Many Americans and their families are experiencing a time of transition from working remotely during the pandemic to returning to the office or hybrid work environments. This transition encompasses practices people have adopted at home or with their families that will also shift, as well as mandates in motion and continued uncertainty.
Lori Mihalich-Levin believes this transition can be done in a way that reduces anxiety and gets people through the process. She’s the founder of Mindful Return, a program that helps new parents “navigate the uncertain terrain of working parenthood.” She’s also the author of “Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave,” the co-host of the “Parents at Work Podcast” and a health care lawyer in private practice at her own firm, The GME Group, PLLC.
Plus, as a mother herself, Mihalich-Levin and her family are navigating the same terrain. She shared with WashingtonExec the four themes of a successful transition and how to practice them in daily life.
Mihalich-Levin defined being mindful as “being in, not judging, and accepting the present moment.” When our thoughts don’t stop, she recommends anchoring them in the present moment. One good way to do this is with our breath, by focusing on breathing in and out. Also, “it’s amazing how children can bring us to the present,” Mihalich-Levin said.
After 18 months of collective pandemic-related trauma, Mihalich-Levin said it’s important to declare practices you’ve made during this time that you won’t abandon. For her family, that means weekly family moving nights and having alone time. And make sure to pause and feel gratitude.
Figuring Out the Logistics
During a time of transition, the logistics can cause stress. Mihalich-Levin suggest setting time with family or partners to have budgeting sessions, holding a rehearsal day (especially if you’ve moved or have kids attending a new school) and having intentional conversations with kids. For example, Mihalich-Levin and her partner haven’t had commuting expenses and dry cleaning fees for a while during the pandemic, but are planning for financial shifts during this transition and reallocating homefront work where needed.
And if you’re having trouble focusing, she recommends the Pomodoro method once you’re back in the office: work on one project with email and social media off for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break. If your mind wanders to another task, write down that task and go back to the original task at hand, and repeat the cycle. Also, start each day with the most important task, and consolidate life’s chaos by implementing weekly home-related planning meetings, for example.
Seeing the Leadership Opportunities
Mihalich-Levin encourages leaders to think about the skills they’ve gained during the pandemic that can also be useful at work. For example, think of ways to model inclusive behaviors, set appropriate boundaries, check in on colleagues and have healthy work habits.
She also recommends following Yael Schonbrun’s work on “work-family enrichment,” or the understanding that while there will be conflict between work and parenting roles, there will also be enrichment and that conflict can turn into happiness.
“The good news, though, is that the conflict arising between work and parenting roles is balanced by a host of gifts,” Schonbrun writes. “Psychologists studying the impact of engagement in both work and family have found that while work and family roles compete for our finite resources, they also enrich each other. In other words, experiences in work or family roles improve quality of life in the other.”
Building and Staying in the Community
It is important during this time of transition not to isolate oneself. Mihalich-Levin said to find your people at work; be intentional about reconnecting in the office and be inclusive with reconnection practices. Plus, remember the friends outside work for helpful perspectives on re-entry.
And remember, your children’s social skills may be rusty after 18 months of online school and limited social gatherings (in fact, yours may be, too). Mihalich-Levin recommends having patience through this process, and encouraging intentional reconnections. Ultimately, keep the conversation alive and continue communicating with your family, peers, teams and colleagues.