Nothing is more essential to personal or professional success than resilience: the ability to rethink, reorganize and recover when your plans go awry. Resilience is what allows us to find another path forward when we hit a roadblock; to let go of what we expected and instead open to what is; to bounce back from disappointment or heartbreak with something like good grace or even good cheer.

But the modern world and workplace have chipped away at the structures that enable resilience. Fewer and fewer of us have extended family nearby, so there’s nobody to turn to if you have a kid who’s sick or an injury that makes it hard to get to the grocery store. Extended working hours and the pressure of always-on communication mean that we have little opportunity to reflect and regenerate, so that we’re often frayed and exhausted. Two-career families that depend on overtime to pay the bills, college admission standards that demand kids participate in heaps of extracurriculars, social-media platforms that imply we should be packing our lives full of parties and adventures while maintaining a beautiful home, face and body: They all conspire to keep us running at 120% capacity, 100% of the time.


When crisis interferes

Maybe you can sustain that pace if everything goes as planned—but as I’ve learned time and again, life likes to throw curveballs. In the past twenty years, our family has yet to go six months without at least one plan-shattering life event: a birth or death; a job or school change; a caregiver departure, or a kid crisis intense enough to warrant police intervention.

Two decades ago, I thought that instability was the problem: My goal was to stop having all these crises. But it only took a few more years for me to realize that the pattern wasn’t going to shift; life was just going to keep on happening, in its intense and unpredictable way. What had to change was my ability to roll with the punches.

And it turns out that hybrid work can provide some of the structural resilience the modern world has stripped away. Yes, as I wrote earlier this year, remote work can tax our resilience in new ways, and when we’re cut off from the office, we can’t depend on the presence and rhythms of our co-workers to get back in gear. That’s why it’s crucial to build a toolkit that helps us cultivate personal resilience.

But personal resilience can only get you so far when you are working within an inflexible structure. Workplace schedules, tight budgets, limited childcare: They all constrain our ability to respond to the twists and turns of daily life. Hybrid work relaxes some of that constraint: The more control you have over where and when you work, the more flexibility you have to respond to a sudden change in life circumstances, and the better you can resource yourself to cope with a stressful situation.


How hybrid helps

I found myself reflecting gratefully on the structural resilience that comes from hybrid work just this past week, when we found found ourselves without support for our homeschooled teen, just as the school year is getting underway. Back in the days when my husband and I both had full-time office jobs, this was the kind of situation that created major disruption. In fact, I left my last job because we realized that our family simply couldn’t sustain two full-time, on-site jobs while coping with a recurring set of educational crises and transitions.

But it wasn’t enough to shift to working remotely: We had to break the habits inculcated by years of on-site, full-time employment, and tap into the structural resilience provided by hybrid work. Here are the new habits that have helped us make the most of that resilience.


Accept some ebb and flow

Office life is based on a lie: the lie that all 9-to-5 days are created equal. When I first started working remotely, I tried to sustain the same levels of day-to-day (or at least, week-to-week) productivity that had characterized my office job. But eventually I realized that the advantage of remote work is the ability to pace yourself seasonally.

Some months I get so much done, you’d think I was folding space and time. Other months, I let work take a back burner to personal priorities like homeschooling, household maintenance or simple regeneration. When the shit hits the fan on the home front, I rebalance work and home for a period of time, confident in the knowledge it will balance out in the long haul. This is something employers and managers could make room for, too—if they’re willing to engage in candid conversations, and accept an employee’s record of past overdrive as an indicator that yes, they can slow down for a few weeks or months and still deliver what they need to this year.


Book to 80%.

Precisely because life is so unpredictable, I have gradually shifted from booking myself at 120% of normal human capacity to something more like 80%. That way I have some margin if something crazy happens, or if something absolutely irresistible comes along that I want to have room to take on (for a very short time). Last year I spent a few months at 120%, for the first time in many years, and it reminded me of how miserable it is to be massively overbooked.


Balance stability with flexibility.

If you’re in a household with more than one breadwinner, it can be very helpful to take a “portfolio” approach to your income. We have found it works very well if one of us has a job or contract that provides a lot of stability and financial predictability, while the other takes on work that is more flexible. When crisis hits, the flexible earner can dial back their working hours in order to accommodate our family challenges—secure in the knowledge that we still have a baseline household income.


Get creative with capacity.

When a sudden change in circumstances puts us suddenly over capacity—sometimes because we find more on our plate, sometimes because tragedy or stress affects what we can sustain—we look at both demand and supply, personal and professional. To reduce demand, I might press pause on pitching new clients, or hold off on a personal project like reorganizing our closets. (Though I try not to hold off on personal commitments that actually create or sustain capacity, like exercise or dates with friends.) To increase supply, I consider where I can hire or buy capacity on either the professional or personal front: Can I hire someone to take on some business admin for me? Should we give up on cooking for a few weeks and feed ourselves on restaurant delivery? It really doesn’t matter whether I buy back my hours by delegating domestic or professional tasks: If we’re overstretched, I’ll take those hours wherever I can get them.


Stagger your hours.

When you need extra capacity, it can be really helpful to stagger your working hours, and potentially also your sleeping hours. Particularly when you’re dealing with a crunch on the personal front, waking up early (and getting in some personal or work time before the other demands of the day) or staying up late (to catch up on work and personal time) can make a big difference: The fact that I have 2 or 3 hours every day when I’m the only person awake in the house gives me a window I can count on. When we’re short on childcare, Rob and I shift our workdays around so that if there’s an hour when I absolutely can’t be interrupted on a call, he’s available to handle any kid crises (and vice versa).


The power of resilience

If a lot of these resilience strategies sound as applicable to full-time office work as they are to remote and hybrid—well, that speaks well of your employer! We should have the flexibility and autonomy to calibrate our working lives to what’s going on outside of work, to occasionally rebalance, and to be honest when we need to take our foot off the gas for a minute.

It’s the unique pathology of the modern workplace, and of the hustle culture that has come in for so much criticism in the conversation about “quiet quitting”, that we feel like there’s something aberrant about admitting that we can’t always commit 120% to our jobs. Hybrid work has, for many of us, created that kind of structural resilience for the first time. And embracing that resilience isn’t “quitting”: It’s cultivating the capacity to live whole lives, and to show up at work as whole humans.

This post was originally featured in the Thrive at Work newsletter. Subscribe here to be the first to receive updates and insights on the new workplace.