We work hard to support new parents as they transition back into the workplace. Our Associate Director Sam Street talks to us about her experience of returning from maternity leave to a new remote way of working.

I'd already had a wonderful experience on maternity leave when I had my daughter Grace, and when I left in September 2019 to have my son, Sebastian, I had no reason to doubt I wouldn't make another successful return to work.

I soon got into the swing of maternity leave 'round two', with baby groups and school pickups, when there was talk of a national lockdown in early March. I worried I wouldn't get a face-to-face meeting with my people manager to discuss how my role would look on my return later that year.

I was so worried about fitting back in and what projects the partners would want me to work on, that despite the growing concern I had about COVID-19, I insisted my husband drive us into London for me to catch up with the team.

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A shift in my anxiety

This did afford me some comfort as, when lockdown came later that month, I had agreed my return date and new project suggestions had been made.

As the weeks of lockdown progressed, I put on a brave face for my daughter, with exciting new activities every day, and juggled looking after my baby. Luckily, my husband was able to be flexible with his job and help during the day.

I realise now that the constant need to be 'all things' to Grace and Sebastian did take its toll and I was exhausted. As my return date in September loomed, my anxiety started to shift from fears about coronavirus to fears about a virtual working world.

How would I fit back in?

I worried about fitting back in. How would I get to know new team members? How would I manage my day?

A lot of the work I do is around lead generation and interfacing with potential new clients. How would I adapt to continue to generate leads and interface with new potential clients?

What was Teams? What is the virtual etiquette when making or taking a video call? How did my role fit into this new way of working?

'I got in touch with my people manager and some of my colleagues a couple of months before I came back. All of whom said they were excited to have me back in the fold. Still, I felt terribly isolated.'

Coming back in September I'd missed out on the comradery of 'we are all in this together': trying out virtual quizzes, huddles, and changes in our behaviours and work practices. For instance, I hadn't appreciated that joining a Teams call five minutes before it is due isn't really best practice, as you appear to be impatient!

I got in touch with my people manager and some of my colleagues a couple of months before I came back. All of whom said they were excited to have me back in the fold. Still, I felt terribly isolated.

As timing would have it, I was invited to join the new Elevate course that supports future female leaders. This gave me a much-needed boost and some confidence back.

So, I set up my new desk space, and Grant Thornton sent me a chair and a monitor. It felt good once I had my 'station' set up. Yet, as my first day back drew closer, my mind continued to race with worries about how I would fit back in and bring value again for the team.

Returning to work

On my first day back, I decided to take the bull by the horns and I sent an email out to the whole team - some 70 people, many of which I had never met.

It was a simple message to say who I was, how I was excited to be returning to work and how I looked forward to meeting and working with people as we navigated around these new and strange times.

It felt good to put myself back out there, but still I was anxious and alone in my box room, worrying about how everything would pan out.

It was then I saw Grant Thornton had set up a coffee break app, where you receive an email every Monday morning, pairing you with colleagues from across the firm in a virtual game of coffee roulette.

This really helped to boost my confidence on speaking with people I didn't know across video calls. It also led me to finding out about new areas of the business, and I actually landed some potential leads.​​​​​​​

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Thankful for the wealth of support I've received

Shortly after my return, I also discovered the opportunity to be paired with a coach to help me smoothly transition back into the workplace following maternity leave. I found this to be ground-breaking for me, as it helped me to refocus and recognise the value I do bring to my team.

The welcome and support that I received from colleagues across the firm has been wonderful. And the added honour to be chosen as a member of the Inclusion Advisory Board has further strengthened my resolve and belief in who I am and the contributions I can make to my team and the firm.

Lockdown really knocked my confidence, so I would say to anyone returning from a period of absence or to any new joiners: 'we are all in this together'. We just have to gradually find our feet, be kind to ourselves and grab the various opportunities and support available. It's not as scary as you think!

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