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by Kaitlin McManus | January 30, 2019


woman walking snow

Did you know that, in Dante’s Inferno, the ninth and final circle of hell isn’t, as one might expect, an inferno? Nope—actually, the further that Dante and Virgil get to the bottom, the colder it gets. The ninth circle is, essentially, an ice cave with Satan trapped inside. You know what that sounds like? Chicago, today. The high today is -12⁰, though the wind chill is bringing it down to about -50⁰—one of the coldest days on record for the city. That’s absurd, and just goes to prove my hypothesis that winter is truly the worst. There are dozens of little ways that extreme cold can throw ice-wrenches into your workday so, as a former Midwesterner (who once got let out of school when the antifreeze in the plumbing froze and burst a bunch of pipes), let me explain why you should just work from home when it’s too cold out (and some tips for if/when you can’t).

1.     You’ll stay warmer.

Most people have something of a work uniform—our go-to pieces. Working women everywhere will recognize some of mine: blouses made of that chiffon-y material that’s very thin but still opaque. I feel like every woman in every office has one of these shirts, at least. And you can not wear them in the winter. The wind goes right through. And men don’t have it much easier. On overwhelmingly cold days, I would much rather stay home in my slipper socks and cozy sweaters rather than craft an outfit that’s warm enough to get me through the day. But if you do have to get into the office and can’t layer up the blankets, you should still layer your clothes. Fleece-lined leggings can be worn under skirts or, yes, pants. Thick sweaters and cardigans can go a long way too but, if you’re really feeling the chill, a neatly arranged scarf can be a very professional and very toasty accessory. Today’s probably also a day for boots rather than flats or pumps.

2.     You don’t have to worry about your commute.

No one’s got an easy commute on blisteringly cold days. Cars often don’t start, while public transport is extra-jammed since everyone’s so bundled up. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to call off work in the past just because my car wouldn’t start, nor can I tell you how many strangers I’ve had to spoon on the subway (two, today). So instead of flooding your engine or getting overly familiar with your bus buddies, stay home. But, if you must, getting to work in the morning starts the night before. Park your car in a garage, if you can—you can even put an electric blanket over your engine/battery overnight to stave off the cold. If you take the train, use your best public transport manners: put your backpack by your feet, budge in to let everyone on, hands to yourself, etc. If the trains aren’t running or your car won’t start, make sure you call in and let your supervisor know. Chances are you aren’t the only one encountering problems, but you should still be professional about the situation.

3.     Lunch is less of a hassle.

You bought groceries before the cold snap (or polar vortex), right? Because you do not want to head out for food in this weather, and there’s not a tip big enough to keep a delivery driver from hating you when it’s nightmarishly cold out. You may have trouble getting delivery in the first place (see transportation issues above). If you work from home, you can make yourself lunch without having to really think about it. But if you do have to go into work, make sure you pack something to bring with you. There’s nothing worse than feeling your tummy rumble and thinking to yourself, “Oh God, I actually have to go out there.” Put a post-it on your door so you don’t forget it

4.     You’ll get to see the sun.

Sunshine is important in the winter. Getting enough vitamin D keeps us from getting the winter blues (or its more serious cousin, Seasonal Affective Disorder). These days, I feel like I come to work and go home while the sun is sleeping. If your desk doesn’t have a good natural light source, it can sometimes feel like you spent the whole day in the dark. While normally a walk around the block come lunchtime can work wonders, no one wants to do that when it’s in the negatives out there. So we stay inside, and it affects our mood. At home, you can make sure that you get an adequate amount of natural light throughout the day by setting up your workspace near a window—hopefully a well-sealed one! If you do have to go into the office, you might try investing in a light therapy lamp or taking your coffee break by a window. You’ll be astounded by the difference a little vitamin D can make.

Suffering through work in the cold is, I’m pretty sure, why everyone wants to retire someplace warm. Luckily, flexibility is a rising trend in the workplace. So hopefully you’ll be able to stay home and keep toasty if a polar vortex hits your area. But if that’s not an option for you, just remember to be prepared and stay safe. And Chicago? Stay strong—we Illinoisians are tough, you got this.