If you’ve ever seen an unassisted double play by a graceful second baseman … it pales in comparison to me, in one fluid motion, pushing mute on my Teams call, covering my mouth as if I’m coughing, yelling upstairs to my kid that his English Zoom is in two minutes. I haven’t even missed a full sentence of the meeting.

No one out-multitasks a working mom in a quarantine.

I am focused on work … exchanging story ideas with the editorial department, responding to e-mails at all hours, pulling together in crisis mode like everyone else … possibly working harder than before to show everyone I’m not too distracted by the whole pesky kid factor.

But also … I’m composing the chore list for my tween to earn his sacred Xbox time. Wizarding up dinner recipes from the weird foods in my fridge. Scolding myself for not having watered the new grass seed this morning. Wondering if it’s a good time to refinance.

I’m a Firefox browser with 27 open tabs, because I have to be.

My two biggest roles, employee and mom, have intensified by a factor of one bazillion during COVID-19. (And as my role of homeschooler comes to a merciful end, I embark on an exciting new role as camp director.)

One more thing on my mind: when I will return to the office.

Companies should be careful on this one.

At first glance, the right approach may seem to be “come in if you want to, no pressure if not.” Optional attendance feels diplomatic, right? You appease your employees who can’t wait to get out of the house and don’t work well from home (which, if your circles look like mine, are called dads) while also allowing for those of us who can’t quite get there yet (along with those who could go in but have grown quite accustomed to working in jammies or avoiding a heinous commute). Everyone wins.

Except those of us who lose.

I may as well accept it (and let this serve as an official warning to my boss): I’m a remote employee until in-person school is fully back. While I am glad for the continued flexibility, I’m also well aware I’ll be missing out on in-person collaboration, decision making, and bonding. In our particular office, the dads, millennials, and kid-free workers will have a seat at the table that some [disproportionately mothers] just can’t access.

And look, as a single parent, I already can’t go to impromptu drinks with the visiting CEO. I already leave every holiday party just as things are getting interesting to relieve whatever friend is hosting my kid. I already miss so much. Knowing that I’ll likely be the last worker back to my desk—not for any lack of dedication or interest on my part—just exacerbates the disparity.

Long after office water cooler banter has resumed, I’ll be cranking away at home, fighting that same old perception management issue all work-from-homers feel, trying to be visible, to stay relevant, and to respond to e-mails in under seven seconds lest anyone thinks I’m grocery shopping.

Some companies are taking this disparity into consideration. Susan Gillick, president of Standish Management (a national firm led by several working moms), was originally recommending a “no one should return until everyone can return” policy. While that didn’t ultimately prove feasible, she is still sensitive to the gender dynamics at play. “As we roll out a voluntary return-to-the-office strategy, I worry that those who simply can’t return will be left behind after years of successfully juggling work and family. It’s a helpless feeling.”

Executive coach and CW contributor Amii Barnard-Bahn agrees it’s an issue. “I’ve been interested and concerned about the impact of the pandemic on working parents/caregivers and the likely disproportionate impact on women,” she says. “If you assume that working women bear greater childcare (and elder care) responsibilities, this can negatively impact perceptions of execution and output—which impacts eventual promotability and salary. … Companies need to be careful to watch for equity throughout the pandemic on all levels.”

Barnard-Bahn says the reboarding process gives companies a lot of factors to consider in the quest for an equal playing field. “Until childcare, elder care, and school are available, parents and caregivers will be challenged, as will employees with pre-existing health conditions that make them high risk to return to work,” she says.

However you navigate the return to the office, just be aware: “optional” is not an option for everyone.

Readers, we’re interested to hear how you’re handling this return to the office. Let us know in comments below …