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Utah Business

In our latest roundtable, Utah tech executives gather to discuss the future of work after the pandemic.

Tech executives discuss the future of work

This month, Utah Business partnered with Comcast to host a roundtable event featuring Utah’s tech leaders speaking on tech trends, innovation in a pandemic, and coming back to the office. Moderated by Cydni Tetro, CEO of Brandless and founder and president of Women Tech Council, here are a few highlights from the event. 

2020 was one of the most active years in tech in a very long time. What is driving that growth?

Wes Swenson | Founder & CEO | Novva Data Centers

For our business, the geographic boundaries have really changed for our clients―where they used to be very proximate customers to their own server locations, now they want to spread their servers out. But I think that also goes with Utah’s business climate; it’s a well-managed state economically, so it brings a lot of stability, and clients want to come here. The airport makes it easy; it’s a nonstop flight for a lot of our clients and investors. What more could you ask for as far as ease of travel?

Wendy Rand | CHRO | InMoment

About two weeks before the pandemic hit, we closed an acquisition with a company that further globalized InMoment. So we had an opportunity to travel around to all the different parts of the world to our new offices and welcome people into InMoment―but then we went into lockdown. So we’ve had the unique challenge of becoming a combined company that increased significantly in size with the MaritzCX acquisition, and so our focus really was more so from a global perspective, integrating the two companies together and creating what that new combined company offering would be as well as the combined company culture, so I’d say it’s been a broader focus than Utah specifically.

Carlee Brennan |  Chief of Staff & Director of Administration | Blyncsy

When we’ve had a couple of positions open this year where we were able to hire, I noticed almost all of the applicants were coming from the Bay Area, or New York, and places like that, so some of that tech talent is really helping support and sustain that ecosystem that we have in the tech industry here in Utah.

What are some of the top technology trends that you think are going to impact either businesses or consumers through 2021?

Kim Wittman | VP of Talent, Acquisition, & HR | Vivint Smart Home

AI continues to be a really important focus across many tech industries and technologies, specifically for Vivint as we look at the home becoming even more prominent in our lives where we work. It’s not just where we live and raise our families and grow, it’s where we work and do so much within our communities. Having foresight as to what will happen for our customers and being able to predict those experiences continues to be really important, and that spans across many different technologies.

Carlos Johnson | Director of Sales Engineering, Mountain West Region | Comcast

Work-life integration is huge no matter what industry or career you’re in. I was speaking with one of my peers yesterday whose entire family is huge into CrossFit, and they do it on a daily basis, they’ve been gym members for quite some time. And during the pandemic, they rebuilt their garage into their own personal gym. They’ve hired remote coaches that are outside of the state that they connect with on a daily basis, and there’s no thought of them ever going back to the gym. I think over a broad array of different areas of focus, there’s certainly going to be that consideration of how we can more integrate work, our work environment, and a life environment versus having a work versus life balance focus.

Kerry Desberg | CMO | Impartner

I’m sitting here in Seattle, haven’t been able to see my team live for a year, and I can’t believe what we’ve been able to get done. And when you talk about acceleration: somewhere near the beginning of this pandemic I heard somebody at Microsoft say that digital transformation that was taking two years is taking two months, and as a company, we absolutely see this.

How have your interactions with customers changed in this remote-only world or how have you had to focus on what the customer experience is?

Carlee Brennan |  Chief of Staff & Director of Administration | Blyncsy

For Blyncsy, we are in quite a traditional industry―transportation. It’s very relationship-based, the sales cycle is very long, and many months or years is spent cultivating these relationships―so it certainly has been a challenge for us to figure out how to build those same kinds of relationships and trust with customers virtually. But we have done some things, we’ve been creating videos of how certain features are used and how they walk through the product and sending those to clients. 

Kim Wittman | VP of Talent, Acquisition, & HR | Vivint Smart Home

At the beginning of the pandemic, you were not able to purchase one of our products through our app. This has all changed and accelerated as we’ve looked at how we interact with our customers―even figuring out how to get our direct-to-home sales reps to a customer’s house, and how to do that in a way that helped our customers feel very safe and also our sales force, and improve that interaction. So given the option of “do it yourself”―which we always had a DIY option―accelerated that and also created additional information for our customers. 

Wendy Rand | CHRO | InMoment

In the experience improvement space, something that we recently did was make another acquisition of a company called Wootric, coming in the beginning of the year, which enhanced our digital functionality. And so we could have much more targeted in-app types of technology that could make sure that we gathered feedback at critical moments that matter for our customers and the target audiences that they’re going after. And so that’s enabling us to further enhance and innovate faster because we’re able to give customers enhanced solutions.

What has changed this year in terms of how your companies are innovating in this remote world?

Amelia Wilcox | Founder & CEO | Zenovate

We actually started using a tool called Volley, which is basically Marco Polo for business. And so we’ve done a lot of collaborating on Volley, where you still get that face-to-face video, but then it’s asynchronous so it’s not as interruptive. And we’ve cut back on our meetings a lot, which has given us more time to focus on actual product development and all the thinking things that we have to do outside of meetings―because meetings can kind of just take over your life when done on Zoom. You just find the tools that you need and learn to adapt. [Our innovation cycles have] actually gone faster. We launched our new product 12 weeks after we furloughed our entire team, because COVID shut us down to zero. And 12 weeks later, we had a new product and an expanded business model.

