Balancing Work & Family When Returning to the Office

By Matt Greenfield, President, Cannella Media

When COVID-19 unexpectedly swept the world, many organizations responded by instituting WFH policies to help curb the spread and prioritize employees’ health and safety. Data from Pew Research shows that 71% of people worked from home some or all of the time during the first eighteen months of the pandemic. While the abrupt shift to working from home was disruptive and challenging for many at first, they adapted to the comforts of home: reduced commutes and time-shifted schedules to accommodate other non-work-related interests and home/parenting responsibilities.

As better treatment and protocols became widespread, organizations started inviting employees to return to the office, whether full-time or hybrid, initiating the need to re-adapt to the “new normal”.

To make this transition as efficient and stress-free as possible, working professionals should focus on re-establishing productive routines. With some planning and organization, people returning to the office can create a harmonious transition helping their work and home lives run more smoothly.

Tips For a Successful Transition Back to the Office

Setting up a functional morning routine and doing necessary preparations the night before are some of the first steps to adjusting schedules to new work circumstances. Re-establishing other habits will help ensure a successful transition. Some of our favorite best practices are outlined below. 

Efficient Commuting

When returning to commuting, people may find it difficult to re-adjust to rush hours. For those required to work more traditional business hours, longer commutes may be unavoidable. Some organizations offer flex hours, enabling employees to bypass the longer commute times. However, there are proven tactics to help reduce stress and increase both personal & professional productivity.

  • Using recent traffic reports to estimate the time required to get to and from work will help with planning and managing expectations, taking some stress out of travel.  
  • Commuting does not have to be time wasted. Individuals who drive can listen to audiobooks, podcasts, or enjoyable music, checking the box for some needed ‘me’ time.
  • Those who take public transport can accomplish some work or family tasks on the go. 

Weekly Family Schedules

Many families benefit from detailed schedules, including fun family time, schoolwork, preparing clothes and lunches for the following day, and other essential tasks. For best results, schedules should include every family member’s daily responsibilities. There are many family schedule templates available online that can help you create efficient, streamlined routines.  

When planning, one should take a critical look at all unnecessary commitments. It may be helpful for families to scale back on some activities to ensure a smoothly functioning day-to-day family life. Often less really is more.

Meal Prepping – save time, money, and eat healthier!

To reduce some stress around dinner time, meals can be prepared in advance and then refrigerated or frozen until needed. Preparing breakfasts, snacks, and fully or partly cooked meals will take a few hours out of the weekend but will allow families to have stress-free evenings at home after a busy day at work and school.

With many easy meal plans available online, it takes little planning to complete weekly shopping, and batch cook the meals for the week, offering nutritious yet easy-to-prepare food for the entire family.

Beyond the time-efficiency gains, this reduces last-minute restaurant/take-out/fast food outings, resulting in cost savings and typically healthier meals.

Communication is Key

Changes in domestic patterns can be especially challenging for children. Open communication and clear expectations are crucial in maintaining family dynamics while providing a sense of security to the youngest members of the household. Involving the children in some of the planning can nurture a sense of teamwork and keep children motivated to stick to the agreed-upon routines.

Asking for Support

Family, friends, and neighbors can make the difference between barely coping and successfully navigating challenging passages. Every family can benefit from a support network of trusted individuals who can pitch in and help during busy times, such as unavoidable work deadlines or travel.

Routines Help Achieve a Healthy Work-Life Balance

Returning to work in the office can affect the entire family and needs attention and care. Families can weather the transition successfully by thinking through how adapting existing routines can meet new work realities. Following these tips can help anyone shifting from remote to in-office or hybrid work arrangements manage change, reduce stress, and improve work-life balance.

Remember to be flexible

As much as I subscribe to the Ben Franklin quote “failure to plan is planning to fail,” approaching something as dynamic as returning to work with rigid inflexibility will inevitably create its own set of challenges and added stress. The past few years have taught us nothing if not to be flexible and adapt to what is presented to us. This quote by Frances Arnold sums it up well: Give up the thought that you have control. You don’t. The best you can do is adapt, anticipate, be flexible, sense the environment and respond.

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