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Mutable Moments at SAP


Two years ago I remember sitting in a conference room at SAP in Newtown Square, coming to the end of a long day of workshops. Some of us were locals, but most people had traveled from all over the world, so at the end of an intense day of sessions, the usual small talk started. Best local places to eat, where are you staying, hometowns, and eventually, family.

I can still remember the looks around the table when I revealed my little secret.

I am a mother. A mother of four young children. A mother of four children with a fulltime job. Who’s doing a great job and having fun while I do it. I’m not saying it’s easy, or that it’s for everyone, but it is possible. A big part of what makes it possible for me is the work from home flexibility SAP offers.

Work from home flexibility is a win for me and for SAP. It gives SAP a huge competitive advantage in attracting and retaining mothers with young children. And why wouldn’t it want to, moms are some of the most efficient and productive members of the work force. I’ve done two loads of laundry, packed four lunches, tended to two dogs, gotten four children on the bus with smiles on their faces before most people are at their desks. After they’ve gone to school, the memory of their smiles as I waved to them as the bus pulled away lets me shed the guilt I used to contend with. The guilt that would linger and distract me from my work when I was out the door before they were even up, so I could be at my cubby on time.

I go to the office when I need to, but thank you SAP, Audrey Stevenson, Jeanne Carboni, Malin Liden, Maggie Fox, Maggie Chan Jones and Bill McDermott for letting me decide when I need to.

When I’m working, I have a laser focus on the work at hand. There’s no time to be wasted because every minute squandered is paid for by my children. I know how to prioritize my tasks, plan and run effective meetings, work in the flow and cut through the complexity so I can deliver high quality work that helps SAP meet its objectives. Work from home flexibility means I can take a break when needed, so I can tend to the little things that mean a lot to my little ones. Like hugging them when they get off the bus and making sure the new sitter is doing a good job.

With teams travelling and collaborating with colleagues from all over the world, virtual meetings with SAP Connect & Skype for Business (Lync) meetings are a given, portrayed in the illustration above. So working from home does mean I need to be on mute sometimes, but I know I’m not the only one.

I would love to hear from the rest of the community. In our world of virtual collaboration and work from home flexibility, what are your favorite mutable moments? Please share below!

Thank you Colleen Hebbert for sharing your story, which was the inspiration of this illustration.

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  • Great blog and illustration, Caroleigh! I can relate. I have an 18 month old in day care who is constantly picking up viruses and passing them through the house. I would be out of vacation days if it weren't for our flexibility at SAP.  I've also "muted"  Bradley numerous times when he's been sent home sick. 🙂

  • Superb blog and illustration Caroleigh!  Great to know I am in good company with you and Krysten Gentile and so many other awesome working moms and dads.  We are so blessed to be in a position to have flexibility and growth opportunity.  My 5 year old is now programmed to whisper "are you on mute, can I ask you a question?"

  • Have to admit that usually I just roll eyes at the blogs in this space, but this is a very sweet post (and splendid illustration - talk about attracting talent!).

    There was a funny story 2 years ago when I used Skype for a call with Sophie Sipsma about speaking at a conference in Australia. Much to my embarrassment few days later my then 4 year old joyfully reported that he has a new friend and proceeded to show me the video message he left for Sophie (I forgot to sign off). Fortunately this did not prevent me from being chosen as a speaker. 😳

  • Hi Caroleigh

    Thanks for writing this piece. I remember our emails when you mentioned you liked to draw. Your writing made me think of all those American T.V shows where the yellow bus pulls up to the driveway and the kids run outside.

    You are very lucky to be in such a flexible working environment. I'm into week 3 of being grounded from flying and *having* to work remote full time now. I jokingly say to my family that I take my laptop and bag upstairs at the end of the day and put it away to recognise the end of my work day. However, the workaholic in me is finds it hard to stop for the day.

    At first I thought I can't do 100% remote - a lot of my job requires some face to face time. Now I find myself in this situation, I realise you just have to adjust the ways in which you work and can be more productive.

    Remote working was relatively easy to negotiate for me. I was already doing it up to 50% of the time. If working with a multinational or a team that is already geographically dispersed, you then typically have a work culture which can support and thrive with virtual teams. Managers become more focussed on outcomes and deliverables as opposed to witnessing their team at their desks "working". But you do need a strong leader who focusses on results and not perception.

    I haven't got a child to mute but it'll be a different story in ~8 weeks time.

    Thanks for sharing your story. I hope I can make such a transition



    • Glad to hear you have good support for the transition and you seem to be navigating it well. You made me smile with your description of taking the bag and lap top upstairs. For me too, the "end of the work day" is a challenge with virtual work. In some ways, we're always on. Takes a snow storm and power failure to really disconnect.

      8 weeks and counting! I'm so excited for you, wishing you well:)

  • CAn only say "strongly agree" , Caroleigh. I am definitely more productive when allowed to work occasionally from home - not least because I spend my commuting time (1h-1h15) working.

  • Good for you, Caroleigh, to work for management that gives you that flexibility. I get to telecommute two days a month- yes, two whole days!- and we are expected to be greatly impressed with such a "progressive" policy. Yes, two is better than none, but it would be very nice to work for management that cared more about productivity and outcomes than a face in the office and realized that it is just as easy to goof off in the office as it is at home. On my Telecommuting Tuesdays, my challenge is ensuring that all five dogs are all napping soundly whenever I have a conference call, but I suspect that is what they do most of the day anyway, at least until my husband gets home from the college where he teaches, so it's not really that difficult. My shop-a-holic  neighbor and her daily visit from the FedEx home delivery truck is my biggest challenge 🙂 . Thanks for sharing your story!


    • You made me laugh. I need a mute button for my dogs too! There's an app I could use... how close is the FedEx/UPS truck with a local delivery. Give us a chance to put the dogs in the other room if we're presenting:)

      • Ha ha, the shop-a-holic neighbor lives directly across the street, and the FedEx driver likes to stop the truck right in front of my living room window, so I usually proactively close the door and all window blinds on the street-facing side of the house, and also close the French doors to the room where I like to work,  before any scheduled calls 🙂


    • Gretchen Lindquist wrote:

      it would be very nice to work for management that cared more about productivity and outcomes than a face in the office and realized that it is just as easy to goof off in the office as it is at home.

      Hear-hear. I'm actually more productive in the home office where no one walks in Lumbergh style with "heeey, what's happening?".

  • Loved this post and the illustration, Caroleigh. Since you and I do talk almost daily, I can attest that if I didn't already know you had four children, I would not be able to guess it from any background noise on your phone. 🙂

    I can also say that it's a pleasure to work with someone like you (and like so many others on our team) whom I can trust to get the job done without having to figure out when you are or are not online.

    I do still find distributed teams an issue from a time zone perspective and sometimes from a collaboration/whiteboarding-in-a-room perspective. Those challenges can be difficult to overcome, especially on a project under deadline. But when it comes to focusing on our individual tasks and completing those, I find that being remote or virtual, as opposed to face-to-face, is pretty much a non-issue. In the end, it's all about communication and keeping each other informed of our status, and you do a wonderful job of that. I'm just so glad we have a management team that supports this kind of flexibility. It's truly one of the reasons I have stayed with SAP so long.

    • Thanks Audrey!

      Yes, the time zone differences do present there own challenges and there are times when we've been on a call and longed to be in front of a white board. Workshops definitely go a long way, as long as they happen at the right point in the project. Inspires me to look into a virtual white boarding tool; I worked with a pilot on the KM team last year. Might be something for us to try:)

  • Caroleigh, what a great illustration! I love the detail of the headset with mic sitting near the baby toy.

    At my office, our "work remote" policy is ever-changing and not very clear. Officially we don't allow regular remote work, only for "one-off" occasions (i.e., if you have a contractor coming over, or something else that requires you to be home, or in my case when I'm doing night and weekend work), but the reality is that two members of my team regularly work remote one or two days a week and management lets it go because they're demonstrably productive.

    When I do it, my biggest challenge is that my wife also fairly frequently works remote, and we have a shared home office with side-by-side desks. This might sound like a nice setup, except her work frequently -- in fact for most of the day -- involves being on conference calls, and when she's speaking on a call it's difficult for me to focus (and vice versa, but I'm not on conf. calls as much). Her situation is a lot as Colleen describes, with a geographically dispersed team, so she would be on a conference call whether she was home or in the office, so little difference there. So, we try to ensure that we aren't both working from home at the same time, and that way we're both more productive when we do.

    Yes, I get just as distracted (annoyed) by people in the office who use speakerphones all the time.

    Thank you for sharing this!



    • Hey, that's a great image for another cartoon. Husband and wife both working from home in the same office, negotiating who has to go to another room to take their call!

      Thanks for sharing your experience Matt! And for noticing the detail. I do fuss over those little things:)

    • My partner and I share an office. For the few few years it was an "L" shape desk in which he would just spread out and I'd find the spot on the end for my laptop to tap away or I'd retreat to the couch and have tv playing in the background whilst I worked.

