back to the office after covid?

Going back to the office after COVID? No thanks.

Millions of American women have been working at their full-time corporate jobs from home since March. The looming threat of heading back to the office full time has them considering other options.

Since March of 2020, I’ve been doing all my work from home. That includes my full time job, the business I run, raising my kids, and managing my personal life. All done from my guest room/office/storage closet. And I have loved every second of it.

I’m obviously not alone. Professional women by the millions have been running the world from home for going on eight months now. As the second (third?) wave of COVID-19 infections surges through the US, corporations are eyeballing late spring as the ideal return-to-the-office timeframe.

What do most women think about this? “Uh, yeah, no thanks.” That’s from a friend of mine who runs talent acquisition at a business consulting firm. She’s made up her mind. She’s not going back to “normal.”

“Normal wasn’t working for me,” she told me. “And I didn’t even realize how unhealthy I had become until I got those months to change some of my habits.”

“Normal can suck it.”

I’m with her on this one. The last eight months have been the most productive of my life. Not only did I do award-winning work for my day job, but I also started a profitable business and produced a best-selling business book.

But you know what else I did? I got enough sleep and actually made a fitness routine stick. I made my own meals and had dinner with my kids every night. I got the laundry folded. I started meditating again. My husband and I had lunch together nearly every day.

This is definitely not what “normal” had looked like at any point in my career. And you know what? Normal can suck it.

Our pre-COVID work habits were killing us

Remember the bad old days? Up too early for commutes that were too long, just so we could put our butts in a chair for ten hours and stare at a computer screen before making the slog back home. When we got there, it was a mad dash through dinner, homework, and bedtime.

If I was lucky, I’d get to have a conversation with my kids. Then, we’d veg in front of the TV for the rest of the evening until we went to bed too late, tired but wired, just so we could eke out a few hours of fitful sleep and do it all over again.

The scale kept edging upward, along with our blood sugar and blood pressure. And every day, we were dogged by the specter of being ever behind, with no hope of “catching up,” as if that were a real thing we could hope to achieve.

As terrible as the pandemic has been – nearly 240,000 American deaths to date – the fact that it has put a hard stop to this way of life is a blessing for millions of women, including me.

We’ve gained something critical: control over our time

In my work from home world, I managed to gain control over my calendar. I have pretty much been able to choose how I spend my time every day. Without the pressure to be physically present in irrelevant meetings, I’ve made the choice to spend my time only on what matters.

And surprise, lot of what I’ve been working on over the years doesn’t actually matter. By keeping my eyes only on work activities that actually drive results, I’ve been able to decrease the amount of time I spend on meaningless tasks, letting me dive into the more intellectually satisfying and important strategy work I never seemed to have time for before.

And my creativity? Through. The. Roof. It’s amazing how much more productive your mind can be when you’re not expending all its best energy answering pointless emails and navigating rush-hour traffic.

The best part of it all is that I can make time for the things that are most critical for my happiness every day. If I sleep through my morning workout? No problem. I’ll just do it at 10:00 am when I’ve knocked out my biggest work task for the day. Who’s gonna stop me? Bonus: when I come back from my mid-morning run, I’m more productive and focused.

I don’t accept meetings from 9:00 am to 10:00 pm anymore. Why? Because now I know that I get my best work done during that time. And then I can have lunch with my husband.

Do you think I’m going to trade all that in to sit in an office full time? Nope.

Hey family, remember me?

My pre-COVID work-life was big into travel. My husband was the primary caregiver to our boys (amazing, actually!), so he knew all the teachers, doctors and activity schedules. I was utterly disconnected from all of it.

It often felt like I’d just show up every now and then to say hi to participate in their routine, then extract myself so I could get back to work. Now, I’m part of the pick-up and drop-off. I get to do parent-teacher conferences (by Zoom, of course), and I get to help with homework.

“Let us work how we want to work or we won’t work for you.”

I know that I’m enormously privileged not to have had that on my plate the way other moms do when they’re navigating the corporate ladder. But it does feel good to be a much more integrated part of the life of my family.

My kids know me better. We laugh more. We go for bike rides after school sometimes. They taught me how to play Among Us. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all sunshine and daisies around here. But damn, I love that I can be a bigger part of my kids’ lives than for as long as I can remember.

So back to the office this spring? That’s a hard pass.

I know I’m not alone on this one. And many larger corporations are seeing the writing on the wall. They are implementing more permanent work from home options for employees who want them. After all, it will save them a fortune in rent and help them retain some of their best people. So it’s a win-win.

It’s the mid-sized organizations with less forward-thinking leadership who need to wake up. Any company who plans on forcing people to sit at a desk for forty hours a week will lose their ability to recruit their talent. Because I, and millions others like me, have no intention of giving up what we’ve gained during COVID-19. And if our companies won’t adapt to that? Byyyyyye.

There are too many other ways to make money in the world. Now that we’ve all learned that we can keep control of our time, enjoy the best things in our lives, and be more productive than ever, we’ve reached the point of no return. Let us work how we want to work, or we won’t work for you.

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2 Comments
  • Anne
    Posted at 08:12h, 13 December Reply

    As a yogi acupuncturist, I have been triaging women’s self care and mental health for the last 15 years and I Love this. You are an advocate strong voice we need to hear! Solidarity ingavinf this conversation will normalize this option for those in less fortunate as te decisions where the company is fixed in the “bad old days.” Dear HR of every company, read this.

    • Mary Kate Gulick
      Posted at 16:03h, 16 December Reply

      Hey Anne! Amen on solidarity. We can definitely demand better.

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