It’s a shame that maternity leave has to be a rollercoaster ride of emotions and decisions for women.
For starters, women are faced with the excitement and adventure of starting a new family. They’re then also faced with the crippling decision to put a career on hold, which often stunts any further professional development upon return to the workforce.
Women are forced to ask: Will I return to the same job in the next two or twelve months? Will I be able to continue my career climb after taking time off to nurture my new family? Will I make the jump to an entirely new field? Can my partner and I sustain enough income during this time? Will I be able to earn as much, if not more, than I used to? Will I be forced to make more difficult choices between my kids and work?
It’s a maddening fork in the road, and it shouldn’t be this way.
Imagine if women could choose to take maternity leave while also advancing their skills and careers at the same time? Imagine if women could develop completely new skills that encourage entrepreneurial thinking and innovation around how work is designed into their lives? What if women could use maternity leave as an opportunity to retrain and reposition themselves toward an increasingly global employment environment?
That’s where I believe remote work is one potential solution for women to take charge and completely redesign life during and beyond maternity leave. Granted there will be new parents who are satisfied with making family their ultimate career. But what about those who are itching to flex more than just their nurturing muscles?
So how can remote work facilitate new employment opportunities for young mothers? I linked up with Danielle Greason, a mother of three who has been working virtually for the past six years. Her experience raising a family while also seeking personal fulfillment through work led her to explore new ways of working that could benefit her lifestyle and family choices. Greason now runs a variety of virtual businesses and services remotely.
“For many new mothers, the weight of this decision can be maddening. It can feel like there’s unavoidable compromise whichever way you decide to go,” says Greason. “That was the definitely the case for me when I was faced with the decision for the first time in 2009. In the process of adapting my existing career skills and learning new digital skills I could use to work remotely, I realized that I was able to keep all possibilities open. I could blend the advantages of continued earning power, personal fulfilment and schedule flexibility as a family.”
Greason and I took some time to outline why remote work presents new opportunities to redefine maternity leave for new mothers.
Here’s what we came up with:
1. A fixed window of time to experiment
“You’ve already made arrangements to have income coming in through paid leave for a fixed window of time, and active participation like showing up to work is not required,” says Greason. “This is a ‘no-pressure’ time in which to try something new, and the removal of pressure can translate through to increased effectiveness in seeking out your ideal remote working opportunities.”
There’s now a comfortable stretch of time to search for vacancies in positions that can be done virtually. You could seek out a variety of working options like:
- Freelance or project based contracts for a client or multiple clients.
- Assist an experienced remote worker or a virtual service agency on a subcontracting basis.
- Apply for an advertised remote employee role available for a set number of weekly hours (for example, providing online customer support for 10 hours per week). This could be done for startups or established companies that are open to distributed workers.
2. Adjust hours based on your commitment to parenting
“The availability of part-time work is often correlated with roles that are considered ‘lower’ level or less demanding,” says Greason. “There are probably exceptions where an important, well-paid role could be negotiated down to less than full-time hours; but for the most part, prestige, income, challenge and fulfilment seems to be tied in with full-time careers in the corporate world.”
Remote work presents a sort of fluidity to workable hours. You have the ability to control the hours you want to keep--whether that’s total hours worked in a week, or time spent working throughout the day. It will depend on the types of work you take on--administrative, creative, or technical--but the choice will be available and flexible.
Understandably, maternity leave isn’t all about additional work. “As a new mum, it may not be possible, or desirable, to make yourself available for a set schedule of hours,” says Greason. When you seek out roles you’ll want to be particular about when you can work due to timezones; but more importantly, any personal commitments to family or other responsibilities.
It’s important to point out that you will be responsible for getting tasks done in the hours you negotiate with an employer or client. The people you work for or with will be open to remote work, but there will be expectations that you can manage your workload. That’s why the next point is crucial to your success as a remote worker.
3. Hone in-demand and transferable skills
The virtual nature of remote work forces you to improve or enhance your ability to stay organized; to communicate well; and to navigate unique process requirements that may not exist within an office environment. In addition, you’ll get a feel for how remote work has improved your autonomy or independence as a worker, while also enhancing your team building abilities. These skills are necessary to succeed as a remote worker, and any amount of practice or in-the-field experience will help to hone your abilities.
This is also a good opportunity to understand your personal interests, capabilities, and potential. It’s the chance to assess the viability of working for an established company or starting your own enterprise without the commute and dependence on a particular location. You might take on tasks that weren’t part of your original job, or pick up training in areas completely new to you. This ongoing development will not only keep you busy, but it’ll strengthen your ability to stand out in an increasingly competitive job market.
Greason adds, “If you decide to return to your original career path following maternity leave, and you’re looking to transition into new roles or companies, you can reference your skills development and remote work experience to demonstrate new ways you’re able to add value, and also to avoid a career ‘gap’ in your resume following extended maternity leave.”
This post was originally published here.