      When we moved houses we setup up a dedicated office for us and decided separate desks. They were on opposite walls and equal size/space. Great setup to get rid of all the clutter (I hate and he creates). Better than a work office - I had a nice chair and actual equipment that worked instead of the usual contractor-welcome of find a spot and we'll rustle up a computer that we were about to retire.

      The "this is my space DON'T touch" worked quite well for the first few months until I found myself away on travel more than at home. Slowly... he took over. Wow/Games/documentaries/whatever on one side of the of the room and his desk on the other.

      Now I'm home I'm drawing line through the office in a nerdier and kinder version of the War of the Roses and putting him back to his side of the room. Like desserts, there are some things I don't like to share - my office space 🙂

      • We always had two desks in a dedicated room (technically the 2nd bedroom in our 2-bedroom condo), but originally they were both L-shaped and semi-facing each other, so they made sort of a T in the room. This gave us each a bit of a sense of our own private space, but as it is a small (guest) bedroom it made things feel a bit cramped, and the "leg" of the T dominated the center of the room, making it useless for anything other than an office.

        Now we have replaced those old desks and instead have two desks that are "built in" to the walls, each with a curve, but now the "arms" of the curved T meet instead of the leg, so we're more side-by-side, and nothing projects into the center of the room. The desks are actually part of a larger built-in "unit" that includes a wallbed (or Murphy bed), so now when we have guests we just push the chairs hard up against the desks and the bed can come down to be used. Thus, a dual-purpose room! But, that makes it difficult to use as an office whenever we actually have a guest (such as my M-I-L who typically comes for about a month every year in early fall -- she arrives in a few weeks!).

        We have no plans to move -- we like our condo, we don't need more space -- but we agreed it would have been nice to have two offices, so I could go a bit more "man cave" with mine, and my wife could put her crafts stuff that usually dominates the dining room table into hers. Ah well, not that big a deal.

        And yes, I tend to create more "mess" on my desk.

  • It's 2015 and we all mostly work in an IT related role, so it's actually pretty disappointing when an organisation can't embrace and encourage this sort of flexibility.  As Caroleigh says in the original post and others have attested, the flexibility of remote working can often improve productivity and focus.

    I try to work remotely as much as is feasibly possible (it's a bit different in consulting of course but generally my role and my employer are enablers) and the beauty is, if I'm really struggling I can even get a bit of help with tough problems...


    • Adorable, thanks for sharing! I guess it can seem counter-intuitive... but for me it's been about shedding the guilt that releases the productivity, leaving that worry I was missing the important moments behind... that's what lets me focus and get into the flow.

  • Thank you Caroleigh for sharing this wonderful illustration and story! It certainly is a testimonial for working from home, and it is awesome to have that opportunity with SAP. I consider it one of the biggest benefits of my job. 

    I did not have this when my children were young, but I wish I had. It reduces so much of the stress of the day when you do not have to worry about commuting. We made it through those years, but it required a lot of jumping through hoops to make it work.

    Hopefully more companies will adopt this model. I think the milenials will demand it, and companies who don't embrace it won't get the best talents in the marketplace.


    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Jeanne. Having had it both ways while mine are young, and experiencing the impact, not only on my happiness, but on that of my family, I couldn't agree more. Once again, a big thank you for understanding the issue, and providing the flexibility to your team.

    • Bill McDermott I am delighted that you joined this conversation – what a reflection of SAP’s commitment to work life balance. I think the comments demonstrate this is an issue that crosses geographic regions and gender, and this flexibility is key for attracting and retaining talent. Thank you!

      • Caroleigh Deneen wrote:

        this flexibility is key for attracting and retaining talent.

        I can certainly confirm that - one of the main reasons I left my previous role to join SAP was that it enabled me to lose the 1-2 hour each-way commutes of a consulting lifestyle.

        With the enabling technology that SAP uses (VPN access, voice chat, desktop sharing) I can work with my team mates in the UK and Germany almost as if we are in the same office, but with fewer distractions.

  • Congratulations Caroleigh! This is such a thoughtful, personal and relevant blog that is clearly an inspiration for many of us who try to balance all these things that ultimately add up to our lives. Thank you for sharing your story and your experience, it is a privilege to work with you and I am very glad to have you on the team!

    • Malin Liden thank you! I remember our talk all those months ago, when you encouraged me to focus on the things that mattered most to me and where I wanted to be in 5 years and beyond. Authenticity matters.

