Return to Office: What Happens to Family Time?
The last two years have been a boon for families — mostly — but the WFH life is fast waning in countries across the world. As we learn to live with the pandemic, offices are calling back employees in ever-increasing numbers. But having gotten used to the home as a workstation as well as a living space, in which children and parents coexisted (possibly with aunts, uncles, cousins, or grandparents), to think of them as separate once again can feel confusing and even alarming.
As we adapted to living in close quarters with one another, we grew to accept (and in most cases, I hope, to love) the proximity to our families. I’ve myself never felt so in touch or in tune with my children as I did during the lockdown. It was an opportunity to renew and rekindle our unrequited affection for each other. Many of us got used to being around our spouses, elderly parents who need care, or our kids as they attended online classes or went to bed. And we now fear that return to office may mean reduced family time or missing out on important milestones in our children’s lives.
But just as we adjusted to the new normal of the pandemic and WFH, we must now adjust to the return to office — and schools and colleges. How do we remedy loneliness and come to terms with the idea that we’re losing out on time together as a family as we go our separate ways from Monday to Friday?
Nurture relationships with your family
Many of us are likely to feel some sort of separation anxiety — from our parents, kids, pets — as we begin stepping out of home daily. How do we ensure that this new physical distance does not translate into emotional distance? Prioritizing family time at home is essential, but it’s not as simple as parents imposing a fixed time for dinner every day and banishing phones from the dinner table (though that’s not a bad idea per se). Weekend walks along the beach or in nature or a visit to a cultural exhibit are also good options as they create a shared experience around a positive notion: fresh air or education.
How we choose to spend time together as a family should be a collective, collaborative, and democratic exercise in which we listen to each other with care and compassion. People experience and express emotional intimacy in different ways: for some, it might be through a conversation at dinner; for others, it might be through shared laughs or smiles over a movie. We need to be empathetic toward our differences and find common ground by selecting conversation topics we all enjoy, taking turns speaking, and respecting our different opinions in a debate.
It’s also important to show genuine interest in each other’s lives outside the home. Although we can no longer share experiences first-hand in a shared locale, we can try our best to do so through conversation at the end of the day.
Enjoy others around you
Your family are not the only people in your life. You’ll have classmates in school or colleagues at work with whom it’s important to build good relationships if you want to boost team spirit or camaraderie. They don’t have to be your best pals but treating them with kindness and respect — and perhaps even going for a coffee with them to get to know them better — can help fill the gap in emotional closeness and social intimacy left by being more frequently absent from home.
Think about it: all our friends started out as strangers. So, there’s always the potential of new friendships with those you spend significant amounts of time with while working in office or studying at school. As we tend to gravitate toward similar people, there’s also a good chance the new friends we make will fit in well with the old ones, as well as with our family. It’s an opportunity to bring joy, not only to our own lives, but also to the lives of our partners and children as they get to meet our new friends.
If we think of our relationships as continuous, we’ll understand that working away from home is not the start of a new story, but simply that of a new chapter.