The nation’s wholesale shift to remote working in response to the unprecedented March 2020 lockdown has demonstrated unmistakably that remote working is a real possibility for many. Tools such as Microsoft Teams, Skype, Zoom and House Party have become synonymous with online meetings, virtual conferences and remote interviews.
Whilst this new found independence has been a revelation for many, the disabled community have long been discriminated against because of a lack of opportunities for remote working. Historically, in some cases, this stems from a reluctance by employers to embrace the opportunities remote working could provide for disabled staff.
However, we find ourselves in new territories and as so often happens with that comes challenges, and in some cases significant barriers to successful remote working. Disability can sometimes compound these challenges and subsequently employers must ensure they have remote working solutions to support employees with disabilities.
Below are five considerations that will ensure employers are better supporting their employees with disabilities when working remotely.
When new to working remotely, the most commonly reported issue by staff is the lack of boundaries between being on duty and off duty. As such, it is vital that managers support staff to be off duty in the evenings through verbal reminder and, most importantly, through role modelling this behaviour themselves by sticking to those office hours. Conversations can be had with teams to identify an informal working space in their homes, one that can easily be packed away or not seen when it’s time to leave work and be at home with their families.
Working from home has its challenges and it’s important that you take the time to acknowledge the difficulties. Ensure that you have communicated your plan and clarify that you’re not expecting to have conference calls or get a similar level of engagement as you would in a face to face environment. Your staff will value the knowledge that it’s perfectly okay to find this time difficult and that they can – and are expected - to talk about it with each other and their manager.
For some, they may be prone to missing social signals, and as such using remote communication technologies like text, email or phone can be beset with problems of misinterpreting or misunderstanding colleagues. Managers need to support their teams more than normal in the early days of remote working to ensure they avoid conflict.
Lengthy phone calls can have a cognitive overload effect and video conferencing is often a much lighter load. If you are unable to do that and a phone conversation is the only option then consider providing some simple visuals that employees can review whilst you are talking. In this case, even some basic bullet points via a word document will help reduce cognitive overload and support people who need that visual linking with the discussion. Furthermore, it’s important to take breaks during long conference calls. That’s something that would be common in the office, but is often forgotten when online in a lengthy virtual meeting. Also consider that disabled staff may require longer for such breaks.
It’s imperative also that managers are considerate of those staff with vision or hearing impairment, because remote working could be highly disadvantageous to them without the tools they rely on day in and day out. To mitigate potential problems, it’s vital that we reach out directly to staff affected and have a conversation about how we can better accommodate them, as we would with any reasonable adjustments process.
When staff are working remotely, it’s vital that employers do not defer reasonable adjustments in process. Those staff who are undergoing assessment for reasonable adjustment will still need to be actioned, and this can still be completed remotely with recommendations being carried out. Similarly, where you would allow time out of the working day to accommodate a disability under normal circumstances, you still need to do so during remote working. Also, for staff plunged into remote working due to the national lockdown, maintaining the disability support that has been in progress might be a critical factor to performing at their best in this difficult period.
Isolation is a problem and employees are going to need support to ensure their wellbeing is high. The mental health of remote workers is so important and there are so many ways in which managers can check the wellbeing of their teams. For example, meetings could start with an informal check-in, asking your team how they are, before moving on to the business at hand. In fact, a great way to get staff to talk about this is by sharing any challenges you're facing yourself. If employees do open up, give them time to do so and let them get their personal frustration out.
Furthermore, making time for virtual social meetings is a great way of allowing teams to talk about life at home when working remotely; thereby ensuring any issues regarding wellbeing can be discussed. Even a ten minute virtual tea break with the whole team can help ensure isolation is held at bay, whilst providing an environment for casual conversations that - during normal office based interaction - we would rely on so much.
If you would like to discover how we at Texthelp could help you and your remote working teams, explore more about what we do, and how we can support you at this time.
John Duncan, Equality, Diversity & Inclusion (Workforce) Lead, Humber NHS Foundation Trust
John is a diversity and inclusion specialist, leading on strategy and policy development, with over 15 years substantial experience of providing advice, support and training within the public sector.
In his role as Equality, Diversity & Inclusion (Workforce) Lead for Humber NHS Foundation Trust, John works to support the implementation and delivery of the EDI agenda, playing a lead role in developing the equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) (workforce) activity and performance across the organisation within a broad strategic framework owned by the Trust Board and executive team.