Never before have the pros and cons of working from home become more obvious than in 2020, as the coronavirus initiated a mass exodus from corporate offices worldwide. In the early days, employees reveled in their ability to sleep in and spend more time with the family.\nSoon the warped reality of the pandemic set in. Workdays grew longer in the absence of daily commutes. Workers\u2019 eyes glazed over as they sit through a marathon of daily Zoom meetings. Their fingers\u2019 spidered across keyboards and touchscreens, as they anxiously answered emails into the night.\n[ Learn from your peers: Check out our State of the CIO 2020 report on the challenges and concerns of CIOs today. | Find out the 7 skills of successful digital leaders and the secrets of highly innovative CIOs. | Get weekly insights by signing up for our CIO Leader newsletter. ]\nThe New Normal is something of a real-life Twilight Zone, whose effects on productivity, well-being and other aspects bear watching. While 63 percent of 20,000 employees surveyed by Lenovo in May say they feel more productive working from home (WFH), many cite reduced personal connections with colleagues, trouble balancing work and home life and domestic distractions as downsides to #WFHlife.\n\u201cThe distinction between work life and personal life is gone,\u201d says Guardant Health CIO Kumud Kalia. \u201cThings that seemed unprofessional six months ago are now seen as routine.\u201d\nCIOs who have seen the good, bad and ugly of this new way of working offer their tips for keeping employees focused and productive during the work-from-home period.\u00a0\nBe flexible\nThis WFH experiment is new for most workers, so show patience with staff struggling to balance being present for their families with getting work done, Guardant\u2019s Kalia says. Recognize that kids are going to Zoombomb. Also, stress will elevate as parents prepare to send their children back to school for the first time in months. \u201cThere\u2019s no one-size-fits-all solution to this,\u201d Kalia says.\nIt\u2019s also incumbent on IT leaders to ease transitions of new hires. That\u2019s a big reason why Kalia rolled out Barista, a chatbot that helps with remote onboarding by answering questions about corporate benefits, tech support, where to get cybersecurity training and other inquiries. Employees access the software through the company\u2019s Slack interface.\nFacilitate regular communications\nNetApp CIO Bill Miller checks in with his team regularly and asks that his direct reports do the same to offer support, help with challenges and stay connected. This has elevated his IT staff\u2019s relationships as they\u2019ve worked through the challenges of working remotely. \u201cWe need human interaction and being mindful to make sure that happens is important to keep morale high,\u201d Miller says. \u201cWe\u2019re all in this together.\u201d\nOldcastle APG staff punctuate their work week with virtual coffee breaks, Lunch and Learns and TED Talks, says Kim Trevisan, CIO of the construction company. If nothing else, these virtual outings keeps people who would normally see each other daily more connected to their colleagues.\nThe meeting before the meeting\nMake meetings more meaningful by offering \u201cpre-read\u201d material through collaboration channels, giving each person time to share, says Miller. \u201cThis is something that didn\u2019t always happen in a conference room because the biggest voices often dominated the conversation,\u201d Miller says. This helps keep meetings shorter and productive, providing shy employees more comfort in sharing. That\u2019s \u201cbringing to light more ideas, more perspectives and deepening the feeling of inclusion and belonging,\u201d Miller says.\nCommScope CIO Karen Renner limits her meetings to 50 minutes and records them so that staff who can\u2019t make every meeting can catch up on their own timeline.\nInformalize, and mobilize, the meeting\nEquifax CTO Bryson Koehler encourages individual staff to initiate impromptu video calls that last only about 5 minutes, a reprieve from the grind of back-to-back calls. \u201cA five-minute video calls replaces a hallway conversation,\u201d Koehler says. \u201cPeople are mentally exhausted, so we\u2019re trying to be more thoughtful about meetings.\u201d\nAt Land O\u2019Lakes, CIO Ted Bekele urges his staff to take their video meeting mobile, going for a walk to stretch their legs. When possible, limit meetings to 6 or 7 people, which encourages more people to engage.\nWrite once, read it tomorrow\nUnless it\u2019s an emergency, you don\u2019t need to reply to that email late at night. \u201cIf I am shooting off emails at midnight, everyone else is going to feel like they need to do the same,\u201d says CommScope CIO Karen Renner. \u201cWork-life balance starts with the examples we set.\u201d\nFollow Trevisan\u2019s practice at Oldcastle: Compose an email later in the evening \u2014 while it\u2019s fresh in your head \u2014 but schedule it to be sent the next day. That way staff don\u2019t feel the anxiety of reading, let alone responding to, a work email before bed, part of the optics of maintaining work-life balance, such as it remains. Trevisan adds: \u201cIt\u2019s not work-life balance; it\u2019s work-life integration.\u201d\nMonitor workplace productivity\nBurnout often presents as slow, insidious creeper rather than a histrionic breakdown. If the cadence of high-performing employees begins to bog down that could be a warning sign.\nLand O\u2019Lakes monitors employee productivity trends with Microsoft Workplace Analytics, which tracks anything from how engaged employees are through work devices, Microsoft Teams sessions and instant messages. With that data, Bekele can see whether staff are working longer hours and recommend time off and pursue a healthier work-life balance.\nFacilitate family time fun\nThat work now happens at home means employees\u2019 domestic lives will overlap, so encourage people to share more. Equifax staff share photos of how they\u2019re unwinding and conduct family introductions. Staff at Land O\u2019Lakes allot their children video conference time to show off their Lego creations. Guardant employees designate a time to read stories to colleagues\u2019 children.\n\u201cWe are seeing creative, virtual socials such as pet shows and chatting with the kids,\u201d Renner says. \u201cThese are a fun way of lightening the load, bonding and taking some time as a team to relax.\u201d\nMandate rest and relaxation\nCommScope employees are incentivized to take all their vacation time each year to get refreshed and recharged regularly, Renner says. She adds that automated reminders in email that remind staff to schedule time off regularly on their calendars.\nHow do CIOs know these tips are working? \u201cPeople still feel a good sense of purpose of what we're trying to accomplish despite the cultural transition of working from home,\u201d Trevisan says.