Women are headed back to the workplace. Whether because they are gaining traction on jobs, being called back into the office for a hybrid work situation, or returning to work after maternity leave, the days of accepted work-from-home seem to be behind us.
Women carefully unwound their lives and schedules to accommodate home learning; developed workstations for themselves, partners, and kids; and added teacher, entertainer, and nurse to their resumes – all while managing a full-time household, and often still brought the results in their job. Over time, women learned to juggle it all by unloading the dishwasher during a conference call, using that hour of commuting time to connect with a colleague who lives across the globe, or finding the time to take a 30-minute break when their kids came home from school.
But, as we close in on two solid years at home, women are finding that while they are more efficient, they are also managing five additional hours of domestic chores per day compared to pre-pandemic when both partners worked outside of the home. Some are also struggling with a loss of autonomy, missing eating lunch with colleagues, and feeling empowered from navigating the world without the context of the home. Still rebuilding their networks, women are beginning to feel like robots, living only to take care of others with work and life happening in the confines of their homes. So much for that walk planned during a Zoom break – there’s laundry to do.
To regain their identity as an individual, with ambition and adventures no longer on hold, some women are looking to unwind from work-from-home life and find a world that offers them both flexibility and a way to untie the apron strings. But what needs to be considered when headed back to the office, whether it’s post-pandemic or post-baby, that will allow success at work and home?
Childcare – Many lists and resources debate the personal choice of nanny versus daycare, but backup scenarios must be part of the plan even when kids are in school. Consider assigning days of the week to each parent, or ask a neighbor or grandparent in advance to help out on school closures or sick days. At times it will feel like there are more “backup scenarios” than regular days, but being prepared for them will take the stress out of last-minute scrambling.
Organize and schedule – Many people live or die by their work calendar – and the schedule at home should be the same. Kid activities, cleaning time, bedtime, and even alone time can be part of the schedule. This also offers a solid visual of where time is being allocated and could give insight into the boundaries needed to enforce it.
Pro tip: try to check an item off the list that may have fallen to the bottom before the first day back—finishing a baby book, cleaning a closet, or washing the car. Taking advantage now will allow the feeling of productivity to lead the first few months in the office.
Master Your Values – Especially during the transition, constant evaluation of the tasks at hand will allow for focus on priorities. Energy will be required to manage the change, so spend time where it’s essential, whether it’s with family bonding, healthy meals, or clean floors. If all of those are important, it might require outsourcing or a change of expectations, such as mopping the floor every two weeks instead of one. There will likely be trade-offs, but the answers become more apparent when values lead decision-making.
Make time for you – Part of the reason to return to the office is to reclaim a sense of self, but work will feel focused on clients, bosses, and colleagues, especially in the beginning. Ensure there is an intentional space for rest and time to hear an internal voice. Maybe that time is during commuting with podcasts or meditation or stopping by the gym on the way to or from work because self-care allows the capacity for taking care of others. Not to mention, it creates a place for self-compassion and forgiveness. Not everything will go to plan. Find and give grace to learn what will work at this family stage.
Advocate for yourself – Workplace biases won’t have fixed themselves in the time away from the office. Be clear about goals at work and home, and, after buy-in from a boss or partner as needed, communicate what is required to accomplish them. Does it look like you work from home on these specific days? Does someone need to pick up the kids on Tuesday to allow time for a reading by a favorite author? Let them know! If they understand how they are a part of a journey to success, they are more likely to be supportive. And be sure to share how going back to work is a transition; adjusting will likely take six months or so. By being prepped, they can be patient with creating the “new normal.”
Returning to the office will be a transition, even in a part-time capacity. But women have successfully weathered a pandemic and more and will adapt to this change, as well. With some thoughtful planning, self-care, and communication, a hybrid work situation could allow for the best of both worlds, including time to manage a family and a household and reconnection with a sense of self outside the home. With the right tools and techniques, it is possible to create a balanced, beautiful life that includes both office and home.
Sara Madera is a mother of two and founder of Plan Creatively, which provides individuals and organizations with career coaching programs for working mothers.