It’s happening - corporate America is slowly returning to the office.* Maybe you’re dreading it, or perhaps you’re shouting ‘hallelujah - it’s about time’! Whether you’re going back to work outside your home voluntarily or not, it’s time to get ready.
If you’ve been home since last March or so, you might need a little refresher on how to balance working outside the home with all your other responsibilities. After all, a lot’s changed during that time. And if you’ve gone through a “covid divorce,” this might be the first time you’ll be doing this juggling act as a solo/co-parent.
Without a little advance planning, divorce + pandemic + return-to-the-office
can equal major stress.
Here are 3 things to help ease your transition back to the office:
1. When it comes to childcare, have a pair and a spare.
Well, not literally a pair. But you do need a solid childcare plan and ideally a back-up plan. Because we all know that things don’t always go according to plan, especially when it comes to the work-parenting balance.
Your childcare might look similar or completely different to what it was pre-pandemic. Maybe you were comfortable with daycare before the pandemic hit but are wary of it now. Or perhaps you had a nanny share before covid but private childcare doesn’t suit your needs/schedule/budget anymore. And if you’ll be working a hybrid schedule - some days from home, some in the office - your childcare needs might fluctuate daily. Whatever your needs are, it’s critical to find the type of care that works best for you.
The good news is, thanks to the pandemic, more employers are offering subsidized childcare to their employees. These typically are employer-provided spending accounts or bonuses designed to help cover the costs, in full or partially, of childcare. (Some companies even offer other care subsidies, like elder care and pet care! Which we just love, because pets are people too.)
Your back-up plan doesn’t need to be as elaborate, but it’s important to have one in a pinch. Things happen - sitters cancel, or your child gets sick and isn’t allowed at daycare. If you’ve ever had your childcare plans fall apart the morning of a big meeting, you know how stressful that can be.
Having a back-up plan can help ease your worry and let you focus on your job. This helps all the time but might be especially helpful during these first stressful weeks back in the office. See if your mom can be available for the last-minute emergency. Ask your neighbor who’s always home if she can be on call on the days you absolutely can’t miss work. Don’t forget to thank these people profusely, and either give them a little gift of appreciation or offer to (and do!) return the favor.
And when it comes to back-up childcare, don’t forget about your child’s other parent. We talk here about why it’s so valuable to your kids (and yourself) to ask for help from your ex-spouse when you need it.
2. Pay extra attention during open enrollment.
Annual (or open) enrollment - the yearly period when people can enroll in medical insurance and other benefits - usually happens in the fall, which may be right around the time you’re heading back to the office. That’s a lot to think about, but it’s important you don’t miss out on benefits that might only be available to you if you sign up during AE.
The most obvious enrollment benefit to think about is health insurance. Are you responsible for insuring your children under your settlement agreement? Does that include dental or vision? Whatever your obligation is, it’s critical you take care of your and your dependent’s insurance needs during this window.
You might also consider benefits you might not have needed before, like pre-paid legal if you’re just now going through a divorce, or if you’re already divorced and want to change your will. While it likely won’t cover the big legal expenses, pre-paid legal can be handy for things like consultations and smaller ticket items.
Again, thanks in part to the pandemic, companies are offering more perks than ever before. Your employer might have a host of new wellness and other benefits to consider - things like virtual counseling, meditation apps, fertility, college guidance services, and more.
In fact, we’ve created our own corporate wellness benefit, Forwardly: A Marriage Repair & Divorce Wellness Toolkit, which provides a roadmap to help employees through marital strain and divorce. (Tell your employer about it!)
Not all these benefits have to be added during open enrollment - check with your HR department if you’re unsure.
3. Pretend it’s your first week on the job.
Remember what it felt like when you first started working at your company? How you needed to think through each task and everything felt like it took a little longer? In some ways, it’s like that again. You may be returning to the same office, but with new policies, changes in schedules, and likely some new faces. Think back to what you did to prepare yourself, mentally and physically, for those first few days on the job. Then try to recreate the things you did that helped to ease your transition. Here are just a few that might help:
Adjust your internal clock: A big perk of working from home has been the ability to avoid a commute. If you took advantage of this by sleeping in, start waking up earlier a few days ahead of time.
Plan your outfit: Laying out your clothes the night before wasn’t just for high school. It’s a great idea that helps ensures you’ll arrive at work both on time and looking presentable. No more rolling out of bed and throwing on that Zoom shirt!
Prep your meal: If you used to bring lunch with you to the office, plan your meals for the week (or at least for the next day - not all of us are THAT organized!).
Help your kids get organized: If you have kids at home, have them do the same things you do. Plan their breakfast, lunch, and meals ahead of time. Pack, or better yet, have them pack their backpacks the night before.
Remember the extras: Don’t forget to pack any of the Covid extras you or your kids need with them now - like hand sanitizer, wipes, and a mask if required or for those unvaccinated.
Yes, all this stuff used to be old hat. But it’s a new world and this little bit of advance prep can make a huge difference in your stress level as you prepare to return to the office.
*We recognize that many essential workers have continued to work outside the home throughout the pandemic. We are especially grateful for you.