WRITTEN BY VICTORIA COBURN, ACCOUNT DIRECTOR AT KROW IRELAND

To Maternity and Beyond!

What happens when your maternity leave coincides with a global pandemic? With so many significant work/life/comms changes in place between my departure and my return, will I literally be going back to the future?

I fully expected 2020 to be life changing. To clarify, I didn’t predict the pandemic, my husband and I were having our first child and I was saying goodbye to my krow colleagues and Clients for more than a year. In the pregnancy bubble (I accept ‘bubble’ means something else entirely now and is a new dictionary term from 2020 alongside ‘lockdown’, ‘social distancing’ and ‘homeschool hell’), we expected our lives to change, but not everyone else’s.

My last day of work was Jan. 31st 2020, and our son, Barney, arrived on Feb 23rd; 9 days late thank you very much. Cue 3 glorious weeks of cuddles, family visits, supportive friends, gifts of homecooked meals, and then wham bam… March 16th brought a national lockdown due to a virus spreading through the entire world; an alien and frightening concept to all of us.  No one held our baby for 4 months after that, a difficult feat for the grandparents and a shock to the system for us! And we’re back to that state of play as I write this (14th Jan. 2021). Although we’re very grateful to have got the 3 weeks pre-lockdown that we did, as many people were not so lucky.

While our NHS workers continue to display acts of bravery, resilience, and kindness, the krow team (in the non-frontline world we inhabit) transformed the means by which we communicate with Clients, Suppliers and of course, each other. For a communications agency that’s a fairly crucial aspect of our working existence.

In my new world of nappies, weaning and teething I was already concerned about returning to work with imposter syndrome – an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be, common when returning to work after a baby. Now I was convinced I’d feel out of my depth! Not only was this enforced form of video comms so brutally necessary, but because there was no person, family or company that the pandemic and lockdown weren’t affecting, our own staff and business partners could be in unknown turmoil themselves, with family members out of work, or working frontline, or home schooling, or ill… the list goes on. How on earth had the team been able to conduct briefing sessions, creative meetings and presentations – how was the agency able to converse intelligently and effectively via video calls?

I was also apprehensive about the etiquette and indeed, the practicality, of constant video calls; rather than them being an addition to ‘normal’ face to face meetings. Was it really possible to produce solid, effective output without organic conversations?  I worried not just about getting to the crux of any Client problem or objective and offering workable solutions, but also the possibly awkward and frustrating moments video chats might produce, such as:

  • “Should I jump in at this point?”
  • “Are they talking to me?”
  • “Oops, sorry, my fault, didn’t mean to interrupt… you go, no you go, honestly”
  • “Sorry did I miss something my wifi went?”
  • “Arrgghhh I’m on mute they missed that utterly genius idea”.

I didn’t say all my fears were 100% earth shattering but in my mind they were valid! I believed that all the fundamental ways of working we took for granted, with interruptions and sudden brainwaves, simply wouldn’t happen as naturally as before. And if that that’s where the real creative insight (magic) happens, what were we going to do? What had we been doing?? And if everyone else in the team was now accustomed to this format, I certainly wasn’t. In this world I’m a dinosaur, a dinosaur!!

Fortunately, krow offers returning mothers ‘Keep In Touch’, or ‘KIT’ days as an optional reintroduction to work, in advance of the official post maternity start date.  One is permitted (but not obliged) to work up to 10 of these KIT days before maternity leave finishes.

So, on 4th Jan., on everyone else’s first day back to work after Christmas, I jumped into my first video call with the entire team.  Once they remembered who I was, the worklist and New Year plans commenced and I got to see first-hand the motivation, capability, flexibility and evolution of the team I said goodbye to pre-pandemic. The ideas hadn’t stopped flowing, the brainstorms were just as spontaneous and uninhibited, the chat wasn’t awkward or stifled, it was relaxed and familiar.

The mutual group understanding that ‘this is the norm now, and we’re not just going to survive, we’re going to thrive’ meant that my colleagues had become even more efficient and direct than they were before, thankfully without losing their good nature. The team had grown closer and come out the other side. In short – the camera loves them!

No surprise this has been a huge comfort to me – I was able to join in without fear of embarrassing misunderstandings, technical issues or videobombing children (which I’m reliably informed does happen), and the krow family were as welcoming as ever.  I have since joined a couple more calls, and reviewed 2020 creative executions, which again proved that great campaigns were achievable in the face of huge adversity.  I look forward to learning more about what my unshakeable colleagues have produced in the past year, and how our relationships with business partners have grown. My KIT days allow me to do that and voice my own questions or suggestions before returning to the fold as a fully functioning Account Director again.

So whilst I am going back to a work environment that is everyone else’s present and my future, I can now see that where were going, we don’t need office abodes.*

*But we’d like ours back, all the same.

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