The experience in my life that feels most similar to this COVID-19 crisis is, without a doubt, having an infant at home. Yes, there was certainly more joy involved than during this pandemic. But there were similar amounts of existential fear. Discombobulation. Distraction. Sleeplessness. And wondering how on earth it was all going to work out.
If going back to work after having a baby seemed near-impossible when I did it (7 and 9 years ago), I can’t even imagine having to find your footing back in your professional job while doing it under the current circumstances. Many parents currently have no childcare options. Many are going back to jobs on the front lines and have to use emergency childcare. None of us is doing this the way we would have wanted to.
I held a webinar this past week entitled “Returning to Work after Parental Leave During COVID-19: Strategies for a Successful Remote Work Re-Entry.” If you missed it, click the link to get access to the recording.
Want the highlights? Here are my top tips if you’re navigating this return during COVID-19.
9 Tips for Going back to Work During COVID-19
- Remember that YOU are not failing. You are being asked to do the impossible right now. There is a reason people line up childcare when they go back to work after maternity leave and paternity leave – because it’s simply not possible to put in a full day of work while also being responsible for the full-time care of your baby. Yes, you will probably feel frustrated. Yes, you will feel like you’re not getting “enough” done. And none of it is your fault. You, mama, are doing the best you can right now. Talk to yourself as you would talk to your best friend. Don’t belittle yourself for anything.
- Find the good. Perhaps you’re now working 100% virtually, and that means you don’t have to drop your baby off with a caregiver every day. Perhaps you can breastfeed more and not have to pump as much. If you’re still going out of your house to a job, perhaps the good you find each day is in your baby’s soft skin and amazing giggles. Wherever that good may be, find it and note it every day.
- Re-negotiate *everything* at home. If you have a partner in this parenting adventure, now is the time to sit down and re-assess all of the daily tasks you complete and to come up with a new daily schedule. When you were on leave, you probably took on certain home-related work that you will no longer be able to complete while you are working. Put everything on the table, and talk about who will do what. Also talk about how you will split your work day and caregiving responsibilities. Some couples have been splitting their days in half, where one works during the morning and the other works in the afternoon. (And then they both try to work at night after baby falls asleep.) Other couples trade off every hour or two. Read this, if you need a script for talking to your significant other about difficult topics like this one.
- Ask all your work stakeholders 2 questions: What did I miss? And how can I help now? Plan virtual meetings (video is better than phone) for your first week back with your supervisor, any direct reports, and key colleague collaborators. Don’t spend time reading old e-mails or trying to get “caught up” on everything you might have missed work-wise while you were out. Simply ask them the short version of what happened while you were away. And then ask them what you can dig into that will most help your work team right now.
- Plan a virtual lunch or coffee date with another working parent for your first day back. In pre-COVID-19 times, I found that new parents always benefited from being able to commiserate with other working parents on that first day back in the office. These connections are all the more important now. Yes, the other working parent you’d like to talk to probably has a tight schedule to juggle, but with a little coordination, you’ll be able to get together for at least a short chat. And that other parent will know exactly how you’re feeling.
- Use the Pomodoro Method and Daniel Pink’s “Most Important Task” to help you with focus and productivity. Everyone – and I mean parents and those without children alike – is distracted right now. By illness, anxiety, fear, the news, change, loneliness, you name it. There are two tools that have really been helping me lately. First, to identify each night what my “most important task” will be for the following day (check out Daniel Pink’s short video about this “MIT” here). And second, to do work in short but undistracted chunks, using the Pomodoro Method.
- Repeat after me: “Comparison is the Thief of Joy.” If there’s one thing my 9 years of parenthood have taught me, it’s that comparisons simply aren’t helpful in working parenthood. Before, during, or after this COVID-19 crisis. Comparing the way you worked before baby to how you work now will be useless and unproductive. Similarly, comparing the way your return to work would have gone “but for” the crisis, isn’t helpful. Comparing yourself to your colleagues and how they are working (particularly those without children) or to other parents and how they are parenting (particularly those who aren’t employed “outside”) doesn’t help anyone. You do you, mama. Whatever that looks like during these crazy times.
- Remind yourself that parenthood is giving you skills that are useful in your job. What? You’re getting better at your job by being a parent? Surprise – it’s true! Working parents are prioritization ninjas. We know how to problem-solve like nobody’s business. And we’re able to communicate with cranky stakeholders who can’t articulate their needs. The list goes on. (Still don’t believe me? Check out this post.)
- Please, please don’t do this return-to-work-thing alone. Find your people, mama. Isolation is the shortest route to burnout, and in a time when many of us are confined to our homes, meaningful connections are proving even harder to come by. If you want to be surrounded by other new working parents who are navigating this return to work the same time you are, please let Mindful Return be your community. We run a new session of the Mindful Return program every other month. Because of COVID-19, I’ve left the March session of the course open for you to join now. And there’s a new session starting May 4. Find out more and register here (for the mom version) or here (for the dad version). We’ve got your back, if you want a nonjudgmental community of support during this transition.
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