Returning to work after maternity leave: 5 steps to make it a smooth transition

Planning ahead is important when gearing up to return to work after a long leave of absence like maternity leave, sabbatical, or bereavement leave. It is even more important when “the office” is your home.

I was on maternity leave for almost six months. I knew that after such a long period of time away from the office and with an infant, I had to be strategic about reintegrating into work life. Not to mention, I now had to work from home due to the government mandated isolation requirement curfew in place in the Cayman Islands (measures put into place in almost every country in the world) to mitigate the risk of spreading Covid-19 in the Islands. Below I am sharing the steps I have taken to prepare myself to return to work after after such a long period of a sense and under these unusual circumstances.

1. Identify and set up workspace

Identify an area in your home where you can set up your workspace. This should be somewhere with little to no distraction. For example, sitting at the dinner table or in the living room where your children are most likely to be playing is a no-no, unless you have no other choice (for example you also have to take care of your kids while you work). Prepare all the things you will need to work from home including stationery, a computer or laptop, printer and desk. If you have to get these items from your office then do so at least a week or two before your return date to ensure you receive them on time and that everything is in good working order.

Obviously, since we are in a lockdown this will likely mean liaising with your company’s IT team, operations manager, HR, or whichever appropriate personnel, to arrange access to the necessary hardware/software that would enable you to work from home, including obtaining access to the company’s remote system.

2. Become re-familiarise with work functions and duty

If you have been provided remote access ahead of your actual return date, log on to your work system and have a look around to remind yourself where things are saved and how things are done. Read any material that will refresh your memory of how to do your work and of any important information, or processes etc., required of your job. Also read up on any recent publications like articles or newspapers containing updates on developments within your field.

3. Get in touch with colleagues

Email your colleagues to inform or remind them of your return date. You could even set up a call to have a quick chat to speak with them individually. This is especially helpful if you work as past of a team. Most companies are also having weekly virtual team meetings. Confirm with your supervisor or manager and find out if you could sit in on one or two of those meetings ahead of your return to work. It would be good to see the team and ease your way back into work.

4. Build support team at home

It is important that those around you understand any boundaries that is required for you to work effectively and productively at home and how you might need their help to do so. If every adult in the home is working too then it’s even more important that there is an understanding as to what you require from them to help you. Everyone may not be as receptive as you hope and its important to know that beforehand so you can adjust your expectations and avoid any frustrations when you do begin working from home.

5. Get ready mentally

At least a few days before returning to work start to get into the frame of mind of working again. Maybe even start to schedule your day as if you’re back at work. So for example, go to bed and wake up at the time you would normally when working.

Before Covid-19 caused government to restrict movement within the country, the initial plan was to have the baby’s caretaker start work a week or two before I return to work. This would have given me more time to focus on preparing myself mentally and help ease her into her role so shes accustomed to my likes and dislikes and preferences with regards how I want my child taken care of. Of course, that did not happen. Despite that, I was still able to carve out some time here and there to help me start shifting my mind towards work.

I hope these tips will help you prepare for your return to work. Are there any other steps you are taking or have taken when return to work after a long break?

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