- Wise Words -
As Confinement Ends, Office Beckons.
How my return from maternity leave is preparing me for the end of lockdown
by kelly patterson
As we begin to see companies prepare to open up and enter into what will become our "next normal", I have noticed that my angst and worry has shifted from concern about "how we are going to live in this pandemic?" to "how am I going to go back to office life?"
Three months ago, the sudden task of taking care of my children full time and working full time felt daunting and frankly, undoable; but, we figured it out. We survived and in light of the fear for the health and safety of our friends and family, we even managed to have a little fun. Looking back, the past three months have been filled with so many memories with my children that I simply would not have had the chance to create if we had not been forced to lock down and take a pause.
I had the opportunity to flex my mom muscles in ways that were new to me. I had the chance to see my kids in a whole different light when I was not rushing out the door to catch the 7 am train and then returning home just in time to have a few precious minutes together before bedtime. So, as I steal myself for the "return", I am finding that I can liken the big emotions I am feeling to something similar to what I felt as I prepared to return to the office from maternity leave.
The Old Confinement, Maternity Leave
Search "Returning to work after maternity leave" and you will find dozens and dozens of links to click that will share with you pep talks, advice, mantras to repeat throughout the day. There are playbooks for how to prep for the "new normal" ahead where your once hectic schedule will feel even more hectic and where prepping for the week ahead will take on a whole new meaning.
Often, moms will commiserate about how returning to work after maternity leave is hard because they "just feel different". For many of us now facing the return to the office, perhaps these big emotions are similar. Just like any mom returning to work after leave, there are aspects that we're excited for; there's the socialness that comes from being in the office again, the ability to have some time to "yourself" as you commute, collaborating with others in person.
These same aspects can conjure up feelings of dread.
Perhaps, being back in the office makes you worry about having to deal with office politics again or maybe your commute has always been the most dreadful part of your day and the thought of going back makes you feel incredibly anxious. And as much as I appreciate socialness, perhaps you've found that your productivity has soared while working from home and you now see how inefficient you are when constantly interrupted by "drive bys" or stuck in endless meetings. Yes, meetings; they are a topic in and of themselves!
From "Home Office" to "Office, Office". My Prep List
Although I have never had to prepare myself to return to the office following a global pandemic, I have had to mentally prepare myself to return to work following maternity leave twice. Here are three things that I encourage you to keep in mind as we enter this "next normal":
1) Be Kind to Yourself (and Others)
Let yourself feel all of the big emotions that come with big change. Change is always hard but never underestimate how resilient you are. You survived the sudden transition to working from home and you will figure out how to navigate going back to the office. Give yourself all the credit that is due. Also, it is important to remember that everyone processes emotions differently. How we react to change, new situations, and disruptions to our routines varies. Be careful to not project onto your partner, co-worker or direct reports how you're feeling about returning to work and as a result ignoring what they might be feeling. We all need space to process in our own way.
2) Reset Expectations (with your boss but also, and perhaps most importantly, with yourself)
We are all coming to terms with what the next normal is going to look like in terms of how our lives will need to adapt; don't expect that you're going to have it all figured out. And don't feel bad if you're dreading going back to the office. I guarantee that you're not alone. Give yourself the space to figure out what this "next normal" means from a work perspective too. What worked and what didn't work for you before and how do you incorporate what you learned into your routine now?
For me, one important thing I learned about myself during the last three months was how unhappy I was with my routine and my approach to work. I am grateful for the chance to see my "work life" through a different lens and as I prepare to return to the office, I have a list of things that I want to change about how I approach the work day. I encourage you to take a few minutes to reflect on what your "work week" looks like and to make changes where you can if something doesn't sit right with you.
If you find that you need to address some things, make sure you take the time to reset expectations with your boss and/or your direct reports. Over Communication, transparency, and creating an environment where people can feel comfortable talking about how they are feeling and adjusting will be key to success for everyone.
3) And that is the perfect segway into my third piece of advice: Find a routine that suits you now.
We have all been through a very scary and uncertain time. Whether we feel it, see it, or not, we've changed. Our world has changed. I encourage you to evaluate if your old routine still works for you now. I know for me, having had the joy of being home with my boys the last three months, I am not going to be able to go back to missing as much as I was. I am determined to find a better balance through a routine that enables me to thrive at work but also continue to share more time with my kids during the week.
So that’s it from me. I wish you every success in the transition to our next round of normality and hope these ideas are helpful to you in preparing for a return to the office...
Kelly Patterson is an experienced B2B marketer with a passion for storytelling and mentoring.
She has over 15 years of experience across both enterprise companies and start ups. Most recently, Kelly led Marketing at PebblePost, the leading Programmatic Direct Mail platform.