Productivity lessons learned: 6 CIOs share tips for you and your team

What have you learned about work-life balance during the last year and a half? CIOs share lessons learned to help leaders and their teams
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In our new hybrid work reality, many people in IT have enjoyed the flexibility to rewrite the rules on work-life balance. But it’s been a learning curve, says Kumud Kalia, CIO, Guardant Health.

“As we moved to remote working for most of our employees, it became evident that time management had become much more of a juggling act between work, childcare/schooling, and miscellaneous personal priorities without a clear separation between these various activities. We already had flexible working hours for many of our employees, but we found that Zoom fatigue was real and added to the already unrelenting demands upon our people,” says Kalia.

We asked CIOs who recently won the 2021 Bay Area CIO of the Year ORBIE Awards for their best productivity tips and lessons learned on work-life balance over the last year and a half. The awards were presented by the Bay Area CIO Leadership Association, a professional community that annually recognizes CIOs for their excellence in technology leadership.

From being intentional and selective, to setting the right examples from the top, learn how these award-winning CIOs are making the most of their workday - and encouraging their teams to do the same.

Be intentional about maximizing productivity

Leadership CIO of the Year

Ralph Loura

Ralph Loura, SVP & CIO, Lumentum: Much has been written about work-life balance, or the reframed idea of work-life integration. I have three thoughts about managing your time in the current environment:

  • Be intentional. Don’t let your calendar/day happen to you, be intentional about what meetings you accept and how you structure the flow of your day. Include time for thinking, exercise, connecting with people, and other goals in addition to your structured meetings.
  • Change your surroundings periodically. Move out of your home office and into the dining room, take a meeting from your backyard or even just move from one side of your office to the other. When you feel you are in a rut, change things up to keep it fresh.
  • If you are interacting with people internationally, bunch up meetings as much as you can so you can have one week where you are early all week, one week where you are late, etc so you aren’t burning the candle on both ends all the time.

Productivity depends on healthy team culture

Super Global CIO of the Year

Mark Papermaster

Mark Papermaster, CTO & EVP, Technology and Engineering, AMD: Leadership sets the culture, and the culture in turn determines how well an organization operates. The right culture can lead to high performing employees, innovative approaches, good communication, and a sense of teamwork. My best advice is to be clear on the culture expectations – write them down, share them with the team frequently, and demonstrate them every day.

At AMD, there’s no lack of innovation in our ongoing IT transformation. We’re relying on fluid communications and diverse talent to achieve our most ambitious goals. We’ve found that empowering technologists to openly share ideas, tackle challenges, and manage bandwidths has led to some of our greatest breakthroughs.

Be selective, effective, and protective

Large Enterprise CIO of the Year

Tom Rodden

Tom Rodden, CIO & SVP, Varian Medical Systems: For me and for anyone who asks me for advice on how to be productive, I share my three-part approach: be selective, be effective, and be protective.

  • Be selective: Consciously choose how to spend your time. Many of us get enough meeting invitations to fill our calendars all day every day. You simply cannot attend all those meetings and accomplish the things you really need to do. Take a second to think about the meeting – can you delegate? Is there a colleague who can handle this without me joining? Sometimes, people are invited because the organizer is being polite and inclusive, but an army is not needed and in fact may make the meeting less successful.
  • Be effective: Demand an agenda for every meeting. Model this by making a point of providing a clear agenda for every meeting you set up. When the meeting is “effective,” it should be “one and done.” You don’t need to spend time figuring out what the agenda should have been in the meeting itself and then have a follow up. You provide the agenda in advance, and get work done during the meeting. That is effective.
  • Be protective: You should protect time on your calendar for yourself. Many people treat the free time in their calendars as the time to get their real work done. But left simply as “free” time, you may find that it gets consumed by a steady flow of meeting requests until you don’t have enough (or any) free time left.

Plan your day around your productivity levels – it’s different for everyone

Large Corporate CIO of the Year

Colleen Berube

Colleen Berube, CIO & SVP Operations, Zendesk: Do your best work at your most productive time of day. The benefit of being remote is that it gives you more flexibility to align your schedule so that it works best for you (as much as meetings and Zoom calls will allow!). For me, early morning is my most productive and good for heads-down work without distraction, so I start early and use that time before meetings tend to take over.

Know when to walk away. It’s tough when you’re in an office environment to truly break from what you’re working on - even if you go to lunch, it’s often to talk about work. Working remotely allows you to truly take a break – get outside, go for a walk, meditate, or exercise with less impact on your schedule. I find these things make a big difference to your mental health and being on top of your game.

Try new things, and know when to pivot

Corporate CIO of the Year

Kamud Kalia

Kumud Kalia, CIO, Guardant Health: We’ve tried a few things to see if they would help with productivity. Starting meetings at five minutes past the hour or half-hour allowed a few minutes here and there to take a break, attend to another task, grab a refreshment, and provide some relief across the tightly scheduled day. It was also well-received when we declared a moratorium on lunch hour meetings. Things like team happy hours were useful at the beginning but soon became just another Zoom interaction when people were looking for a break, so these faded away. 

With many of our employees on-boarded remotely through the pandemic, we’re seeing increased demand for people to come onsite, even if infrequently, and we’ve implemented protocols to keep people safe as we facilitate in-person interactions. Some technology has helped here, with apps to control access to buildings as well as to reserve and find space within our buildings. 

Send a clear message that work-life balance matters

Public Sector CIO of the Year

Edward Kopetsky

Edward Kopetsky, SVP & CIO, Stanford Children’s Health: As a leader it is critical that we emphasize and reinforce work-life balance through consistent communication and “walking the talk.” Allowing employees space to openly discuss and strategize solutions goes a long way toward overall wellness and engagement. We implemented standard work times including two half days as “meeting -free zones” and discourage email before and after business hours. 

I also encourage people working at home to designate and limit a specific space for work and avoid doing business in other areas in the home. I even found dressing for work, even when working from home, helps me mentally separate work from personal time. It is also too easy in the virtual world to not disconnect, but as leaders we set the example and need to reinforce downtime including breaks, meals, and paid time off when we truly disconnect. 

[ Culture matters. Download the Ebook: The IT executive's guide to building open teams for advice on how to develop an organizational culture that fosters innovation and keeps teams unified. ]

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.  

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