  • thank you for sharing - very inspirational - I remember a time when my 3 children all had some trouble to adjust to their new schools - and I was ready to leave my job at that time. Luckily enough I did talk to my manager and explained the situation - and we found a win win solution for all . I was able to work from home and actually that was all my 3 kinds needed to know - the security that I was around . For me it meant to work out of the basement without any daylight ... but this time helped my kids enourmously to be stable and enjoy their new schools. This was 16 years ago when we did not have the technology to have business skype meetings and I was happy to be back in the office and be connected more closely to my peers again .... I am happy and proud to be part of the SAP family where we  offer  this kind of flexibility and find win win situations for all members.

    • What a great story! It's a reminder that what we need (and what are children need) changes over time. Flexibility is so important. The ability to regroup and be nimble in the face of change -- in our families and in business -- make us stronger.

  • Thanks for sharing your story, Caroleigh.  I can relate with 3 young children, a dog and a part time work-at-home husband that I am always muting.  But I am able to be more productive, engaged and motivated when I don't have a 2+ hour round trip commute each day.  And I reduce my carbon footprint!

    What I love is seeing my kids experience what work looks like in person, in our home.  It's not an unknown to them, where Mom and Dad leave each day and they have no clue what we do.  Even if they don't fully understand it, they see the dedication and time commitment my husband and I give to our careers, right in our own home.  My favorite is when the 4 year old picks up a toy phone and says "SHHH! I'm getting on a work call!" 🙂

    • SHHH, indeed! Reminds me of the time my little girl told me she was going to put me on mute! I asked her if I could have a "time out" instead... a nice long 2 hour one.

      Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • What a beautiful post Caroleigh! I got a chance to see some of your drawings at a more recent workshop, so I'm so glad to see your sharing one of them here. 🙂

    Recently, I gave up (or loss) my desk at the office, since I spend most of my time working from home. The plusses of working from home are well said by you and others. I especially agree with the win-win setup for both me and SAP - I'm a lot more comfortable (ehem - never mind why) and therefore more productive. I love your comment about your daughter wanting to put you on mute! My kids have threatened the same to me many times when I got too excited on my conference calls or presentations. 😛

    When I miss the company of colleagues, I go into the office where there's also the flexibility to grab a 'hotel-desk,' to catch up with others, or even to go on a blind lunch-date (SAP has an app that will set me up with random colleagues to go out to lunch with).

    • Thanks Jason! I hope it will be the first of many illustrations I can share. And funny you mention lunch -- when I do go in, I try to make it on Tuesday... Taco Tuesday in NSQ2 is always worth the trip!

  • Caroleigh, thank you for sharing your perspective on this important issue, and I agree with you. I am grateful that I work for a company that allows me to work from home so that I can  put my son on the bus in the morning and have dinner with him at a reasonable hour at the end of the day. Travel certainly interrupts our routines, but I am also lucky to have a great family network to fill in the gaps when I have to be on the road.

    We all know there's lots to fix, no matter where you work, but sometimes it's important to take a moment and recognize the things we're grateful for 🙂

    • Cheers to that. There's always room for improvement. I have found that recognizing that nothing (and no one) is perfect is the first step to a healthy relationship, and taking a moment to celebrate and appreciate the things that are going well, gives me the energy and persistence to tackle the rest. Thanks for sharing your experiences and joining this conversation!

  • Caroleigh, great blog and wonderful illustration,

    I live in Israel so i take the calls from home in the afternoon, and when I do I have an agreement with my youngest: he goes to watch TV/Play and i won't disturb him  🙂 .

    it usualy works .


  • Hi Caroleigh, by accident I saw this blog and the conversation around, what a great story, thank you!

    I also work part time (80%) and I can only be successful as a project manager due to the flexibility SAP and especially my manager offer in regards to office/home office working hours.

    Here in Germany many managers are not open enough to allow working from home.

    For me personally a good mix between being in the office and working from home is ideal, and I also often have the "shhhh" moments, when my son comes and takes the opportunity while Mom is in a call to ask for ice-cream, chocolate, playing with the tablet and all that great stuff which is normally restricted, as he knows while I am in the call  I just nodd my head 😉

    Great story with the FedEx service - I have that special moment to go on mute every day in summer when the ice-cream guy is ringing his very loud bell for at least 1 minute while he parks his van directly in front of my house to sell ice-cream. This happens during my calls with the US colleagues (in my afternoon time) nearly every day.

    Anyway you have my full respect for managing 4 kids and dogs as well, wow. And we have been working together in a big project, so I know you are excellent in your job!

    • Hah! Simone, nice to hear from you on SCN. Your FedEx story made me laugh. At least it's not an ice cream truck... that would make it even harder to mute the children! Hope your 2015 was filled with other successful project. I miss working with you on PartnerEdge.