Logging Off: Overtaxed CIOs Find Balance in Hikes, Pandemic Puppies

Corporate technology leaders are stepping outside of the technology bubble to unwind from the stress of keeping companies running during the coronavirus pandemic.

Many are turning to non-tech hobbies such as cooking, hiking and gardening.

“Tomatoes! I let my inner gardener come out during lockdown,” said

Linda Jojo,

executive vice president of technology and chief digital officer for United Airlines Holdings Inc. “I planted tomatoes from seeds and made a killer pasta sauce,” she said. “I’ll have homemade pasta sauce all winter long.”

Edward Wagoner, digital chief information officer at commercial real estate services company Jones Lang LaSalle Inc., said he worked his way through an entire cookbook by Ina Garten, host of the Food Network program “Barefoot Contessa.”

“Who knew celery root could be used in so many recipes?” said Mr. Wagoner, who also adopted an Australian Shepherd puppy, he said.

Mr. Wagoner was one of 45 IT executives who responded via email to CIO Journal’s annual end-of-year questionnaire on remote work and other issues.

Linda Jojo, right, United Airlines’ executive vice president of technology and chief digital officer.


United Airlines Inc.

With the added demands of rolling out and managing remote work and business-continuity software tools, overworked information technology chiefs are pressing the refresh button whenever possible to avoid burnout.

“In the beginning, I was attending too many meetings, working around the clock, losing the thinking time I needed, and not clearing space to recharge,” said Target Corp. CIO Mike McNamara. “Things had to change,” he said.


Microsoft Corp.

study found that in the four months after an internal 350-person team at the company moved to remote work in March, managers and employees worked an average of four more hours a week. They also had more meetings, sent 52{c33c21346ff5e26ab8e0ae3d29ae4367143f0d27c235e34c392ea37decdb8bed} more instant messages between 6 p.m. and midnight and worked more hours on weekends, according to the study.

To help lessen the load, tech leaders and other executives are setting strict parameters to hem in the sense IT workers may have of being on call around the clock. That includes clear-cut shifts, daily breaks and additional time off, CIOs said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends employers foster open communication between co-workers, managers and corporate officials about job-related stress. It says developing a consistent daily routine can help relieve workplace pressure—even when the workplace is a home office—by providing structure and a sense of control.

Webster Financial Corp. CIO Karen Higgins-Carter says she has tried to separate working life from home, in part by sticking to a schedule at the beginning and end of each workday.

“I miss the mental separation a daily commute provided,” Ms. Higgins-Carter says. “As a substitute, I walk my dog every morning,” she said. The daily routine enables her to fence off the start of her working day, she adds, though she still struggles to control the end of it.

Another go-to for busy tech executives is the sanity walk, a popular Covid-era breather.

“I take time to be outside during the day, walk around and disengage from the all-video-all-the-time mentality,” says Penelope Prett, CIO at tech-consulting firm



Vijay Ratnaparkhe, CIO of German engineering company Robert Bosch GmbH, says he enjoys exploring nature near his home in Stuttgart, Germany. “There is a nice lake close to my apartment and being out there for a walk or a run, as well as doing some yoga, brings me good balance for my daily work,” Mr. Ratnaparkhe says.

For many, a side benefit of lockdowns and remote workplaces is the opportunity to work from just about anywhere. Ford Motor Co. CIO Jeff Lemmer says he relocated his office from Dearborn, Mich., to a more bucolic setting in northern Michigan. “Nothing better than going for an evening bike ride along the Lake Huron shoreline,” Mr. Lemmer said.

On the downside, working from home is forcing many executives—and their staff—to juggle competing demands from work and a full stay-at-home household.

“During the lockdowns we had one high-schooler, one middle-schooler, two college kids, two dogs and two rabbits in our home,” said

Peter Settel,

enterprise chief technology officer at American Family Mutual Insurance Co.

Still, Mr. Settle’s list of stress relievers includes dinner and television time with his wife and kids, as well as listening to music and jogging, he said.

Likewise, PepsiCo Inc. CIO Seth Cohen said he is able to take breaks throughout the day and spend time with his family, something he was never able to do at the office.

“Dinner is when we are able to sit down together and I can unplug from work,” Mr. Cohen said.

Write to Angus Loten at [email protected]

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