Sixty thousand, four hundred and eighty minutes, one thousand and eight hours, forty-two days, six weeks. It doesn’t matter how you break it down, the U.S. average of six weeks of maternity leave goes by in a flash. Prebaby, all I could think was, “What will I do with all that time?”, and I started to make lists of how I would fill the time when my baby was sleeping. Flash-forward to one day postbaby, when I started thinking, “How can I get more time?” If you’re a working mom who plans to return to the workforce after having your baby, there’s probably nothing more stressful than waking up each morning postbaby and reminding yourself that now there are only 42—wait, 38, oh no, now it’s 15 more days before you have to go back to the world of people sitting in cubes, typing away on laptops, while thoughts of deadlines fill the air.
Fortunately, we live in a time when the transition back to the workforce doesn’t have to be as cut and dried as it was in years past. Flexible working arrangements, paternity option plans and even the introduction of mother’s rooms in the workplace have made returning to work a lot easier on new moms—and dads too! Here’s the checklist I used to ensure that the transition back into the life of people who can dress themselves and eat lunch without the need to be burped would be a success.
1. Before my maternity leave started, I talked with my boss about how flexible my schedule could be when I returned to work, and we made a plan. I could leave the office a bit early every day and work from home on Fridays through the close of the year. I communicated this plan to my direct reports and the colleagues I worked closest with before I left to set expectations for my return. Two weeks before I was scheduled to return, I checked in with the boss and reminded her of the agreement.
2. I informed HR of my new-mom needs. I knew I’d be nursing and wanted to ensure I’d have the appropriate resources. Just as I was about to embark on maternity leave, construction started in our offices for a new open-floor layout. The first to go? The mother’s room, of course. There weren’t any nursing moms in the office at the time, so I went to HR and reminded them that it would be needed again in about 6 weeks.
3. I met with my team a few times while I was away, with baby in tow—not with the intent to talk shop but to have the team meet the little one and give myself some adult interaction too! Of course, my Type A personality couldn’t stay disconnected, so I quickly asked about open projects, caught up on the latest water cooler gossip and met some folks who had joined the team since I left. I found that by meeting with colleagues over my leave, I didn’t feel so alienated when I returned.
4. I stuck to my arrangement, and so did my boss! Here’s the thing—everything I’ve said above sounds good in theory, but if you don’t practice it, what’s the point? The magnetic pull of wanting to finish a project, stick around for another chat or go into the office for a meeting can be overwhelming at times and have you saying, “Well, just this one time.” But as you know, like a forming addiction, one time becomes two, becomes four, becomes always. I was lucky to have colleagues and a boss who knew my plan and helped me stick to it. I also made a recurring invitation on my calendar that reminded me when it was time to go home.
The Friday work-from-home days were a blessing. I got to shave two hours from my workday (aka the commute) and spend more time with Baby A before starting my day and before she went to sleep at night. And because I had Lifesize video conferencing technology—Lifesize Cloud, to be exact—I was able to really stay connected on those Fridays when I wasn’t physically in the office. I hosted video meetings with my team, chatted with colleagues and used the audio line to place my calls. I even got to introduce Baby A to our creative agency out in Denver during one of our weekly Friday calls so they could see what she looked like in “real life.”