NEW YORK (Reuters) – Like many executives, Jimmy Etheredge, chief executive of North America for Accenture, saw his work life change completely in the last nine months. Etheredge is focusing on the silver linings of working from home.

Jimmy Etheredge, chief executive of North America for Accenture that’s based in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., is pictured in an undated photo. Courtesy Accenture/Handout via REUTERS

“My business is all about client relationships,” said Etheredge, 57, who was named North American CEO last year. He used to travel five days a week but now conducts most of his conversations virtually.

“I’m having more discussions with senior clients because I don’t have to get on a plane just to talk to them,” the Atlanta-based executive said, noting the deepening of some relationships as a result.

“In the past, when talking one-on-one with a CEO we’d say, ‘How are you doing?” and then get into business,” he said.

“Now it’s a much more genuine conversation: ‘No, really, like how are you doing?’ It’s just really helpful to know that you’re not alone.”

Etheredge talked to Reuters about his philosophy on surviving and thriving in 2020 and beyond. Edited excerpts are below.

Q. What is a key to surviving these times?

A. I’ve had family members and people I love who have struggled with depression and anxiety. Now we’re in a public health crisis and an economic crisis. People are worried about their health and the health of their loved ones, their jobs, their future, so that is just further creating this mental health crisis.

What’s really important is for people to make sure that they are taking care of themselves from a mental health perspective, that they’re checking in with and taking care of their family members and themselves.

Q. What was your biggest work-life challenge before 2020?

A. Lunch for me, like it was for many people, was stuffing something in my mouth while on a call. I had a little “Jimmy, take back lunch” campaign. I created a half-hour where I would say, “I’m not going to do calls, I’m not going to do emails; I’m going to focus on myself.”

Q. What is your work-from-home challenge?

A. I would love to tell you that I’m one of those execs who bought one of those Pelotons, and I’m in the best shape of my life. But the truth is, I’m one of those execs who has never had to work just 20 steps from the kitchen in his life so, like many people, I’ve gained 10 pounds over the last nine months.

Q. What tips do you have for those who might be starting out right now?

A. Don’t believe those Instagram lives. They’re not real. I think it’s easy for people to feel a little intimidated and a little discouraged about their situation and to devalue what they’re capable of. You have to have a positive outlook — you’ve just got to keep going.

Q. Do you have a favorite business book?

A. There are two books that I tend to give to everyone: I often give “The First 90 Days” by Michael Watkins to clients who are moving from one company to another to really remind them of the importance of that first 90 days and the impact you can have on culture. We only get that one opportunity for the first 90 days.

The second book is “Weekend Language” (by Andy Craig and Dave Yewman). I’m on a mission to fight consulting-speak and get away from Powerpoint overload. This book really talks about how to use weekend language to talk strategy with a client, to imagine I’m doing it over a barbecue on a Saturday instead of in a conference room with a suit on.

Q. What is your work-from-home setup?

A. I have a really great home office with lots of sunlight. Now that I’m here 12 hours a day, my important upgrades were a stand-up desk and an oversized monitor. I could never go back to life without those two things. Because of my constant video time, I have a ring light and a Yeti mic.

Q. Did you develop any new work habits in 2020?

A. I get up in the morning and meditate for a bit, and it really helps to have that quiet time to get me started. Typically, when I wake up in the morning, my mind is immediately going to what I’ve got to get done today or what I wanted to get done yesterday that I didn’t quite get done. Meditation helps ground me, stay present and start my day with a clean slate.

Reporting by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan; editing by Lauren Young and Jonathan Oatis