One year on from lockdown we have asked a number of staff to reflect on the challenges and opportunities of the last year. In our first article, Lorna Hale, an Associate in our Medical Negligence team, provides a new mum’s perspective.
Returning from maternity leave can be daunting at the best of times. Before I had my baby, I lost count of the number of times people told me that when I returned nothing would have changed. Of course, no one had factored in a global pandemic!
Living in the Borders with a lengthy commute to Edinburgh, I was no stranger to working from home - but working remotely one day per week is very different to working remotely full-time. We had gone into lockdown weeks after I had my baby, meaning that when I returned to work the message was to work from home wherever possible. While it was not quite the return I’d envisaged, remote working did, in many ways, make the transition from maternity leave much easier.
The biggest benefit was the ability to continue breastfeeding with relative ease. Working from home allowed me to feed on demand (when the baby was with my husband or my mum) or, at the very least, express in the privacy of my own home. Expressing in the office is absolutely possible, but requires meticulous planning and organisation - all it takes is one missing part or a drained battery to result in an early dash home (speaking from experience!)
The benefits of breastfeeding are huge for mum, baby and employers, so anything that can make this easier is a bonus. I’m delighted that 10 months after returning to work I am still breastfeeding my boy, and I’ve no doubt that remote working played a big part in that.
The other obvious benefit is that I'm saving three hours per day which was previously spent commuting. This means more time with my family, but also more time to myself and so I now go trail running or mountain biking at lunchtime. Exercise works wonders for our physical and mental health, and I've no doubt that I'm a much more productive employee as a result.
Working remotely hasn’t been without its challenges. When nurseries closed this year, like many other parents up and down the country we experienced the joys of trying to work from home while looking after a one-year-old. (Spoiler alert – it’s impossible to do both at once). We somehow muddled through but are very relieved to be out the other side.
Likewise, there's no doubt that working in the office has its benefits - such as learning by observing more senior colleagues, easier supervision of more junior colleagues and the ability to bounce ideas off one another and problem-solve as a group. We have a close-knit team and I've really missed spending time (in person) with my colleagues.
Having said that (and coming at this purely from the perspective of a new mum), I cannot stress enough the major role that remote working has played in ensuring a smooth transition back to work. Whatever the ‘new normal’ looks like, I really hope that firms will embrace the flexibility that remote working allows to support maternity returners at what can be a very challenging time.