Sheri Rhodes, CIO at Workday, set up a space for her dogs in her makeshift home office. Photo: Sheri Rhodes By Jared Council Close
Chief information officers in 2020 made remote work possible for their companies. They also strove to make their home offices comfortable for themselves.
Some went for decked-out arrangements with fancy décor and atypical backgrounds. Others went for simpler, sometimes even makeshift, workstations.
Some IT executives are still fine-tuning their setups.
“I do find myself rearranging my environment on an ongoing basis, shaking things up to stay productive,” Jacqui Guichelaar, group chief information officer at Cisco Systems Inc., and one of 45 IT executives who responded via email to CIO Journal’s annual end-of-year questionnaire on topics including their home offices.
“I’m on my third different configuration,” Ms. Guichelaar said. “It might last or it might not, stay tuned!”
CIOs played a big role helping address employee technology and networking needs amid a massive shift to remote working. But the past nine months have also involved these executives figuring out their own work-from-home configurations, which may remain necessary after offices reopen.
In a recent survey of member companies by IT trade group CompTIA, 54% of respondents said nearly all employees worked in company offices before the pandemic. Only 19% said they expect that to be the case going forward.
Karen Higgins-Carter, CIO at Webster Financial Corp. and its Webster Bank, created a workspace with fine touches, which she said has an “unapologetically feminine aesthetic.”
“The walls are painted a deep aubergine shade,“ she said, ”accented with copper silk curtains with an intricate brocade trim, with two midcentury chairs recovered in mohair and French antiques for my desk and storage.”
The home office of Jahmy Hindman, chief technology officer at Deere & Co., is at the simpler end of the spectrum. “My home workspace is not very impressive. I’ve set a desk up in a spare bedroom!” Mr. Hindman said. “To make it my own, I have a John Deere toy tractor placed in a prominent location on the desk!”
Sheri Rhodes, CIO at Workday Inc., dedicated space for pets and other personal items. “I have my dogs nearby, a chair for the dogs (of course!), family pictures, lumbar support, all my electronics, and old fashioned sticky notes…plus I’m close to the coffee maker!”
Bookshelves have been the background of choice for many during the work-from-home era, but some tech leaders went for different backdrops.
Hitachi Vantara CIO Tim Langley-Hawthorne said that on the wall behind him is an “intricate hand-woven tapestry” that he purchased in Rajasthan, India, that often sparks discussions on video calls. Hitachi Vantara is a subsidiary of global technology company Hitachi Ltd.
Sri Shivananda, chief technology officer at PayPal Holdings Inc., said his background includes a display case with “a lot of old technologies that I respect as innovations of their time—a Remington typewriter from 1900s, a Kodak Brownie from 1910s, a candlestick phone from the 1920s and a movie projector from the 1930s.”
Edward Wagoner, digital CIO at Jones Lang LaSalle, Inc., has situated his in-home office in front of a wet bar in his basement, and he said it serves more than a visual purpose. “Because admit it…you’ve been on a couple of video calls that would drive one to drink,” he said.
For Mr. Wagoner and others, standing desks have become a requirement. PG&E Corp. CIO Ajay Waghray has one as part of what he calls his “cozy, library-style” office, and VMware Inc. CIO Jason Conyard uses one in rotation with an exercise ball. Brian Fox, CTO and co-founder of Sonatype Inc., said his standing desk helps him during presentations.
“It best simulates the typical podium setup and resulting physical and verbal cues leading to a more dynamic presentation,” Mr. Fox said.
Finding the perfect arrangement has been a journey for some. Elizabeth Hackenson, CIO at Schneider Electric, said in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic she had to find whatever room was “available and quiet” because several other family members were also working remotely.
“We had to move to get more space and so now I have a home office but still need to remind family that I am working,” she said.
David Vidoni, vice president of information technology at Pegasystems Inc., said at the beginning of the pandemic his desk comprised a folding card table, a folding chair and a monitor placed on a couple reams of paper.
He now has a standing desk, a bar-height chair and multiple monitors. To ensure his space isn’t all work, Mr. Vidoni set up a Pac-Man/Galaga videogame console nearby “for some quick breaks,” he said.
For Cathy Bessant, chief operations and technology officer at Bank of America Corp., an element of the makeshift arrangement she built at the beginning of the pandemic still works well. “I wanted a certain ideal height and angle for my videoconferencing so I used Jenga blocks to raise up my laptop,” she said. “It seems to be working fine for now but I will be very happy when I can return to the office.
Some IT executives don’t have one permanent location for working from home. Linda Jojo, executive vice president of technology and chief digital officer at United Airlines Holdings Inc., said she’s “not accustomed to spending my entire day all in one place.” So she rotates between her office, the dining room table, and when the weather was nice, outside on her deck.
Seth Cohen, global CIO at PepsiCo Inc., said he has to improvise “to share unconventional office space with my family” and that he uses a green screen to “change my backgrounds daily.”
For those who have settled into a comfortable environment, it may not last. Peter Settel, enterprise chief technology officer at American Family Insurance said his home office features great views, natural light, bookshelves and his jazz records.
But the room was previously a private space for his wife and “the night-night spot” for his dogs, and he may soon have to surrender the spot.
“Not everyone is as happy with the new setup,” he said. “So, part of ‘new normal’ as we go forward is to return my office to its old normal and I need to figure out my plan B. Ask me again in a few months.”
Write to Jared Council at [email protected]
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