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What we can learn from mothers as we return to work after coronavirus

Strategic Finance Magazine

As advertising businesses examine what the return to work – and normality – will look like, Nicola Davy, who sits on the Leadership Committee for the Futures Network, offers the lessons on what she has learned from women returning to work following maternity leave.

As lockdown starts to ease, some of us will be heading back to our workplaces in the next few weeks. How will we navigate the shift from our new routines? How will we all continue to balance work and home life, having enjoyed more time with our families and a different pace of life? Is there anything we can learn from others who have returned to work after time away before?

Heading back to work after a period away is something parents understand well, thanks to parental leave. Last year, The Futures Network, an alumni group set up by winners of the Wacl Future Leader Award, spent time trying to understand the challenges that women in their careers face when they have a baby, given it’s often a time when top talent drops out of organisations. We created Baby Bounce Back, an initiative to aid women returning to work after maternity leave, after their research showed 40% feel unsupported.

The research showed that reintegration after maternity leave is where most businesses fall down, resulting in low retention of top talent and a direct impact on the bottom line. After these unprecedented times we will all, essentially, be ‘bouncing back’ to work. Whether we’ve been furloughed or working from home, heading back to work will be a readjustment for us all. As leaders and managers, what can we all learn from Baby Bounce Back that can aid us in supporting our teams during the next few weeks at home and when we all finally return to work?

New parents come back to work with new perspectives and to different work contexts. That’s the same whether you’ve had time off for a baby, sick leave or a sabbatical – and definitely will be the case for all of us returning after coronavirus.

At Futures we believe the solution lies in leaders sharpening three essential skills to create happy, high-performing teams:

Empathy is everything. Making time to listen to our colleagues to understand their contexts has never been more important. Everyone’s experience and challenges will be completely unique. As one size doesn't fit all, our job as leaders is to support each employee with kindness and compassion. How you made people feel is what they’ll remember most.

Remain flexible. One positive change we believe we’ll see after this period is over is a rise in remote or flexible working across more sectors than ever before. Organisations have been forced to realise that flexibility in all its forms is not only practical and cost-effective, but efficient too. Offering working solutions to suit individual needs will keep workforces motivated.

Trust your team. For flexibility to work, trust is paramount. By setting clear goals and parameters, employees should feel empowered to do a great job without needing to always be physically present in an office.

What we learn from this will without question impact the way in which we all lead teams and companies in the future. Those at junior and middle management now will take these lessons with them as they rise. It’s the legacy we will leave behind.

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