Remote Work After Maternity Leave
With all the talk about working from home, what about the tens of thousands of mums returning to work after maternity leave – when work is the bedroom, the kitchen or the sitting room? Pandemic or no pandemic, the return to work can be challenging and overwhelming at the best of times.
Add to that a return to a remote setting.
For many, not only do they have the challenge of finding this work/life balance with a new baby, but now there’s the added altered reality of a new office setting, no colleagues to share baby photos with or no face-to-face warm welcome back to the office.
Three women, including two of our own – Joanne Foley and Patricia Deane – share their experiences of returning to a world of remote working, including what the transition was like; the challenges and benefits it has presented and what more they feel could be done by employers in Ireland.
Joanne Foley of Matrix Recruitment started maternity leave on 28 Feb 2020, one day before the first case of Coronavirus was confirmed in the state. The day after she came home from hospital with her newborn, the country went into full lockdown. Joanne returned to work last month. She was provided with a return pack “which had all the documentation and information that I needed to get up to speed on any new policies and procedures.”
When asked about the challenges Joanne said, “The hardest part is the social aspect of not being physically in the office. We have a very close-knit team who work very well together and while we still keep in touch via Teams, you do miss the chats and camaraderie in the office. Also, brainstorming is much easier when you’re actually in the same physical location.”
Joanne believes refresher training should be offered to staff returning from maternity leave.
Paula Egan works for Sage Ireland and went on maternity leave in December 2019. Her baby Rebecca was born in early 2020 and Paula returned to a remote working situation in November 2020.
“For me, the hardest part of coming back was having to set up a Teams meeting or to call someone to say hello. I had visions of spending very long tea breaks in the canteen sharing photos of my new baby, so that was a little more difficult over Teams! I also noticed the lack of free time during the day as the calendar got booked up very quickly, I learned to book out my lunch time by the end of the first week. From an engagement perspective, I found my first few group meetings a little difficult as I had taken on a new team and it was hard to gauge their reactions to me.”
However, Paula felt she had great support from her employer, including a meeting in the months before her return to bring her up to speed. When asked what employers should be doing to support staff returning from maternity leave, Paula suggested re-onboarding:
“I think it would be a good idea to have a formal re-onboarding for people returning from maternity leave that would set out a timeline over the first month of tasks that should be completed and other important things such as updates on key organisation changes, new training that should be completed, introductions to new team members who joined, updates from key areas of the business etc. I have worked with my company for over 10 years and I am in a leadership position, so asking for information or requesting meetings was never a problem. However, it might not be so easy for someone more junior or newer to an organisation.”
Patricia Deane from Matrix Recruitment was due to go on maternity leave November 2019, but “went seven weeks early and finished up suddenly at the end of September.” Patricia returned to work, remotely, in October 2020.
According to Patricia, the challenges she faced included, “Not being surrounded by the team was difficult because, which as a recruiter, you do need to hear those conversations around you. You do feel a little isolated but we do have Zoom calls each week so that does help.”
Patricia talks about how she found it hard to settle back straight away, “Your brain is trying to adjust to being a new parent, so to switch off that mode and back into work mode, it was difficult.” And due to the remote working situation, she initially found it hard to switch off at the end of the working day.
“It’s important to separate “home” time from “work” time and at first I found it hard to unplug, but it is something that’s improving.” Patricia has childcare in place four days a week. The fifth day she juggles between herself and her partner.
A predominately positive experience for each of these women who we spoke to. But many mums returning from maternity leave often have no choice but to reduce their workload to keep all the plates spinning, which can delay career advancement and reduce earning potential. Or they are adding more hours to the working day to fit everything in.
Do you have experience of returning to a remote working situation after maternity leave? We would love to hear about your experience!