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'I've just returned to work from maternity leave. There are 4 unexpected positives.'

When I packed up my bags in November last year and exited my office to head into maternity leave, I knew the next time I walked through the doors would be different. I would have changed; I would be a mother. I would be in charge of a real-life human being. It was almost impossible to picture what that would be like.

As an obsessive planner, I would spend my commutes mentally preparing for a future I knew nothing about. How would I feel about returning to work? Would I want to? How many days would I come back? How many months should I have off? Would I still be good at my job? 

Lots of incredible mothers around me would share their advice, and their experiences of returning from maternity leave. I felt as prepared as I possibly could be.

What I didn’t prepare for was a global pandemic that would fundamentally change every single thing about the way we work.

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There have been some real challenges being on maternity leave during COVID: reduced incomes, further isolation from friends and family, attending hospital appointments alone, missing out on mothers' group. 

For many of us, it is not the maternity leave we had envisioned.

For me, I walked out of my job nine months ago and came back to a completely different environment; to an office that's near-empty, to teams that have experienced huge hardship together, to a place where video meetings are effective and efficient rather than used as a last resort.

I watched from afar as the virus spread and workplaces adapted and changed to adhere to the Government advice.

So as I was mentally preparing to come back to work, a little earlier than originally planned (thanks to my husband’s industry being severely impacted by the pandemic) all I could think about was the scene in The Walking Dead when Rick wakes up from a coma and realises there has been an apocalypse while he was asleep...

While I wasn’t sure what to expect on my return, here are some of the positives I've noticed.

1. You're guaranteed a seat on public transport.

Because it’s virtually empty. It was definitely a pregnancy perk that I enjoyed - it made the start of my day that little bit more relaxing. The closest train station to me is extremely busy, so I used to spend my morning commute crowd surfing (literally). 

Forget personal space; I have been so close to people I can smell what they had for breakfast. I definitely won’t miss those days.

2. No one is ‘watching the clock.'

While I’m hearing from people this can be a challenge, as it means many are struggling to find the line between the beginning and end of the work day, it also means people are attending gym classes on time, they’re cooking and eating together as families, and there is no mad morning rush out the door. A whole lot of people are experiencing balance as they never have before.

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For me, it means I don’t have to feel worried I'll be judged for bolting out the door at 4:30 so I can make the hour commute home to get a glimpse of my child before he goes to bed (at 6:30pm). Because there is nobody around to see, nor judge. SERIOUSLY, HOW DID PARENTS DO THIS BEFORE?  

Most of these existing feelings are a reflection of our own standards and the expectations we place on ourselves. But no matter how flexible employers were before COVID, it didn’t stop the guilt from creeping in if you deviated from a 'standard work week' or day.

There has never been more of a focus on outcomes; on getting the work done. Employers have never been more flexible, or open to different ways of working. Employees have never had more freedom about the way in which they work. It's quite liberating. I acknowledge that not everyone has the privilege to work from home, but for those who can, it's been a game changer.

 All it took was a worldwide pandemic.

3. The joys of working from home.

I'm not used to working from home; I still feel like a naughty student skipping school. But I love it - balancing my days at home and at the office.

Going into work means I get to order my lunch and drink my coffee while it’s hot. It forces me to brush my hair and put makeup on and get out of activewear at least once or twice a week.

I get to talk to my colleagues face to face and have adult interaction, and as an extrovert, this is what I really struggled with while on maternity leave. 

Then there is the significant decrease in my online shopping habit - seeing as people only see me once or twice a week (my top half at least), my wardrobe is lasting longer. 

I get to feed my son breakfast and spend the morning with him before putting him down for his first nap at 8:30am. 

But most importantly, working from home means that when I have a lunch or coffee break, I get to have a quick snuggle with my son (who is being cared for by his dad or my mum), something I just never thought would be possible. 

It helps me feel less guilty about being back at work... and enjoying it. 

4. I'm more efficient than I've ever been.

Between having the flexibility to work in a way that suits me best, removing daily commutes and limited time due to working part time, I’ve found it much easier to excuse myself from meetings that could have been emails. 

As someone who enjoys a good chat, I’ve learnt how to curb the desire to discuss how bad this year's Bachelor is with anyone who will listen.

While I’m not suggesting all of this eliminates the very real problems and tragedies that have occurred thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are definitely some silver linings I'm very grateful for - things that have made my transition back into the working world a bit easier. And I hope some of them stick.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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