Last week, in a webinar I led for Happify about having smoother return to office transitions, we took a poll about where people were in the return-to-office process. Webinar participants were from many different geographies and industries. And about 20% had returned to an office full time. 20% had returned in a hybrid fashion. And the remaining 60% had not returned at all.
I encourage everyone – whether you’ve set foot back in the office yet already or not – to view the return as a process and not an event. One that it may take months, even a year, to feel comfortable and “normal” about.
To expedite the transition process, though, it helps to be prepared! That’s where today’s guest post on the Mindful Return blog comes in. Carla Renfield-Miller, a Senior Vice President at Citi, mama of 2, and a Mindful Return alum, returned to the office last week. She is graciously sharing her AMAZINGLY comprehensive return to office checklist with us here!
(Also: if you’d like a good chuckle before you confront the topic of returning to an office, watch this brilliant Belgian clip about grown-ups returning to offices, with a little help from our kids!
Now, over to Carla!
Many of us have just returned to the office this month, after schools started their new calendar year. But many of us are still going to return in the weeks and months to come. With that in mind, I decided to accept Lori’s invitation to write a guest blog post on the return-to-office subject and share some advice with the Mindful Return Community.
The tips that follow were well received by the members of the Families Matter Network at Citi, where I work. They are adapted below for external sharing.
Getting Ready for Your Return to Office
When the time comes for you to return to the office, it will be key to ask the following:
- How many days a week are you expected to be in the office?
- Is it possible to come in for more than this number of days? Or not, perhaps because the company wants to maintain social distancing or have a certain number of people coming in each day?
- Are these days “fixed,” or can they be flexible and vary each week?
- Is there flexibility with regards to the hours, or are you expected to be there on a 9-5 schedule?
- Are there exceptions to the return-to-office policy? If so, what are the cases in which the employee could request to continue to work from home?
- What is the mask requirement?
- What is the COVID testing policy?
- Do you need to submit your vaccination status? And is the return to the office only for those who are vaccinated?
And this is just a starting point! There are many variables involved in this transition process.
The tips that follow aim to help you, as caregiver, “get there” (to the office!) and also feel productive and comfortable when you are “there.” So let’s see what can be done…
Before Your First Day Back at Work
- Speak with your children/elderly or disabled family members. Tell them about this transition in advance. These advance conversations can help to prepare them mentally.
- Introduce them to the new nanny/nurse/daycare ahead of time, if possible. Help them get comfortable with the set up they will encounter during your absence, especially if there will be a significant change in their lives. (E.g. first time with a nanny or in daycare.)
- Request your daycare or school calendar, to understand planned closures. (They vary a lot by school.) Plan your days in the office against that calendar.
- Establish your own “sick policy,” and share that with your nanny or nurse. For example, clearly state that “if you have a fever or other symptoms, you should not come,” and brainstorm possible alternative plans. (Could you rely on a family member during these occasions? Or does your employer offer a “Back-up day care” benefit?)
Note: if you or your family has had contact with someone who may have COVID-19, you should stay home and not come to the office.
Setting Your *Family* up for Success
- Inform the nanny/daycare/nurse/doctor about any specific needs that your child or elderly/disabled relative (or even your new pet!) may have. Also inform them of any activities that you would like to maintain in their routines. These could include allergy information. Or sharing that, for example, your elderly mother should be taken to the park where she meets her friends and plays cards on a certain day.
- Taking into consideration both the age and the potential disability of your child/relative, try encouraging them to be more independent. For example, you can encourage a toddler to eat by himself. Or a 4 year old to start getting dressed by himself. This may take longer initially, but it will probably help you in the long run. It will be positive for your child’s development as well.
- Prepare your child and elderly/disabled relative to always inform their new caregiver if they are in discomfort or have a need. Empower them to “self-advocate” as much as possible, given their age and circumstances.
- You may also want to give the new nurse/nanny a checklist for the first 2 weeks. Or you might ask the new daycare for a brief report to understand how your child’s day was, and to encourage special attention to them during the transition period.
Setting *Yourself* up for Success
Create your own checklist for the first week or so, too! Here are some ideas of things to bring with you when you go into the office:
- Employer ID or badge (Lost your badge, or never had one? Talk with HR or your manager for guidance)
- Complete a Return to Office Training, if applicable (Some companies are developing trainings to educate their employees on the desired behavior in the office.)
- Metro/PATH/transit card (If you can, check in advance to see if there is unexpired credit on these cards.)
- Masks – pack a few extra, just in case
- Credit/debit card (Some employers encourage payment by card in the cafeteria to reduce wait times and prevent congestion.)
- Charged phone or phone + charger
- Your iPod, headphones, etc.
- A jacket or scarf (Remember, the office temperature can be a bit cold!)
- Health Status app downloaded (Some employers request that you answer a daily questionnaire on a health app to receive a “pass” to come to the office.)
- Cafeteria and/or Starbucks pre-order app downloaded (Again, to avoid being in lines and prevent congestion/crowds.)
- Medications, if you need them
- Your flanges, bottles, pumping bra and maybe even a pump (if you are a pumping, breastfeeding mom, you know what I’m talking about!). Depending on your company, you may also need to request access to the Mothers Rooms, aka “Pumping Room”. Try to find that out in advance. Also get to know about the facilities and whether a reservation must be made in advance. At the Citi NYC office, facilities are open 24/7 with badge access, and reservations are not required. Our room is equipped with pumps, microwaves, refrigerators and sinks. But especially if you work in a smaller company, you may need to bring your own pump. And may need to reserve the room if there are many returning mommas. Contact your HR for details!
