Travel industry and COVID-19, WFH, quarantining with family: a personal update

March 31, 2020

It feels like I’ve lived a lifetime since the last time I published on this site. According to the calendar, though, only 21 days have passed since then.

I started quarantining and working from home (WFH) 23 days ago. Seems like I got about a week head-start on most people in the U.S. My quarantine and WFH experience has been a little different than most for a couple key reasons:

  1. I’m living at home with my parents and grown brother.

    • He and I have different reasons for living at home. Mine is that I am between living abroad experiences, and I was only supposed to be here for 6 months. Obviously, my stay at home is extending.

  2. I work in leadership in a travel/tourism company, called Vacasa.

    • First, I acknowledge that everyone‘s professional life is being greatly impacted by the current pandemic, and I don’t intend to compare my work challenges to anyone else’s. What I am saying is, it’s been extremely rough at my job.

Quarantining with Family

My mom and dad have been working from home for the last two weeks. My brother works in a warehouse which is deemed essential business by the State of Oregon, and he has no WFH option. While this is worrisome, he is taking all the precautions he can.

The house isn’t big, but we have enough space. There are 4 bedrooms, one of which my dad has converted to a home office for himself, which is perfect because he talks to people on the phone all day. And he talks really loud. My mom posted up her laptop, monitor, and floor pad at the kitchen bar, where she stands and works all day. I set up my laptop and monitor at the dining room table, about 10 feet away from my mom, whose back faces me all day.

Overall these first two weeks of WFH together have gone better than expected. I’m lucky that my family and I all get along with each other for the most part, although I can’t say there haven’t been scuffles. We’re all trying to be conscious of the challenges one another are facing, and recognizing that all four of us are going stir crazy.

But there have been some strange interactions…

Yesterday, my 4th consecutive Saturday in quarantine, I closed myself in my room to work out, stretch, catch up on audio messages, and journal. After an hour and a half or so in there, my mom came knocking at my door. She sounded concerned.

  • “Honey… you ok in there?”

  • “Yes, mom. Just exercising.”

  • “Ok, just checking…”

Later, when I came out, she asked me what I was doing in my room all day with a hint of attitude. I explained to her. She said:

  • “Ok, it seemed like I upset you.”

  • I looked at her, baffled. “Why would it have seemed that way?” Mind you, I am an independent adult who just happens to live with my parents right now.

  • “Because when I came home from the store you went to your room.”

I reassured her that I had already planned to do those things in my room that day, and it had nothing to do with her. Seeming to not fully buy it, she replied sensitively, “Ok.”

It seemed so strange to me that she would think I was upset with her for simply being alone on a Saturday. Then I remembered that quarantine and WFH do weird things to all of us.

I chuckled and asked her if she was missing me since she’s used to spending all day with me for the last two weeks. She laughed and widened her eyes, as if this was the first time she had considered this idea, and said “You know, I think you’re onto something!”

Working in the travel industry during COVID-19

The most challenging part of the last two weeks has been work. I plan to write a more in-depth post on what it’s like to be on the inside of the travel industry amidst this crisis, but for this update, I’ll just share main points.

Vacasa manages 25,000+ short term vacation rentals in about 20 countries. I lead our international customer experience teams in Europe and Latin America. My Europe team got hit hard and fast with a spike in volume due to COVID-19 – they quickly found themselves in a 48-hour backlog of emails. On February 26th, the first confirmed case of coronavirus hit the U.S. Only four weeks after that, our 6,000-person company has laid off or furloughed over 80% of the workforce.

Given the pandemic and my position in the company, my teams have been working at over maximum capacity since March 13th. I’ve been working 6-7 days a week, and worked 14 days straight at 10-14 hours each in the first stretch. I jumped into the phone queue to take calls to support my team.

Conversations with customers have been both intense and rewarding. In talking to people from all over the U.S. and the world, I drew these main observations:

  • Most people have been extra kind and compassionate, even though they waited 2 hours to talk to a representative in many cases. This majority has a “we’re in this together” attitude.

  • Everyone is anxious due to uncertainty.

  • Some people have denied the severity of the crisis and feel completely inconvenienced by the shutdowns ruining their travel plans.

Sadly, I had to furlough half of my team on Friday. It was by far the most difficult thing I’ve had to do in 4+ years of working at Vacasa. The emotional strain of seeing so many fantastic coworkers get let go has been demoralizing.

Worlds collide

One weird thing about WFH with my mom means she hears all of my calls. When I hung up the call wherein I furloughed my team, she looked at me with tears in her eyes.

At first I thought, “Are you serious? Now is MY time to cry!” but then proceeded to comfort her. And then, I realized something beautiful.

This is a unique opportunity. Never before has my mom observed my work so closely, nor has my work been so intense. After going through the hardest week I’ve ever had with this company, she’s right there with me, understanding my pain, and acknowledging the difficulty. I don’t have to explain anything to her, and I don’t feel so alone in this struggle.

Plus, when I reassured her that everything would be alright, I subsequently reassured myself that everything would be alright! I let her know the great unemployment benefits my team will get, and reminded her that these furloughs are temporary, until we can bring our team back to their jobs. If she hadn’t been there, I would’ve just been sad alone, without being prompted to look at the positive.

Although sometimes I wish I had my own space, I feel lucky to not be quarantined alone. I’m thankful to be with my family. We’ve spent the last two Saturday nights playing games and thoroughly enjoying each other’s company – something we used to do only rarely. We’re learning more about each other and how to coexist under unideal circumstances.

Looking forward

These are weird times. Millions of people have been unemployed, and there’s a deadly virus spreading at rapid speed. Our healthcare system and economy are threatened. And we’re not allowed to leave our houses, so whether we are working or not, we are not getting our social needs met. We are out of our routines. Some people don’t even get to go outside at all. The cabin fever is real.

Although we can’t control our circumstances, we can (and must) control our response to them. Now it is more important than ever to watch our thoughts. We must make intentional efforts to counteract the mental, emotional, and physical strain of being at home all day and missing our friends. To keep myself aligned and in-check with where I want to be, I compiled a list of tasks to complete each day.

Daily quarantine checklist:

  1. Meditate

  2. Exercise

  3. Stretch

  4. Journal

  5. Cherish your family

  6. Express gratitude

If you’re able to step outside, I highly recommend this as well. A little fresh air goes a long way.

Reminders during this weird time:

  • Everyone is struggling mentally, emotionally, and physically from quarantine. Even if they do not realize it.

  • Everyone does or will know someone who is infected with COVID-19, and is subsequently impacted by the symptoms it causes.

  • Everyone will experience economic impact from this pandemic.

For these reasons, it’s important to:

  • Lead with an extra dose of compassion.

  • Show more patience than what you feel like you have available.

  • Remember that no matter what, it could always be worse.

There’s a long road ahead with this coronavirus. It could be years or decades before we establish a new normal. Nobody knows exactly what that path will look like, but I do know it’ll be the shortest road possible if we act like we are in it together.