2020 was already shaping up to be a challenging year, long before I’d heard of coronavirus. Returning to work full-time after my second period of maternity leave was a somewhat daunting prospect, juggling client work and the daily commute with being mum to two children under 3. Not one to do things by halves, I was also embarking on a move to my new firm, Trowers & Hamlins – joining the employment and pensions team in my first partnership role. I’m sure many people thought I was mad! But, having thought carefully about my career aspirations and the opportunities at Trowers, I knew that it was the right time for a change.
Fast forward a couple of months and change was most definitely what I (and the rest of the world) got. I had planned to take a couple of weeks off before starting my new role; to recharge my batteries and catch up on some life admin. Unfortunately, that coincided with the start of the first national lockdown and the closure of schools and nurseries. The recharging would have to wait.
I started with Trowers at the beginning of April 2020. My partner, who works in the construction industry, was also working full-time from home, so the first lockdown passed in a whirl. We came up with a two hour shift system of childcare/work, which we found worked best for our schedules. But we definitely had to learn the art of forward planning and compromise. Getting to grips with a new role, new firm, new colleagues and a new IT system remotely, in two hour shifts from my spare room, was certainly an experience! It really helped that my colleagues, and the firm as a whole, were so supportive and welcoming. It’s been interesting to see how quickly the industry has adapted to thinking about flexibility and an individual approach to working. As a working parent, I hope that this is a lasting change coming out of the pandemic.
Like many others, my situation has been quite unpredictable – we’ve had to deal with lots of last minute school closures and periods of self-isolation. I could not previously have imagined juggling so many responsibilities whilst being in a leadership position, but with the support of my wonderful family, colleagues and clients, I’ve been able to adapt. Saying that, nearly a year in, I am definitely looking forward to meeting my (not so) new colleagues in person and spending more time in the office.
My top lessons from lockdown:
- It’s impossible to do everything yourself – however much you might want to. I’ve tried to find a happy balance of prioritising the “must dos” and accepting that, for everything else, good enough is enough. The world will not fall in if the kids have beans on toast for two lunchtimes running.
- Don’t neglect your own wellbeing; there’s no way you can show up properly for work or family life if you’re running on empty. As a team, we recently ran a fun wellbeing challenge for the new year to bring in healthy habits, like drinking 2 litres of water daily, having lunch away from screens and swapping desk-based Zoom calls for outdoor walking meetings. These small changes really can make a difference.
- Communicate and ask for help where you need it. Most of the time, it will be okay to reschedule that conference call or switch around the timings for childcare; if you struggle on in silence you’re more likely to become burnt out. Your colleagues would much prefer to know how you are feeling and support you.
- Focus on the positives where you can. While it’s true that some days can be incredibly stressful and frustrating, there are also many silver linings to look out for. For me, I certainly don’t miss the mad evening rush from my desk to nursery pick-up, fretting about city-centre traffic and roadworks. Even if I know I have to work again later in the evening, its lovely to be able to close my laptop and have dinner as a family, or take turns with bath time.
Danielle Ingham is a partner at Trowers & Hamlins