Returning to Work from Maternity Leave in a Digital Agency

Sian Thomas

· General

Returning to work after maternity leave can be a daunting experience for new mothers, particularly in an industry that’s as fast moving as the digital world. There is always the fear of being out of touch with the latest trends and updates, even if you’ve tried to check in over the months you’ve been off. Personally, in my time off during 2022, some of the big updates in the digital world included huge leaps in artificial intelligence (AI), social commerce, voice search and changes to my favourite tools.

But there’s also the exciting side of returning to work including getting mentally into a different headspace that isn’t all childcare and changing nappies!

The mental impact of maternity leave and the return from it is something that isn’t really talked about openly and honestly enough in the digital world. In a space that, at least when I joined it nearly 10 years ago, was heavily male-based, maternity leave was kept pretty quiet. Although Bronco has been absolutely fantastic with the transition back to work for me both times, for me (and many other women), there’s always an internal pressure to match up to exactly where I left off, all whilst navigating childcare and the myriad of issues that go hand-in-hand with that.

So let’s talk about exactly what returning to work meant for me personally.

This isn’t my first time making the transition back from Stay at Home Mum (SAHM) to working mum, but it has been totally different from my first. Both my maternity leaves have been set against the backdrop of lockdowns and the pandemic. At the end of 2019, I returned to work when my first was 7 months old; at the end of 2022, I returned when my second was 11 months old. In 2020, we went totally remote, and by the time I headed off on mat leave round two at the end of 2021, we were just starting to transition back to life in the office again part time. That alone was a whole new world to navigate, let alone throwing tiny people into mix!

Workwise, what are the big updates that I’ve missed?

Artificial Intelligence for Content Creation

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are transforming the way businesses operate. Before I returned to work, it was suggested I take a look at a couple of new tools that had popped up – Jasper and ChatGPT. 

Honestly, I was a little shocked to see how far they’d come in just shy of a year. Where I’d used an AI tool to source data for a fairly gimmicky interior design campaign, they would now be able to find the data, the keywords, write the content for me, even generate imagery. Embracing AI has been part of a learning curve for the wider team at Bronco too as well as me, but it took me a while before I was able to entrust anything to AI, and even now I’m wary of using it – as a marketer should be, I suppose! At this stage, I see AI as a very minor supporting act for a digital agency, but one that we need to be very aware of to remain competitive in our market and up to date on the latest AI developments.

Social Commerce

I can’t say that social commerce, that is social platforms increasingly becoming shopping destinations, came as that much of a shock to me, having spent many, many a long night scrolling through the deep, dark depths of new shopping features on Instagram and TikTok in the past year.

As I’ve seen from the consumer perspective, allowing users to purchase products directly in app creates a whole host of new opportunities for businesses to reach their target audiences and to drive sales. The only barrier for me has been learning to translate that for clients on my return as part of overall marketing strategies.

Voice Search

Voice search is another trend that is rapidly gaining popularity that was unsurprising, thanks to, literally, having my hands full a lot of the time!

More and more people are using voice assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Home to perform searches, make purchases, and control their homes. As a digital marketing agency, I came back to a world where it was no longer just “mobile first”, but also highly important to optimise content for voice search, by incorporating long-tail keywords and natural language queries.

Canva Taking Over the World

This is a change I am very pleased about – Canva is, as far as I can tell, taking over the digital world. I was already in love with Canva; now I confess that I am obsessed! One of my first tasks was to figure out how we could use Canva Docs, which opened up a whole new world to me including their own AI content creating tool, Magic Write among other new features. We were also lucky enough to have access to a range of Canva’s even newer features in Beta that make up their supercharged Visual Suite before Canva Create unveiled them to the world, so that was a fun and exciting job for me to explore in early 2023.

The Meta-verse

Facebook’s major rebranding to Meta was already well underway when I finished in late 2021, but coming back to it being a far more solid concept felt a little strange. Their goal is creating a Metaverse – a virtual space for users to interact across platforms in a range of new and exciting ways. In reality, this was really only a surface level change, such as instead of logging into Facebook Business Suite, it was Meta Business Suite. 

Looker Studio

In a similar vein of surface level changes, I was horrified to learn that Google Data Studio had rebranded to Looker Studio. Again, this makes very little change to my day to day working life, in fact, none whatsoever really! But when I went to log in to build my first post-maternity report for a client, I couldn’t figure out why I’d ended up looking at a totally different name to what I was expecting.

Maternity Leave and Mental Health

Returning to work after maternity leave can be challenging, both mentally and physically. New parents may experience anxiety, guilt, and a sense of overwhelm, as they try to balance work and family responsibilities. It’s important to have a support system in place, both at home and at work, to help navigate this transition. 

For me, this has included flexible working arrangements, such as earlier and later starts and finish times to manage childcare, and the ability to work at home as and when needed. I also try to join our weekly Monday morning Huddles online every week, but I always have my youngest keeping everyone entertained in the background! On my first return to work, we figured out a plan so that I had time and space to express to allow me to continue breastfeeding; this second time round, that hasn’t been necessary, but it’s something that’s a highly important factor for mums returning to work.

Returning to work after maternity leave can be a challenging experience, but starting slowly and being on the same page as the rest of your team can really help. I made sure to keep my closest colleagues in the loop with anything I was finding particularly challenging, and I couldn’t have done it without my amazing team.

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