Parents truly need other parents, I discovered. Yes, this initially came a bit begrudgingly for an “I can do this myself, thank-you-very-much” type. But community truly saved me in the dark early days of sleepless working parenthood. And it is community that I am now committing to building.
I’ve mentioned before being a serial starter of working parent groups at companies. (Are you the leader of one of these groups? Join the Working Parent Group Network (WPGN) here.) Where but at your own employer will you find others who can truly relate to what it’s like to be both a parent and an employee in your specific situation?
In this context, I recently received a question from a new mama in a smaller regional office of a larger company. She wrote, wondering how she can find her people. Here’s her question about how she might connect with other new parents:
I work for a company that has a few large offices (100+ people) and many smaller offices (20-40 people). I’m in one of the smaller offices. And I’d like to connect with other new parents at my company, because I’m the only one in my own office. (My baby is 6 months old.)
If we were all in one office I’d suggest a monthly brown bag lunch like you’ve recommended in blog posts before. But this would have to be done virtually (over conference calls or maybe video chats). Such calls seem really awkward, since we wouldn’t know each other to start off. And “discuss your feelings and experiences returning to work post baby,” seems like a pretty heavy agenda for a call. Can you recommend how we might build this community among colleagues who aren’t located in the same place?
The mama who wrote this question is spot on. There are challenges to connecting across offices. Deep, personal subjects can be awkward to tackle over a first video-conference. Colleagues who run parent groups and I put our heads together to brainstorm a few ideas for her, though. Here’s what we came up with.
7 Ways to Connect Parents Across Offices
- Start with Informal 1:1 Connections: Maybe you’ve heard that a woman in an office in the next state over recently had a baby. Ask colleagues for an introduction to her via people you have in common. Yes, it may initially seem odd to say, “hey, we both just had babies, can we talk?” But chances are you’ll have a million common topics to discuss in the first phone call. In creating strong working parent bonds across offices, I’ve discovered that the 1:1 interactions really are where it all starts.
- Provide Remote Access to Working Parent Group Conversations: When a working parent group comes together, reserve conference rooms in main offices (preferably with video conference capabilities). Provide teleconference info for those who can’t make it. True, there’s nothing like being there in person. But video conference technology can provide a happy middle ground between being live and only hearing someone’s voice by phone. Also consider varying the day of the week and the time of these conversations, to accommodate different schedules.
- Consider Starting with “Safe” Topics, to Get Folks Engaged: Even video conference technology has its limits. Opening up with strangers you see by phone can indeed feel awkward. To reduce the chances of that deathly silence, consider starting conversations with “safe” topics to start building trust among the group. Then delve into more personal topics.
- Ask Parents in the Smaller Offices to Lead a Discussion Topic: One idea for engaging folks from the smaller office is to ask them to lead a discussion on a particular topic. Posing open-ended questions to the group about how to handle a particular issue can also help parents in the smaller offices contribute to the conversation and feel engaged.
- Use In-Person Time Unrelated to a Working Parent Group to Connect with Other Parents: Do employees from different offices in your company ever gather in person for retreats, meetings, or other project work? Even if these opportunities are infrequent, perhaps parents who are attending can intentionally carve out time to connect in person. Remote conversations are always so much easier once they have a grounding in real, in-person connection. There’s a higher likelihood of feeling more comfortable going deeper on difficult topics by phone, if that in-person trust is established at some point.
- Connect with E-Mail Lists and Message Boards: Relatively easy to set up, company e-mail lists and message boards can be fantastic ways to connect parents across a company. You can use the lists not to broadcast parent-related events. And also to share relevant articles and resources, and post questions.
- Consider New Parent Mentoring Programs: My own firm offers a “new parent outreach program” program to new parent attorneys. The program pairs a new parent about to go on leave with someone who has been through the leave-and-return process already. The obligations for the mentor are minimal (a few roughly-scheduled check-ins), and the rewards for the mentee can be huge. Just knowing there’s someone at your company who has “been there done that” and who has your back as you become a working parent can be incredibly reassuring.
If you’re reading this, and you’ve had success connecting the working parents at your employer across various offices, I’d love to hear from you! Please share wisdom and experiences below in comments. As we cross-pollinate ideas, we can make these working parent communities even richer and more helpful to the next generation of parents.
If you need more help getting your head in a better place to return to work after maternity leave, join us for the next session of Mindful Return.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave