now fortunately, the local citizens don’t pay any of our salaries or pay for any of our programs. And it’s all paid for by visitors. When someone checks into a hotel or a motel, bed and breakfast, they pay, in addition to a state sales tax, they pay a small transit room tax. Salt Lake County collects that and a portion of it goes to our organization for our programs to go out and pursue more visitors. So it’s a wonderful, beautiful self-perpetuating economic engine.
Matt Rascon: Okay, unless you have a pandemic. First half of the year, no good. But starting summer, would you say or what? What’s the timeline?
Mark White: Yeah, so our next big convention is Kiwanis International. They’ll be visiting in June of this year. They would normally attract around 7000 attendees, maybe more. This year, we anticipate 1500, maybe 2000. Because not everyone’s still comfortable traveling. We have a couple of big conventions during the summer. We were fortunate to just recently land an organization called the Association for Talent Development, that will bring around 4500 attendees in August. And we just landed the American Clean Power Association 4500 person convention in December, which is normally a slow time of year, regardless if there’s a pandemic or not. So there is really some signs of hope here.
Matt Rascon: Now you were mentioning earlier, you’ve been with Visit Salt Lake for nearly 30 years. You’ve seen the ups and downs. How would you compare this?
Mark White: I have certainly seen some ups and downs, several economic cycles. 2008-2009 was tough. But there’s been nothing remotely near this. Our hotel occupancy–a year ago at this time–above 70%. On some weekends approaching 80%. Now we’re seeing occupancy is about a third of that. And it was even worse a couple of months ago. So it is really been tough for this this industry. I think few people are aware of the size and impact of the visitor economy. In 2019 visitors spent $9.75 billion in the state of Utah and that portion of the economy accounted for one in 11 jobs. So it is a key importance that we get this back up and running for all of the folks in Salt Lake and the state as a whole,
Matt Rascon: What’s happening behind the scenes to get people here?
Mark White: Well, we’ve got several programs in place. One is to get as many venues and hotels accredited with the Global Bio-Risk Association’s credential that holds us to certain standards for cleanliness, and keeping people safe. That speaks well to potential travelers. We’ve also built a brand-new media broadcast center in our convention center, because so many conventions in the future we’ll have will be held in a hybrid component. There will be a physical component, and then there will be a digital component for those people who choose to stay home. Now we want them to come visit of course, but for those who choose not to visit, we now have a way to communicate with them. So very few other destinations have anything of this caliber, we’re way out in front on that. We have also implemented a couple of programs geared toward leisure travelers, which provide discounted hotels and discounted rates at the various attractions in town.
Matt Rascon: So you mentioned having a sort of virtual option. I’m curious, has this pandemic changed the events hospitality industry permanently? Are we going to see changes even beyond when things are back to normal?
Mark White: I believe we will see some permanent changes. For many years, the convention planners have talked about moving to a virtual format. And that has been occurring at a very, very slow pace. The pandemic put that in hyperdrive. Now, every meeting convention for the past 12 months, if it was held at all, has been held virtually. But as they return in person, inevitably, they will almost all have a hybrid or digital component or what we might call a virtual component. So we are a bit concerned, I believe the convention that typically brought 10,000 people, maybe that brings now 7000 or 8000 people and the other stay at home and watch participate in the convention virtually. So unfortunately, I think this has this will have an impact moving forward.
Matt Rascon: How is Utah doing compared to other states, when it comes to the hospitality and tourism industries?
Mark White: Well, certainly, every destination is suffering, some more than others. We have done relatively well, because we have a fair number of outdoor experiences that people can enjoy. Salt Lake is seen generally as a clean, safe place to visit so that’s going in our favor. We also have put business on the books, meetings and conventions for future years at a higher rate than have our competing destinations over the past 12 months. Now granted, there have been almost no meetings and conventions held in the last 12 months. But during that period, we put a lot of business on the books for the future. In fact, 2020 was our fourth best booking year. We put approximately 725,000 hotel room nights on the books to be consumed in 2021 through 2029. So the pandemic has been very tough. But we’ve done a pretty good job of putting business on the books for the future.
Matt Rascon: Do you remember the last time the Salt Palace was full?
Mark White: That’s a good question. I really don’t recall the last group that was here. The center has been has been very quiet. We’ve kept it clean. We’ve kept it operational. And now of course it’s serving as a COVID vaccine distribution center. And we’re keeping things ready for business. As I mentioned a bit earlier, the next big convention will be the Kiwanis International.
Matt Rascon: We have reason to be optimistic, it sounds like.
