Since the time I was legally old enough to work, I’ve worked. Even when I was home for six years with my kids, I free-lanced and worked 20 to 60-hour weeks. I resented people who called me a stay at home mom who didn’t work. And still, I concede, working at home or as a sometimes-on site consultant is not the same as being in an office five days. In a million ways, returning to work was like being fresh out of college, new to the office environment again.
10 things I learned about being on site at work again.
1. New tools – I was pleasantly surprised to learn I was not behind the “digital” curve. I pulled the right data. The strategy was on target. It was the little things that would take me a minute to figure out. For example, I’d have to play around to figure out how to insert a screen capture into this company’s version of PowerPoint. It wasn’t major. But there was some re-acquainting.
2. It’s exhausting - There is an undeniable grind to it. The commute. The hauling a computer and packed lunch from a remote parking lot. The rush back to a kid’s appointment. The inevitable early morning meeting. It’s exhausting.
3. Being around talent is invigorating – Being on the floor with multi-functional talent is an education like none other. It’s also motivating.
4. They really are watching your every move – In fact, your computer will boot up and give you a legal message about how they are monitoring you.
5. Boots are important – A girlfriend looked at my shoes and told me to buy new boots. “You look like you just returned to work and that makes you look out of touch when you are not. You should fix that”. Impressions are important. She was right.
6. Lunches out are work – When consulting or at home with my kids, lunch out was hard, and I’d be multi-tasking like a mad woman to be there. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that time spent with co-workers in person is important. In an office environment, you go to lunch often and that’s time well spent and part of being on a team.
7. Exercise is not easy – I wear a Fitbit. My steps tanked from 17,000/day to 5,000. So a co-worker and I started walking stairs and I’d jump rope at home before the commute. After that, on a good day, that would only get me to 9,000 steps. There’s just less time. But I did what I could to keep stress down and stay healthy.
8. Process/project management is the new black – How to get things done is the new black in business strategy, and it gets talked about in offices – a lot.
9. You make friends for life – I went to a five day, on-site job for a lot of reasons. One of them was not to make friends. But I was quickly reminded that immersing yourself in a company culture is a shared experience. I’m lucky to say it yielded new, lifelong friends.
10. It’s confusing. You want to go home. And you want to stay – As every mom knows, being home all the time is hard. Conversely, it is also hard being away from your kids. Balance is not most women’s reality. Learning to cope with that from multiple perspectives is a good way to appreciate all points of view.
That list of ten may not be every return-to-office-woman’s list. But it’s my list based on a great experience. Looking at that list (and #10 in particular), the bottom line is that motherhood and a career are each lifelong journeys, often intertwined. Like any journey, the ride may be bumpy, unexpected, exhausting or invigorating. So the best we can do is be present and enjoy whatever is thrown at us on the path forward.