How I designed my maternity leave handover plan

Do your research

I’ve always believed that being informed is the best way get comfortable with taking on a new challenge. So, naturally, the first step for me was to start doing loads of research on the matter. This included browsing articles and posts about the topic, reading a ton about first mums’ experiences, and talking to as many working mums as I could connect with. Here’s a list of a few specific things to research and get answers to:

  1. How and when should I share the information with the team?
  2. What all should I prepare for before I head off for maternity leave?
  3. When should I start my leave?
  4. How do I prepare myself for the next few months (mentally, physically, and emotionally)?

Start planning early

Just like with anything that you’re doing for the first time, it’s a good idea to start putting a plan in place as early as you possibly can. With pregnancy, this becomes even more important because you don’t want to end up stressed out towards the end of your pregnancy. Starting to plan early gave me a lot of reassurance and confidence that I will, in fact, be able to execute on my plan without feeling anxious about it at the end.

Make key decisions

Once you’ve done some research and feel like you have a pretty good sense of what you want and don’t want from the next few months, it’s time to firm up your plan with key decisions. Here are a few that I made right around the end of my first trimester:

  1. Parental leave policy — as a young startup, with just 22 people on the team at the time, we didn’t have an official parental leave policy. The founders agreed that we needed to instate one within the next couple of months. I let them know that I wanted to help with the process by bringing in my research and perspective to the mix. We agreed to work on it together over the next few weeks with the view of finalising it by the time I’d approach the end of my second trimester. (If you’re looking for learning more about this topic, give this episode a listen: HBR’s Managing Parental Leave podcast.)
  2. When and for how long — as we started to discuss the steps to put a parental leave policy in place, I started to figure out when I wanted my mat leave to start and how long I wanted to be off for. This is a tricky one since it’s really a personal preference based on many factors like how difficult your pregnancy has been, how you feel about leaving your baby in someone else’s care, the financial implications, etc. This was one decision that I was comfortable to leave to the end since I had no idea what to expect. My pregnancy was relatively smooth at the time but I didn’t know if that would change towards the end or not. I also didn’t know how long I would need to feel confident to return to work. So, I decided to make these decisions closer to the second half of my third trimester.
  3. Handover plan — I started to think about which pieces of key information I needed to handover. It’s crucial to start identifying this in order to set your team up for success. Leaving my team in the best place to succeed was always a top priority. In order to do this effectively, I followed a reverse pyramid model. I began by jotting down the most important parts of my role and my day-to-day responsibilities as Head of Design. I then moved on to determining who all my absence would impact the most aka departments and colleagues I work with on a daily basis. And finally, listing out mid-to-long term projects that I am and will be responsible for in the upcoming quarters. This information would form the basis of what my handover plan would look like as I approached the final months of my pregnancy.

Set a clear path

Once I had done all the groundwork, I found it useful to set up 1:1 conversations with my peers to learn about what they were expecting from my handover plan and if our expectations were aligned. Through this, I uncovered a few areas that I had initially missed. After all the conversations and feedback, I was able to lay out a clear plan that I was able to share with the relevant people on my team as well as the wider team. My plan mainly included:

  1. Delegation of any ongoing projects that I’d be absent for.
  2. A guide listing the right people to talk to for answers on different areas of the design function — brand & product.
  3. Set OKRs for my team to deliver on in the next two quarters.
  4. Constant checkins with my team 6 weeks before my leave started to make sure they felt like they were set up for success.

Switch off

After you’ve carried out your masterplan and handed everything over, completely switch off. This may seem like an impossible task (it did, to me), but it’s important to trust on your colleagues to make the right call in your absence. Trust that you’ve done everything in your power to make this transition as smooth as possible. And then, let go. Enjoy your time off and look forward to the wonderful/challenging/magical/sleepless days and nights ahead!

Designer of many things. Currently, Head of Design at Unmind. Previously, Head of Design @HelloSign. Design @zendesk. Creator of @neemsf & @hdysta.

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