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Back to work battles: When “back to normal” isn’t working

Now that COVID-19 restrictions have been removed by the government, many businesses are slowly making the transition back to employees working in the office. If you’re not back to work outside the home at least a few days a week yet, chances are good that you may be soon.

If you’ve been working from home for over two years, this transition can be a difficult one for everyone in the family.


Although the requirement to work from home was initially a jarring one (and seemed impossible at the time!) people have rearranged their lives to make it work. Changes may have been as small as cleaning out a spare room to create an office, or as big as remodeling or even moving to accommodate the need for work space.


The shift from office to at-home work didn’t happen quickly, and the transition back will take some time to adjust to as well.


In order to make the change as smooth as possible for everyone in the family, there are a number of things you should take into consideration when going back to the office:


Roles may need to change


The roles each family member plays day-to-day may have to change as you go back to work. If you were able to make your kids’ lunches every morning because of the time you saved on your commute, that responsibility may need to be given to your partner, done as a family the night before,  or be given to your children if they are old enough.


Other everyday tasks that may need to be adjusted include school and extracurricular drop-offs and pick-ups, daycare arrangements, meal planning, grocery shopping, homework responsibilities and appointment planning. Mental labor (keeping track of birthday parties, field trips, science projects, meetings and grocery lists) is a lot of work. If you feel that you are becoming overwhelmed by the amount you are expected to remember, this would be a good time to sit down and discuss future expectations with your partner and children. 


Going back to work does not mean life will be like it was pre-pandemic or when you were working from home. Things will be different, but they can still work well – as long as expectations are clearly communicated with everyone in the household.


Set realistic expectations


It may be difficult to know what to expect when you go back. After all, none of us have re-entered the working world after a global pandemic before!


Know that it is normal to be apprehensive and uncomfortable, and for things to feel a bit strange. Your children will mirror these feelings and that may come with more tantrums, separation anxiety, possible regression in some areas and more challenging behaviors. You may have more arguments with your partner as you adjust to new expectations and some balls are dropped. 


The best thing to do is make sure you keep the lines of communication open. Talk about upcoming changes and how you are planning to deal with them. Let them know your reasoning behind decisions, and encourage them to ask questions. Allow your children the opportunity to have input on how to make the transitions easier on them and talk about potential problems. (“We’ll have to get up earlier to go to school from now on because I have to be at the office. How can we make sure we’re not rushing in the morning?”) 


Stay connected


The increase in time away from your family may be the most difficult aspect of the move back to the office.


If you were able to be there for your kids when they came home at lunchtime or had a morning routine of enjoying a cup of coffee with your spouse, changes in these routines can leave you feeling disconnected.


The key is to find new ways to touch base throughout the day.


Choose a time in the day to check in with your family members one-on-one and see what is planned for the day or how things went.


Be sure to ask open-ended questions and try to stay away from the traditional “how was your day?” questions that are often answered with “I don’t know.”


Asking things like “What was the best part of your day?” or “what are you most concerned about?” can help open the conversation up.


Don’t forget to incorporate touch with a gentle hug, hand on the shoulder or allowing your little ones to sit on your lap, even if just for a few minutes.


It may not come as naturally now, but scheduling one-on-one family time can show your kids and partner that they are still a priority to you.


Go easy on yourself


Parenting in a world where COVID-19 exists is hard, no matter where you work. 


Parents today have more balls to juggle than ever before, and there is no way to keep them all in the air. It is important to know which need to stay up and which you can put down for a while. 


During the transition, work may need to be a priority for a while – but, if you consciously make an effort to communicate and connect with your family, it can help take some pressure off of all of you.


Don’t forget to reach out to friends and family who have made the transition before you. They may have tips and tricks that worked for them. It can be comforting to know that although you are feeling anxious or stressed about all of this, you are not alone.


No matter how your transition goes, the most important thing to remember is that although it will take some time to adapt, eventually your new schedule will seem routine and everything will be back to “normal.”


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