Navigating a hybrid world after extended leave.
Returning to work after extended leave? As some of us prepare for the summer holidays, others are returning to work from maternity/paternity leave, career breaks, breaks to care for family and elderly parents or maybe even long term sick for a whole host of reasons. It’s a bigger adjustment than ever to come back to work now with hybrid working.
I’ve come back full time to work for just over 3 months after having my second daughter in the depths of covid lockdown. When I left to have my daughter, we were in the first lockdown and was getting used to remote working and colleagues were still surprised I was having a baby despite me telling them – as they weren’t able to see my ever growing bump over many a video call.
Coming back to work, I wanted to be prepared and I read several articles about returning to work after parental leave like this great one from HBR around resetting expectations, practising your new routine – including a dry run of nursery drop offs and setting clear boundaries. The problem was many articles and tips were either pre-pandemic or didn’t recognise the work landscape is hugely different now.
So what did I learn?
I thought I had prepared myself by keeping in touch with some colleagues and continuing to read about the energy industry, but now that technology has enabled so much flexibility and independence through self-serve, I found work life balance, and reintegrating back into work a very different experience. We’d love to hear others experiences too across the WUN network. There’s huge power in hearing other perspectives and sharing what worked/didn’t work.
A few things I noticed is that the expectation to cater for the blended virtual work environment has really evolved. Most things are now cloud app based and everything is so much more integrated and there are a lot fewer manuals and guides about how to navigate this all. Previous books and guides are outdated and finding a YouTube video is too personalised or too generic.
Even with the most experienced or cloud native of people, navigating the virtual, in-person and blended meetings is a minefield. For virtual meetings and all the decisions before you even start, like background/blurred background, casual but not too casual outfits, good lighting and camera angles to in meeting etiquette of emoticons, chat usage, raising a hand in more formal meetings to creating a more informal and interactive environment with gifs, music and polls or even a virtual ice breaker. It’s a lot to navigate especially if you’re new to remote working. Even for in-person meetings, to shake hands or not, and office wear is no longer the same – even men have the wardrobe dilemma of polo shirt vs casual button down and ‘smart’ trainers. It’s a fine balance.
Honestly, I felt slightly overwhelmed in my first few weeks juggling a new routine, two children and nursery which struggled with staffing levels thanks to covid and chicken pox and attempting to have some semblance of a social life to keep me sane. I was trying to do too much and had incredibly high standards for myself, and I know I’m not alone.
I recently saw this article which really resonated, especially around letting go of the need to do it all, to accept I have finite capacity.
So do we have any tips for people people rejoining the workforce after an extended period of leave?
Here’s my starter, but we’d love to hear more ideas about how we can help each other put our best foot forward in this new world of work either for people changing jobs, re-entering the workplace:
- Find a buddy(who isn’t your boss) – a friendly face/voice who is willing to help ease you into the unique culture in your work place is invaluable. Most bosses will of course be helpful but we all need different perspectives and another option especially to ask those ‘silly’ questions and bounce ideas off of
- Befriend the recurring meeting option. – once you’ve found a buddy or a few, get into the habit of meeting up regularly even just for a check in. In a virtual office, calendars get filled up quickly so pop a regular catch up in and you can always cancel if time gets tight.
- Make time to set up your desk/work space properly – DSE assessments in larger corporate offices were common place, but now you’re working from home, it’s harder to spot when bad habits creep in without other people to spot the trip hazards or a rogue mouse a metre away from you past your army of coffee cups – or that you really need a separate keyboard/ screen and ‘making do’ with your laptop really isn’t a healthy set up for long periods of time. Especially if you’re full time.
- Build in breaks away from your desk and screen – if only for the sake of your eye sight.
- Build in time to just ‘network’ and connect with colleagues without a specific work request – make time to go to lunch and learns, team meetings, engage in the non-work side of things – it’s not indulgent it’s essential to build that network to hear what goes on that you may have overheard in the office breakout area, or in passing.
- Create clear boundaries – flexible working is fantastic but it means switching off is harder and it’s so easy to feel like everyone else is working harder or longer than you are – which is exhausting and not healthy. Setting boundaries like when you have a hard stop and respecting that yourself will make a huge difference in energy levels.
What else have you seen or done to help others get back into work, feel part of the team or found really works for you? Please feel free to share you top tips via [email protected] and we can collate them and pass them on to other WUN members.
Lillian Philip, WUN Advocate and Senior Manager of Business Intelligence, EDF Energy.