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Erica Alini is a personal finance reporter at The Globe and Mail.

Last week, I spent a day at the office for the first time in more than two years. It felt like a brand new world and not just because I switched jobs during the pandemic and had never set foot in the Toronto newsroom of The Globe and Mail before.

When I stepped onto the streetcar I couldn’t remember where I was supposed to swipe my transit pass. Of course, I had also neglected to sign up for a workstation for the day in the new office-management app. Once I got myself sorted – with plenty of help from the front-desk staff – I promptly forgot my thermos full of hot tea at reception, which I didn’t realize for a full hour. And for the rest of the day I had a hard time tuning out the office chatter.

Two years ago, I would never have thought this would be me. I’m an introvert who feeds off social energy and has always loved the buzz of the newsroom. I used to struggle to concentrate without the background noise of an office, and, a few months into the pandemic, I had no doubt I’d be there Monday through Friday as soon as it was safe to go back.

Today, I have mixed feelings about the office. Working from home turned out to be so much more practical as a working parent. And, let’s be honest, in general that’s especially true if you’re a working mom (I say this with a nod to all the working dads out there who share equally in the load of running a household, including my husband).

Zero commuting means that, when it’s my turn to cook, I’ll probably manage to get dinner on the table by 5:30, which then leaves some time to play pillow fight or tickle monster with my six-year-old. Those extra 45 minutes in the evening – and I’m lucky that my trip to the office doesn’t take longer – are the difference between having a chance to laugh with my kid at the of the day and rushing from dinner to bath and bath to bedtime like we’re on a factory assembly line.

Working from home also makes it much easier to perform the multi-tasking that is inevitably involved in juggling job and family. If I need to take a screen-free pause to think, I can also, say, clear the pile of dishes in the sink so it’s not a chore that will haunt me after dinner, sapping my energy to read an extra-long bedtime story. A recent article I wrote about going back to the office confirmed a lot of other working moms – many with far longer commutes – feel the same way.

The 9 to 5 day at the office seems to assume that, for couples with kids, one parent will earn the money and the other will take care of the house and child rearing. Combining those two full-time roles is tough when you also spend Monday through Friday out of the house. This is true for all working parents, of course, but the strain is usually much greater on women, who are still much more likely to do more of the parenting and household labour. For Canadian parents lucky enough to have the 40 per cent or so of jobs that can be done from home, remote or hybrid work feels like a big step in the right direction.

At the same time, I also wonder about how the new reality – especially hybrid work – will affect mothers in the workplace. Since we’re still more likely to be the lead parents, does that mean more of us will choose to be fully remote (if we can) or show up at the office less often? And will that turn out to be a new kind of mommy tax?

Research shows mothers tend to earn less than both men and childless women. Usually, that is, at least in part, because working moms are more likely to cut back their hours in an effort to balance their two demanding roles. According to Statistics Canada, women make up a larger share of part-time workers, which explains a chunk of the country’s gender wage gap.

Will a lack of facetime at the office become yet another factor depressing mothers’ earnings potential?

It’s probably too soon to tell, but I have to wonder.

What else we’re thinking about:

Speaking of systems that don’t jive with being a working parent, let me bring up summer camps. Why does our school year have a two-month gap when most parents work year-round?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for 365 days of school. The summer is a great opportunity for kids to be exposed to a different kind of learning. But the current patchwork of one-week day camps that dual-income families often have to rely on for summer child care is both chaotic and unaffordable for many.

So how did we end up with this July and August break with no standard child care option to fill the gap? The idea that it dates back to a time when kids had to work on the farm is apparently a myth. Instead, Kenneth Gold, dean of education at the College of Staten Island/CUNY, traces the origins back to “budget crunches, demands for time off, concerns about over stressing students.” All those factors are still relevant today, Gold argues, and efforts to change the school year are likely to fail without addressing them. That seems like a good place to start.

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