Mark White: I think we have a lot of reason to be optimistic. Our local economy is already strong, which bodes well for bringing in corporate travelers. We are not overly dependent upon one type of attraction. We have skiing for a couple more months, we have outdoor activities. We have a very welcoming, well maintained and large Convention Center. The Hyatt Regency will be opening its doors in fall of 2022, which in the world of conventions is like day after tomorrow. We have a brand-new world-class airport. So we have a lot of reason to be optimistic.
Matt Rascon: The Women and Leadership Project out of Utah State in December 2020 surveyed 100 Utah companies that frequently pop up on “best places to work lists” and they found that 92 percent of those companies offer some sort of flexibility now when it comes to working from home and flexible hours. Susan Madsen, the director of the Women and Leadership Project, believes the flexibility we’ve seen is here to stay.
Susan Madsen: I’ve done a lot of research in past years and actually published on change, and readiness for change. And one of the things that’s quite clear, is that when you start asking questions, so when you start making changes, people, your employees, expect more, they expect you to do something about it. So now that employees and managers are used to more flexibility, and maybe everything doesn’t have to be between eight and five, maybe you can homeschool your children, and then maybe you pick up a couple hours in the evening. That has been shown now to work for most organizations, particularly in the organizations those hundred organizations that we’ve interviewed. I don’t think there’s any way that organizations will go back to exactly what they’ve done in previous years. The flexibility that families are experiencing and companies have really adjusted to, for many companies has been shown to really be good moves. In fact, 94% of the companies that answered our survey said that they’ve actually seen higher employee satisfaction because of these family friendly and flexible project or policies. 80% said that they feel like when they’re more flexible, and have these other policies, it really helps the retention of employees and retention today is so important. And then 72% of companies who responded to our survey said that their employee engagement is higher when they offer these kinds of services. When we ask companies about the benefits, they see about 65% of companies said that they are actually seeing increased productivity. And so that’s an important element to think about.
Matt Rascon: And for Pure Storage HR director Maryna Storrs, figuring out what works for each company and employee is going to be key.
Maryna Storrs: One thing to keep in mind is that when we are moving forward with the future workforce or the work week, it’s clear that it’s not one size fits all. So to claim that we’re all going to be working remotely or to claim that we’re going to go back to the office, it’s going to be a hybrid that will allow to get to the best talent to get to the best work-life integration. And by the way, we’re not talking about work-life balance anymore, because especially if we’re going the route of remote work, it’s really hard to tell where the workday stops and the home life starts. So it truly is work-life integration moving forward. The considerations that we have as a company moving forward is, how do we balance the need of the business and the culture, because there are companies that are very much in the office collaborative, real time feedback type of a culture, where remote work could be a little bit of a challenge. There are companies that will fully allow people to go remote, and therefore people will choose where they live, they will choose the lifestyle that they want to have, and still be very productive in their professional lives.
Matt Rascon: Another important distinction–the work from home environment we are in now is not the work from home environment we will be in once schools go back to more regular in person sessions, once we are able to go into the office sometimes, and once we are able to have more of life outside of our homes turned offices.
Maryna Storrs: because we were all stuck at home, and quote, there was nothing better to do, people just worked, worked, worked. And so burnout became a major issue, because people put in a ton of extra hours working because they were confined to their homes. And it’s blessing a curse to have access to people across industries, subject matter, expertise. geos. And so you could connect with them, anytime, anywhere. And so that collaboration became hyper cooperation during that time. And again, it just caused a whole bunch of issues in terms of, I don’t even know if I’m working or if I’m having a life type of a thing. And some people thrive on that. But a lot of people did mention that zoom overload, a lack of clear boundaries, between work and life, waking up in the middle of the night with your thoughts turning, jumping on the computer, or catching an early or really a late call.
Cydni Tetro: I think one of the things that’s probably a theme we see in a lot of a lot of conversations is this empathetic leadership trend is accelerating. I believe that empathy and compassion will be one of the most valued leadership traits. And I don’t think it always was previously.
In a couple years from now, two to three years from now, we can get back to where we were and have made better progress on some fronts that had the pandemic not happened, what might have taken us decades, and instead, we can really change the trajectory.
Matt Rascon: A lot of change ahead for companies around the world–just this month Spain’s labor secretary announced the country is piloting a program to see how a 4-day, 32 hour work week impacts productivity. Like Cydni just said–changes that have been in the works, being researched and tested, forced to become more of the norm very quickly–and there’s no looking back now.
Thanks for joining us this week on KSL+. Join us next week when we look at lasting changes to education.
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