Returning to work in the age of COVID-19

After having a baby, there’s so much to consider when planning for a successful return to work. Between lining up childcare, figuring out how to use your breast pump, and just generally getting back into the swing of things, returning to work can be tough. And that’s before you even have to consider doing all of this in the midst of a global pandemic. 

Having a solid return-to-work plan can do a lot to encourage a smooth return, but there are a few more details you may need to think about right now because of the coronavirus.


Whether you planned on using a nanny, using a daycare, having loved ones help you out, or finding some other arrangement, chances are pretty good that the childcare arrangement you might have planned for a few months ago looks different right now. 

With many childcare centers across the country closed temporarily, or, if open, operating with reduced capacity, some parents may find that the childcare they planned for is just no longer an option. If this is the case for you and you want to explore other options, it could be worth looking into at-home childcare or state or local childcare programs in your area that may have been set up to help families like yours. 

Rethinking childcare on the fly in the middle of a pandemic is a truly tough challenge for so many families. It’s also a really personal decision, so you’ll need to choose something that feels as safe as possible in light of COVID-19 and that feels right for your family. 

If you’ve already secured childcare and are considering changing your plans, just make sure to keep open lines of communication with your childcare provider so that you can understand their plans for how to carry on safely during the pandemic and to inform them of any changes if you decide to go a different route. 

And because childcare poses such a unique challenge for so many working families right now — and so many have been forced to go without any childcare for the time being and juggle that alongside working — you should also keep open lines of communication with your employer, as you may be able to work with them to come up with a solution that works for everybody.

Working remotely

The pandemic has led to a lot of people suddenly having to get a lot more comfortable with working remotely. If you happen to be returning to work from home right now, you’ll want to do all you can to set yourself up for success. 

Working from home with children is no easy feat, but it is possible. This is another area where it really pays to be honest with your employer and keep lines of communication open. Before your return, make sure that you and your manager or team are all on the same page about your availability, your schedule, and what you have the ability to take on right now. And if things change once you’re actually working remotely, then revisit the conversation.

Something else that can really help with your remote return is if you have all the tech you need to make remote working go smoothly  — and to be comfortable with how to use it. If, say, using video call technology is new to you and you’ll be using it a lot while working remotely, make sure you get some training in how to use it. With this and other remote work details, be sure to ask your employer if you need any help getting set up for success. 


If you’ll be physically returning to work, you’ll want to be thoughtful about how you get to your place of work. 

Although most public transportation systems are still up and running, a lot of people have well-founded concerns about using them because of their many high-touch surfaces and how tough social distancing can be while riding. So if you do need to use public transportation, make sure to follow all expert guidelines for keeping yourself and others safe, like wearing a mask, avoiding touching high-touch surfaces (like handrails), not touching your face, washing your hands or using hand sanitizer, and putting as much distance between yourself and others as is possible. 

Public transportation like trains, buses, and ferries may also be operating on adjusted schedules, so it’s worth looking into any schedule changes, permanent or not.

And if you plan to be driving, other factors may impact your commute as well — if heavy traffic was the norm before, you may find the streets and highways less crowded than before (at least for now) — so you’ll want to adjust your expectations for how long your commute should take. 


Another detail to consider if you’ll be physically returning to work? In addition to all of the usual concerns related to returning to work and pumping — like learning where the lactation room is, understanding how to book time in the room, making sure that your managers or team members know that you’ll be prioritizing time for pumping — you’ll also want to make sure that you can pump breast milk safely.

Most employers are required by law to offer a clean, private space for their nursing employees to pump, but common use of an enclosed space can present some problems when there is a contagious respiratory virus around. If you’re using a shared pumping space, make sure that your employer is taking care to sanitize the room between uses. You should also do your best to touch as few high-touch areas (like door knobs, refrigerator handles, or table tops) as possible, unless you’re sure they’ve been sanitized first or you sanitize them first. You’ll also want to be sure not to share any pumping equipment.

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