Does a return to the office necessitate a return to laundry-filled weekends, hectic mornings getting dressed, and uncomfortable shoes? For the working woman, time was already sparse before the pandemic; when COVID-19 hit and most of the world transitioned to remote work, deeply ingrained gender biases were exacerbated. For many women, the pandemic felt like our responsibilities increased, while the time in our day was drained. As the world re-emerges, are we really going to conform to the same office standards that had us scrambling before?
In many ways, the virtual environment has brought visibility to the inequalities faced by working women, with Zoom giving us a peek into the ways that women take on a different role both in the workplace and at home. During the pandemic, women reported higher rates of stress, depression, and sheer hours worked—especially those with kids. COVID-19 put more pressure on women to continue to excel in their careers in the midst of a global health crisis while taking on the burden of navigating an unfair role in both society and at home.
From the way we greet coworkers to the frequency with which we wash our hands, the pandemic is going to leave some lasting effects on the ways we work. There are a lot of lessons we can take from remote work as we transition back into the office (or something in-between) to create a more inclusive, productive, and fulfilled workplace for the women around us. Here are a few WFH things we want to bring back into the office (besides comfier shoes):
- Intentional Inclusivity. We always say that we strive to make our Armoire team feel like a family, and inclusion stands at the root of this. To us, inclusion means making sure that every employee, regardless of background, sexuality, income, etc, feels valued and welcome. We’ve focused on creating an environment where people feel like they’re cared about, from our newest part-time employees to the salaried workers who have been with us since the start. One way we focus on doing this is by implementing equal healthcare and parental leave policies across our organization. No matter the role, we want to show our team they’re valuable to our organization, support their lives outside of work, and care about them at work as well. It’s been great to see this community and workplace come to life– company morale events filled with everyone’s significant others, parents, children, roommates, and beyond give us a chance to truly get to know the people we work with and show that we care. As we shifted into the virtual environment, this intentional inclusivity became even more important, providing support where we could for our team as seemingly every element of our lives was thrown into chaos. Being diligent, intentional, and strategic with how employees feel at work (and outside) creates a stronger team and helps our Armoire family thrive, but requires dedicated effort. As we go back into the office, dedicating time and space to creating an inclusive environment will be essential to supporting the people around us.
- Engaging Different Perspectives. The virtual environment also served as a great equalizer for different communication styles. No longer does the loudest in the (virtual) room win. Zoom meetings and the switch from whiteboard brainstorms to shared documents reminded us that introverts have opinions, too. By turning to different channels for communication and collaboration, we’ve widened the opportunity for different types of speakers to engage. As we return to the real world, we need to intentionally create collaborative dynamics and workflows that engage different communication styles. Giving people the time to brainstorm and share in breakout rooms, or having a meeting moderator to make sure that everyone who wants to speak does, create opportunities to ensure that the loudest ideas don’t drown out the great ones.
- Embracing Alternate Workflows. WFH quickly made us realize that the 9-5 doesn’t work for everyone, nor does it really need to. Between getting kids logged into school, family dinners, and most likely a standing weekly zoom happy hour, how can we better adapt to different constraints and schedules? One thing we did at Armoire was identify where we could make work asynchronous in order to accommodate a better work-life balance for everyone, for example moving to a 4-day, 10-hour workweek for some, or offering part time hours for employees looking to jointly prioritize other parts of their lives, such as school. By focusing on productivity rather than hours logged, we could incorporate work into people’s lives, rather than vice versa.
- Making the Workplace Work for You: WFH also made us realize that the office formalities we often cling to aren’t really benefiting everyone, particularly women. COVID-19 put more pressure on women, who take on a disproportionate amount of childcare, while still needing to adhere to many outdated workplace protocols, such as strict dress codes. This meant that women had even less time, and if you’re anything like me, any extra five minutes you had were spent going for a walk instead of putting on a stuffy blazer dictated by your dress code – something that made me feel good by being able to prioritize myself. As we learned this year, optimal performance is driven by different things for different people so we need to re-evaluate traditional social standards and meet people halfway to allow them to prioritize themselves within their work. What makes women feel good is personal. For some, it might be putting on that cute dress or a new lipstick. For some, that “power blazer” is really a “power sweater” made of soft agora. While “me time” might look different across us, balancing high-achieving careers with self-care is critical, which the past year has made even more obvious. We cut formalities that weren’t essential to our work in the pandemic, and as we move back into the office, we must prioritize ourselves in our work life. Whatever you’re doing, whatever your style is, it better make you feel good, first and foremost.
The return to the office gives us an unmatched opportunity to redefine the way we as women work in a way that, well, works for us. Why must we conform to one method of communication, to one schedule, to one standard of dress, when the pandemic has paved the way to build on top of the flexibility that women need? By taking ownership of our return to the office, we can create an environment that works for women in every element of our lives.