- If you are feeling anxious, check if your employer offers mental health benefits. (Some employers offer this not only to employees but also to their families, for free!) Resources such as counseling sessions and text-based therapy could help you learn some tools and strategies to reduce overwhelm.
- And leave your number and other emergency contacts available with the new nanny or daycare. Have peace of mind!
Dressing for Work / Dressing Your Loved ones
- Ahead of your first day back, you may need to “dig” for work clothes. Especially for pants! Do that in advance, to avoid last minute stress getting ready on the actual day.
- Try these clothes in advance, too. Your size may have changed a bit. (And believe me, you are not the only one!)
- We also recommend to “pause for a minute” and think about what your loved ones will need, and how they should dress, in advance of each day that you will be away / in the office. That may help you get ready more quickly in the morning. It will also ensure that they have the right clothes available as the seasons change.
Supplies and Snacks
- Ensure that both you and your loved ones have hand sanitizers and masks.
- You may also want to prepare snacks/meals both for you and for them. We encourage a healthy and balanced diet, and remind you to have all food as prepared as possible (peeled, sliced, cut, seeded), especially if you will have a new nanny/nurse at home during your absence. We also recommend that you leave a sippy cup or and/or age-appropriate water bottle with your child, or elderly or disabled relative.
- Some employers offer free consultations with a dietitian to help you address any nutrition-related questions or concerns you may have. If you are lucky to have this benefit, consider using it!
- Also try to find out in advance if your cafeteria, Starbucks, or “go to place for food” is open. That way you can plan accordingly on what to bring from home. Once again, if available, we encourage you to download the apps that allow for pre-order, as the habit of pre-ordering will help prevent wait times and unnecessary congestion.
Good Return to Office Habits (for You and Your Family!)
- While you eat, please place your face mask face down on a paper napkin.
- Especially if you will be using the cafeteria or pantries, please wipe down the table before and after your meal.
- Remind your child not to touch their face, to frequently wash hands, and to do so for at least twenty seconds – about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.
- Remind your child to cover coughs and sneezes. Also get them used to using masks for an extended amount of time if they will be going to daycare or school (where hopefully wearing a mask is a required practice).
On Your First Day Back
- Maintain a calm attitude! This helps your loved ones remain calm, too. It can be especially difficult to stay calm if it is your first time being away from a baby. We personally understand that but truly believe that all will be fine. Remember that having a community helping you take care of your little one or elderly/disabled relative is important for you, too – as they say, “it takes a village”!
- Our first tip above was to speak with your children/elderly or disabled family members about this transition in advance – prepare them mentally. So now, on Day One, keep goodbyes short – it will be better for everyone.
- While you can have calls to check up on your loved ones during the day, keep in mind that this can make things harder, especially if the child hears your voice while you are on a phone call from the office (e.g. if the nanny puts you on speaker). Our advice is to trust that all will be fine while you are away, and to leave your contact for emergencies only. This minimizes the need to check-in. As someone once told me: No news is good news!
Building Connections and New Friendships
- Especially if you are new to your employer, we strongly encourage you to join ERG Networks (Employee Resource Groups, such as Parents ERG, Women ERG, or Black Heritage ERG). In general these groups are open to all employees for free, and you can become a member motivated by your identification to the group or as an ally/supporter of the group. There is no requirement or additional work for members. Becoming a member simply means that you will now receive information from the group, such as invitations for future events and programs, or emails about relevant topics. And you get to attend the events based on your interest and availability! These groups generally provide great programs on career development, are key to “community building” and can promote an inclusive culture at your office and beyond.
- Many of us are eager to meet old and new colleagues in person, but let’s be cautious given the current circumstances. One interesting idea / format that you could explore in your office is to host sign up only, small group, 15 minute meet ups in open areas of the building or right outside your office during the fall.
- We also encourage ERGs and companies to continue to have virtual programming as a way to be inclusive of individuals who are still working from home. In most cases, we’re transitioning to a hybrid workplace, and there will always be someone connecting remotely. In fact, a great theme for future sessions would be to share/discuss best practices on how to build strong connections & strong community while working remotely and in a hybrid environment.
Finally, remember: as Lori usually says when referring to the return from parental leave, this is a period of transition. It’s not “just a day”. Be patient and celebrate your small wins along the way! We invite you to embrace this “new world” and to take an active role in shaping the workplace of the future as an inclusive workplace for all parents!
Carla Renfield-Miller is a mom of a 5 year old boy and a 2 year old girl, a wife, a friend, and a traveler. Born and raised in Brazil, she has had an exciting international career mostly in banking, and recently also as a writer-preneur, self publishing journals (@adaytoremember_journals). She has been based in the USA since 2016 and currently lives in Jersey City, NJ. Carla is a passionate mentor, recruiter and D&I Champion. In 2018 she was elected Co-Chair of Citi’s Hispanic / Latino ERG – NYC chapter, and in 2019 she was invited to lead Citi’s Families Matter Network – NYC chapter. She loves to create content that helps others, and she hopes that this checklist/blog post can help someone’s journey back to the office!
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