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What to expect on a returnship during the pandemic?

Are feel you feeling nervous about returning to work through a returner programme during the pandemic?

We have coached and spoken to many returners who have been working remotely, we have partnered with a number of organisations on their remote returnships, and we hosted an employer event in June which brought together over 50 employers, with 3 of our partners sharing their experience and advice for running a returnship during the pandemic.  From this range of experiences and feedback, we can reassure you that returner programmes are working well, despite the current challenges. As one employer commented, despite initial concerns, “The programme is going fantastically well.”

Let us guide you through what looks different from both a returner and employer perspectives, so you know what to expect.

Launch Events

The purpose of a launch event is to enable you to find out more about the organisation, bring to life what it’s like to work there, gain return-to-work support and network with leaders in the business. Virtual launch events deliver the same outcomes, only they are carried out via Zoom, Teams or another video platform.

There are benefits to a virtual event. You can dial in without a commute, saving time and expense and simplifying any childcare or eldercare arrangements. At the moment, you’ll also be seeing employers working from home, so we’ve found these events can feel more personal. One of the challenges was recreating the networking component to an in-person event. Now most of our co-hosted events use break-out groups for small group networking chats, so you can to have the opportunity to ask your questions and virtually speak to employers ‘face-to-face’.

The feedback from our co-hosted launch events has been really positive. One returner emailing us to say “I was hesitant to sign-up to a virtual launch event but the organisational culture came through so clearly via the panel and speakers that I knew this was going to be a great fit for me.” From the employer’s perspective, dunnhumby commented “The event showcased our new normal, working from home, and it felt very natural and authentic.”


It will come as no surprise that all recruitment has now moved to video and telephone interviews. Although a video interview may seem daunting, it’s no different in format than the Zoom conversations you’ve been having with friends and family during lockdown. One employer commented “Any concerns we had about virtual interviews have now faded away. People have brought their whole selves to the interview.” We expect that virtual interviews will be a staple in the recruitment process even when employers are back in the office, as they remove the need for meeting space, and enable interviewers from different locations to join, which has the benefit of speeding up the interview process.

You do need to prepare well. You can have your notes to hand and may need to work a little harder to build rapport. If you have an upcoming interview, do check out our blog with top tips to help you prepare.


Organisations have quickly adapted to virtual ‘onboarding’ (integrating a new employee into the organisation) for all hires, and have put systems and processes in place to make this a smoother transition. This can include couriering IT equipment to your home, pre-onboarding information and advice, organising regular weekly calls to answer any questions, and setting up video introductory calls as part of an induction itinerary. One employer at our event commented “New employees have been given the gold standard of induction taking them through the first few months of employment to ensure they meet the right people, understand our culture and feel part of the team.” One returner shared that she was being invited to attend social team meetings prior to her start date – once a week on the run up to her joining date she dialled into the team call where they talked about “everything except work”. She said “It made me feel part of the team before I had officially started. It was great to get to know everyone socially so that on day one they were familiar. It removed part of the stress of starting a new job by seeing friendly faces.”

Working remotely

So far returners who have joined programmes remotely were not expecting to do so. They had accepted offers prior to lockdown so their expectations of returning to work panned out very differently. However, they have embraced it – recognising that although a virtual returnship placement looks slightly different, it is still a great opportunity and can have advantages. One returner shared “A large part of my return to work plan was to get out of the house and be in an office environment but here I am sitting at home. However it feels like it has been an easier transition, I am loving the job and being at home made me feel far less nervous about it all, I also get the opportunity to see the children during the day which is a bonus. It’s like a really soft transition which has worked far better than I expected.”

Working with children at home

We are not working from home as we knew it 5 months ago, but we are at home working during a pandemic. If you have children at home too that adds to the complexity of the situation. However, employers recognise the challenge that many parents are facing and they have put in guidelines and flexibility to support their teams. One returner told us “Before I started my manager shared with me that he also has children at home and he understands that I will need to be flexible at times. We agreed that I would work earlier in the day, take time off over lunch and log into again in the afternoon. Having that flexibility has enabled me to do my job and tend to the children when needed.” At our employer event, one employer shared “Many managers are in the same boat [with children at home] and we will make allowances for home-schooling and childcare.”

Doing the job and networking

The overall feedback from returners who have started and finished their placements at home has been very positive. They have admitted that they needed to work differently and be proactive to build relationships, but technology has enabled them to do so effectively, supported by the wrap-a-round support and structure of the returnship programme. They are enjoying their return and don’t feel like the remote set up has impacted on their ability to do the job. Employers are doing their utmost to ensure everyone is set up correctly to be productive, giving flexibility where needed and facilitating both business and social meetings. Some have mentioned that the crisis has humanised the workplace, with conversations being far more informal with family in the background.

Employers Perspective

At our employer event, we heard from 3 panellists.  One has launched their programme and is now going through the recruitment process.  The other 2 hired returners fully expecting them to be in the office and had to pivot quickly to bring them in remotely.  All 3 panellist spoke positively about their experiences: “Our managers were blown away with calibre of returner talent” ;  “The returners have a mentor, buddy, Programme Manager, Women Returners Coaching and a peer support group. We have provided welcome packs and FAQs; the returners feel that there is a lot of support to ease their transition.”

Go for it!

In summary, while returner programmes may look different, they still hold the same value for both employers and returners. At our employer event we heard loud and clear that organisations are committed to keeping returnships and other diversity activities on the organisational agenda. If you are considering returning to work but nervous about what to expect and whether you can make it a success, then we hope this has given you reassurance and encouragement to go for it.