Wes Swenson | Founder & CEO | Novva Data Centers

We’ve never had to develop a site remotely, but we did adapt to it pretty well. We did encounter some supply chain issues. Trying to work with vendors, to get materials and to change things, low voltage lighting, solar, you name it a completely different experience for something that we would normally fly to a showroom, go to Virginia to look at equipment, things like that. We’ve got people walking around with their iPhones, filming a factory floor, which is not something we’re used to.

Carlee Brennan |  Chief of Staff & Director of Administration | Blyncsy

We implemented a daily virtual coffee break. In the beginning, it was sort of just a forum for water cooler talk really, but it’s morphed into a place where people can brainstorm or bring problems, challenges they’re working on. And it’s become this collaborative environment where the product team can say, “Hey, I’m having this challenge. What do you think about this feature?”

What will your office experience look like once we’re “back in the office”?

Mike Bills | COO | AtlasRTX

We’re very much an outlier. We are mostly in-person right now and have been since June and so our culture is something that’s really, really important to us. We believe it’s perhaps our most important competitive advantage. We have a handful of remote people where there’s an important reason why they need to be remote. Us being together is really essential and I realize that may be controversial, and we’ve managed to do it without having any COVID issues at all. So in that way, we’ve been both good and lucky. Going forward, it’s going to look a lot the same, except there’ll be a lot less of the medical protocol than what we have to deal with currently. 

Kim Wittman | VP of Talent, Acquisition, & HR | Vivint Smart Home

[If we have] a really good leader who can set clear expectations, can have good process and accountability, then the remote options work really, really well. You have to have really strong leaders that can lead people when they’re not sitting next to them every day. It takes a different style of leadership.

Will you hire remote-only roles? Or will you expect that in the future we’ll hit hybrid? 

Mike Bills | COO | AtlasRTX

At our current scale, we do put a premium on being in-person. So I can’t see us having a job that is designated as remote only, but I can see us, as we hit a bigger scale and also reach a point where we simply can’t fill everything locally, where we would have to be hybrid. But again, we may be marching to the beat of a different drummer. I mean, I do recognize that there is certainly a change in the labor force out there. A lot of people simply are going to expect that that’s what all jobs are. And so we may very well have to respond to that.

Kim Wittman | VP of Talent, Acquisition, & HR | Vivint Smart Home

It’s also really challenging to create connections virtually. Part of the success that we all saw in going remote at the beginning of the pandemic is we had years of side-by-side connection with individuals that we were building off of. We’ve now started to see some of these kinds of conflicts start to happen within teams that wouldn’t have normally happened with small decision-making that isn’t being collaborated in the same way. And so that’s a huge barrier and people changing jobs as they’re starting to see some of that conflict and then having to build those connections remotely is just super challenging. 

What have you started working on this year around diversity and inclusion? 

Wendy Rand | CHRO | InMoment

We’ve been either evolving or establishing different employee resource groups. We have one called the Women of InMoment. The focus of that group has been on education, awareness, connection, as well as community impact. And what we found inside of the company was that there was a gap. When folks were at a stage in their career where they were an individual contributor, it was pretty even in terms of what we saw from a gender perspective. But then once you started getting into people management and people leadership, there started to be a decline in women. The balance started becoming much more uneven. We believe if we create an inclusive environment, the diversity will follow, but from an inclusivity standpoint, we’ve really tried to provide different opportunities for everyone across the enterprise to engage in. 

Kim Wittman | VP of Talent, Acquisition, & HR | Vivint Smart Home

We’ve created what we call the Diversity and Inclusion Board, and it was actually made up of individuals within our organization and they did a listening tour. We found stories from our field service employees about experiences they’ve had in customers’ homes and how that’s impacted them. It actually almost gets me a little emotional thinking about some of the things that they shared, because that was actually the point which is to not just have education on us, but to share that so that it helps create empathy within our organization. So our technology teams, as an example, could create tools that were efficient within the home and could create ways for people to navigate that.

Carlos Johnson | Director of Sales Engineering, Mountain West Region | Comcast

From an employee representation perspective, inclusion has certainly been a key focus within the Comcast corporation for as long as I’ve been here. But over the past year with just a lot of the civil unrest and different things transpired, we recognized that there was a need to even double down on that. So we also launched our DE&I council, which ultimately created a platform that is kind of pushing down those conversations all the way to the frontline and can really talk about the fact that, hey, you want to get the feedback from some of your frontline employees on what they’re experiencing, but then also making sure that you’re having those conversations within every department, within every team so that they really understand what others are experiencing.

Mike Bills | COO | AtlasRTX

Diversity, equity, and inclusion is firmly baked into the culture of our company and that probably starts because our founder and CEO is a first-generation immigrant from Egypt. But you can’t just rely on the lived experience of one person to then infuse the entire culture. So one of the things that is extremely important to us is to have an equity mindset. And that’s a term that comes from a scholar at USC, Estela Mara Bensimon. To maintain that [mindset], we have to hire the right people. So we have a really rigorous hiring process. We have a [culture] committee that has broad representation that [talks] to the candidate [and] that’s where most people will fall out. And that’s where we are engaging them in issues related to their values and to how inclusive they’re going to be, what type of humility that they have. So if they’re not the right kind of person, then they’re just not going to come in. And that helps a whole lot with maintaining a healthy atmosphere for everybody.

Lindsay Bicknell is the project coordinator for Utah Business magazine. A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, she graduated from Miami University of Oxford with a degree in communications. She has a background in television, print, and web media, as well as public relations and event planning. As a transplant to Salt Lake City, she can't get enough of the mountains and loves snowboarding.

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