As we approach the two-year anniversary of working remotely, I find it increasingly difficult to remember the routine of my days before the pandemic. Back then, a 40-minute train ride marked the line between online/offline hours, and there was a clear, physical separation of office and home. I had two versions of myself—the “Work Larene,” and the “Mom/Home Larene.” When I was in the office, I could 100% be “Work Larene.” I could focus solely on the business and tasks at hand, with the exception of your typical distractions from the hustle and buzz of the office. I didn’t have to think about the laundry, the grocery shopping, or who was doing school pick-up. That was all for “Home Larene” to figure out later.
I was nine months pregnant and waddling around the office right before we started remote work. It wasn’t much of a secret that I was a mom, but it was pretty easy to keep my work and mom life happenings separate (I had my baby just three weeks into the first lockdown March 2020, but that experience is another story itself). With this new reality of my home and office being one, the definitive lines of “Work Larene” and “Home Larene” no longer existed. But it was only going to be temporary until I returned from maternity leave…right?
I did not anticipate returning to work later that year virtually. Returning to work after maternity leave is already challenging, and even though this was my second time around, coming back in this capacity brought on a flock of new feelings and emotions.
For me, being behind a screen wasn’t a shield I could hide behind, but instead a door that opened up into my inner life. I had to show up as my whole person everyday rather than having a “Work” and “Home” self. How could I possibly manage back-to-back meetings with a crying infant, a toddler, and a new puppy, all in the background of my video calls?
I eventually learned that these things weren’t something I had to be ashamed of. My colleagues were more empathetic than I presumed and were likely dealing with their own version of #momfails. My coworkers, both men and women alike, had their own lines between “work self” and “home self” blurred and were experiencing some of the same challenges. I feel fortunate to work at a company that embraces my whole person and knows sometimes a dog might jump on my lap in the middle of a conference call.
Once I was able to come to terms with this idea of being my whole self, the new hybrid workplace provided a great opportunity for significant time re-allocation. I was able to take multi-tasking to a whole new level and throw a load of laundry in during my lunch hour while also sneaking in a quick hug from my son. If I’m being fully honest though, there was a lot of guilt for a while (mostly self-inflicted), for not being in the physical office. Worried thoughts race through my head about being on a “mommy track” career path, but I’ve come to realize that I am extremely grateful to be part of an inclusive culture. Women, men, and other caregivers in my company, are given the space to excel and thrive. This new ‘workplace’ gives me the flexibility to decide what is best for my family, my life, and my career. I recently listened to an International Women’s Day panel, and something mentioned there really resonated with me—that in this new hybrid normal, the office can be thought of as a resource, rather than a requirement.