Here's How: Make going into the office work for you.
Updated: Sep 25
So you have been asked/mandated/requested to go back into the office - here is how to make going into the office work for you!
During the pandemic, so many of us enjoyed the work from home lifestyle. While there are certainly pros and cons to office life vs. home life, for those of us with families (or even those of us who want to have a life outside of work), dropping the commute was refreshing. But, times have changed and while many companies are not looking for a full transition back to the office, hybrid workplaces are becoming the norm and this means the dreaded commute returns and the balancing act gets more complicated.
Earlier this week, a peer from a fellow team reached out about meeting downtown Toronto office. While I love working from home for the convenience, it is so lovely to meet up with people, so I arranged my work schedule and my family schedule to make it work - I even packed my work bag and had it waiting by the door! But, the day could not have had more fumbles. The day started off by being unable to locate the pre-paid Presto card for the train and then the kids decided they would rather play than attend school, so by the time I finally got everyone wrangled into the car, I knew I was cutting it close to catch the GO train. We all know the dreaded feeling when you realize you should have filled the gas tank the night before, so by the time I stopped for fuel I knew I would have to take the late train. By the time I get on the highway, the school has called and one of the kids has to be picked up (20 minutes after drop off!), so after a call to dad to make arrangements, I am finally on my way. I arrive at the office at almost 11am.
My day is interrupted by another call from the school for a tummy ache and that means stepping out of meetings for more coordination with dad. I wrap up my day at 3pm so I can make the expected 2-hour commute home to see the family for dinner, bath time and bedtime. I am quickly informed that due to a major accident, the main road heading home is closed and traffic is really backed up. Well, I did not quite understand that a 20-minute (on a good day) drive home from the train station would turn into a SIX HOUR commute. I arrived home after 9pm, ready for a glass of wine, a bite of dinner and bed. While this is an example of a 0/10 day, I feel grateful everything at home was under control and I could focus on getting home safely.
This is certainly an edge case for the type of commute people experience these days, but it was a good opportunity to think about how to make working from the office work for you - whether you need to go in everyday, hybrid or just occasionally. Discover five ways to make working from the office work for you.
Know the Expectations
Since employees have been fairly reluctant to hop back into the office, many companies are now setting mandates or more clear guidance for exactly what 'going to office' means - whether this be five full days in the office or fewer. But, there is a lot of grey area here, so be sure to ask your manager these questions when the topic comes up:
Is there an expected number of days per week I am required to be in the office? Do these days need to be consistent each week?
Is there an expected arrival and departure time each day?
How does the expectation change during holiday weeks and when I have time off?
How will urgent family matters be viewed if I am required to adjust my schedule?
An even bolder (and perhaps better) approach would be to share the schedule that works for you with your manager. For example say, "I know we are moving to a hybrid work schedule and while this is difficult for me, I am making adjustments in my personal life to make this work. You can expect to see me in the office on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays between 9:30-3pm." It is better to be brief here and let the manager ask questions if they need to dig in further.
Know Your Rights
Your right to work from home or have a flexible schedule are determined in a great part by the country and state/province you work in and your employment contract. For example, your company may want you to come into the office five days a week, but your original employment agreement may protect you from unreasonable location changes depending on your personal circumstances. When conflicts arise, it is best to consult a local employment lawyer to help you navigate this area.
Have a Back-Up Plan
Kids in school means a level of unpredictability (hello, back to school colds!) but home commitments can range from child emergencies, to dogs at home needing dinner/out, to volunteer commitments or even reservations for a first date. Going into work means your day can get totally thrown off (see above!).
Building a strong support network at home can be important to reduce the stress during unexpected events. Reach out to friends, family, or trusted caregivers who can assist with drop-offs and pickups from time to time. For families with young kids, there is also the stress of back-up support not having car seats for safe transportation - so, if worse comes to worse, plan on someone picking up the kids and hosting a picnic in the park or heading to a cafe for a doughnut until you can arrive home.
Streamline Morning Routines
Mornings can be chaotic (and in my case usually are!) and I just think that getting everything ready the night before is one of the only ways to set yourself up for success. Empty the backpacks, fill the water bottles, prepare lunches and lay out clothes the night before. Have your work bag by the door (make sure you have gas!). I always shower at night too because I find even carving out 10-minutes to put on clothes and do my hair in the morning can be hard to find.
Have a dinner plan at breakfast
There is nothing worse than arriving home after a long day in the office and having no answer to "what's for dinner". So, get in the habit of having a plan at breakfast - you are already in the kitchen anyway so it is great time to pull something out of the freezer. I like to write a list of five or six meal ideas for the week after I get groceries and post it on the fridge so in the morning I have a quick look at the fridge and can pick what I am in the mood for that day. My version is not fancy, but it is a system that works well for me!
Try having some back-up meals in the freezer or fridge for days you don't feel like cooking but also don't want to spend $100+ on takeout. I am a big fan of the Costco fresh meals section (many you can freeze!) - the gyro kit, asian salad kit and chow mein are winners in our house (as well as chicken fingers and fries always). Not the healthiest, but also not the worst.
In the post-pandemic world, returning to the office while raising young kids and trying to have a life may seem like a daunting task, but with the right strategies and support, it's entirely possible to make it work for you. Knowing the expectations, knowing your rights, having a back-up plan, streamlining morning routines and having a dinner plan at breakfast can help you successfully navigate this challenging balancing act. Remember, you've got this, and you and your kids will learn valuable lessons about work, responsibility, and perseverance along the way.
As always, if you are looking for support through a challenging talent situation at work and want a fresh perspective or someone to talk to, reach out! I would LOVE to chat! Connect with me here, shoot me a DM on Instagram or check me out on LinkedIn!
Did you know that Chapt GPT helped me write this post? AI gave me a few ideas and I incorporated with my own experiences to bring a unique and valuable perspective to the topic.