Scott Anderson, president of Zions Bank shares what he’s learned while working at home
As I sit at my kitchen table “office,” I clearly remember the event that made the COVID-19 pandemic very real to me. It was March 11th and like many Utahns, I was looking forward to sitting down, turning on the TV, and watching the Utah Jazz battle the Oklahoma City Thunder. Then word started to spread that the game was cancelled.
That was only a few months ago, but it seems like a lifetime because our world has changed so dramatically. It has become our generation’s greatest economic, lifestyle, and medical challenge.
After several weeks of working at my kitchen table all day long―I think I’m driving my wife, Jesselie, a little crazy― I’m glad the state is starting to open up. I’m getting back to my downtown office more regularly, although our building is mostly deserted.
Working from home is a big change for me. My entire career (too many decades to reveal!) has been spent in an office. I’ve always enjoyed working around other people, seeing my associates in the break room and halls and elevators, assembling a group in a conference room, or dropping by a colleague’s office to check on a project. I’ve found it stimulating to bounce ideas off coworkers and I like the buzz of a busy office.
Working at home is much different but I’ve found I can still be productive, perhaps even more so in some ways. I have far fewer interruptions and there’s not much else to do, so I just work at my kitchen table. We have a home office, but that has been Jesselie’s domain for many years and it wouldn’t have been good for my marriage to try to encroach on her space. So she gets the office. I get the kitchen table.
I’ve always put in long hours. In my past routine, I’d regularly hit my downtown gym by 5:30 am and I’d be in the office about 6:30. I frequently had lunches and dinners. Now, I’m usually up and turning on the computer by 6:30 am . With no in-person meetings and nowhere to go, I stay at the computer until about 8 pm, then Jesselie and I have dinner, and I’m back on the computer from 9:00 to midnight. I still have numerous meetings (some with as many as 800 people) but they’re all online and I’m still constantly on the phone.
Since working from home, I’ve found that I work longer and sit a lot more. Jesselie and I do get in an occasional walk in the evening, but I need more exercise to compensate for the extra snacking I do with the refrigerator and snack cupboard in very close proximity!
I’ve discovered there’s a certain culture to being homebound. As an older fella, I’ve had to learn a lot of new technology. I’ve learned to use Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, and a Cisco system for webinars and videoconferencing. I’ve even learned to share my screen! I also learned how to upload a Zoom background so it looks like you’re sitting in the White House Oval Office, at a golf course, or in the mountains. If I learned how to do that, I might even be tempted to get a laptop with a camera so I could be seen sitting at a beach in Hawaii.
I’ve enjoyed the quirks and culture of Zoom. I don’t have a camera on my laptop, so I can see other webinar participants, but I show up as a black box labeled “Scott.” I like it that way. Being present but unseen has its benefits, I don’t need to dress to impress and I can multi-task. I was recently on a call with the American Bankers Association board of directors. It was almost miraculous that no one had a suit or tie on. I’ve never seen a bunch of bankers so casual. Some were even in T-shirts.
It’s interesting to see people’s home environments. I’ve noticed a few unmade beds and messy kitchen counters. I read a fun article in Forbes magazine on how to impress people on Zoom. You can prop skis up in the background, or position a nice family portrait, or get your dog to sit by your side. Of course, I still prefer to show up as a black box.
I expect we’ll never return to life as it was previously, and some of the change will be good. Trends that were occurring anyway, some driven by millennials, are accelerating. Telecommuting, distance learning, and a more casual working environment are here to stay. Rural living will be enabled by fast Internet connections and better air quality and less congestion will be the result. I believe we can learn to do things better and rise to the challenge.
Personally, I’m looking forward to getting back to the office. But I’ll still be in a lot of Zoom meetings. The question is whether I’m seen on a beach in Hawaii, or as a black box.
This article is part of a month-long work from home series where executives and entrepreneurs discuss how they’ve adjusted to remote work. Read more here.