3 conversations to have before returning to work during COVID-19

Depending on where you live, life is moving forward in our COVID-19 reality. Schools may be open or opening soon, mask-wearing shopping is now the norm and restaurants are welcoming its guests back indoors.

Even in places where the economy isn’t reopening as quickly as others, there’s a growing impatience to get back to normal. With it, more managers and companies are eager to bring their teams back to the office. This has opened up a pandora’s box of worries, questions and anxieties for some, parents included.

If a return to the office is coming up for you, you’ll want to have the following conversations. This way you can make more effective decisions, and if needed, negotiate a plan that works better for you.

Check in with yourself

Life remains uncertain and it’s unlikely to change any time soon. It can leave you feeling out of control and overwhelmed. And, it’s harder to make good, effective decisions that are in our best interest. We also feel less equipped to negotiate, and we can give control over our career and life to others.

That’s why it’s important to get clear on what you want and need at this time. This is in terms of your career and how you work, but also in terms of your life as a parent.

Take the time to assess what worked and what didn’t work when the pandemic was first started. Now’s the time to be honest. Where can you, and if you have one, your partner do better together to address sticky issues like childcare. You’ll also want to consider what you’ll need to make a return to work feasible for you – think through childcare and potential backup plans, safety precautions you’ll follow and more.

The clearer you are on your needs and wants, the more successful you’ll be when you have to ask – and possibly negotiate – for it.

One final note: as important as it is to get clear on your plans with yourself, you’ll need to agree to a plan forward with your partner at home or your co-parent. So, be sure to get those conversations going, too.

Speak with HR

Things are moving fact. Too fast that sometimes information isn’t always getting to the people who need to hear it. So, get proactive and find answers to your questions. You could speak with your manager, but again, they may not have all the information to answer your questions.

It’s likely best to start with HR or your company’s COVID-19 representative. Come to these conversations with your questions. You’ll also want to be ready to go deeper with follow-up questions. This way you have a clearer picture of your company’s return plans and what it means for you.

This is the time to scope out any alternative options that may work for you. Has your company changed its approach to flexible or work-from-home programs? What do you need to participate in those programs?

A note to remember: a lot of HR policies are translated differently by managers, so you could check in with parent colleagues on other teams to understand their return plans. It can inspire your plans or the information may come in handy when it’s time to negotiate.

Meet with your manager

Your manager is a very important player in your career path. When it comes to your return to work, you’ll want to be sure they understand your preferences, so together, you can come to an agreement to move forward in a way that’ll make you both comfortable.

Here are a few strategies to keep in mind:

Come in with a solution: Take the time to understand your manager’s perspectives on returning to work and what they’re hoping will happen in the coming weeks and months. If you don’t fully agree with the approach, express the challenges it raises for you and what you believe will work better while staying aligned with company protocol or what other departments are doing.  Be sure to have several options up your sleeve should you need to negotiate.

Position yourself for success: Whatever your plan – be it to work from home full time or part time, or you want to shift your working hours – you may need to build your case. Do this by collecting data on your recent successes that you’ll present to your manager in your conversation. Wherever you can be sure to find quantitative data, or feedback from colleagues or clients. You could also present a case study to illustrate your awesomeness!

Some potential data points could include your smooth and successful transition to the virtual office; your uninterrupted productivity because you set your own hours;  or perhaps you want to talk about a deal or project you completed while working from home; or how you continued to support your team virtually.

Come ready with questions: Brainstorm some carefully crafted questions. Questions can get our defences up or they can be used to ease tensions and resistance. The latter is the aim. So, come in ready to be curious, not accusatory. If you do this, you can spur deeper conversations and be more likely to come to an agreement.

Some possible questions: Tell me why you don’t think my plan works? I’m curious to understand why this is important for you? What changes to the plan would make you more comfortable?

If you and your manager come to an agreement on a plan, that’s great. Before you wrap up the conversation, be sure to state the obvious: if things change, you’ll come together to revise the plan so it still works for both of you.

If your conversation isn’t going as smoothly as you’d hoped, it may be best to wrap up the conversation and continue another time when you’ve had more time to consider their feedback.

If you’re in need of some help to prepare for these conversations, a half-day coaching session may be right for you. Reach out for more information.

You can also check out the LDI Return to Work Conversation Guide. Yes, this guide was first created for parents returning to work after parental leave, but there are many similarities for parents returning after quarantine. Get your copy here:

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Return to Work: Your Conversation Guide

Master the must-have conversations before going back to work

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