Workplace adjustments in the age of remote working
Remote working isn’t new. Individuals and organisations have been working remotely and flexibly for years – some more than others – but it’s taken a worldwide emergency like Covid-19 to truly bring it to the forefront, forcing the hand of employers to allow their workforce to work remotely. But it isn’t as simple as just having a device that you can log on to from home or a video conferencing platform like Zoom or Teams: it’s about having the right mindset, policies, processes and adjustments in place to enable and support employees to do their jobs whilst supporting their wellbeing.
At Ofcom, we’re no strangers to remote working and, as far as possible, we’ve always taken an agile and flexible approach to how and where colleagues do their jobs. In autumn 2019, we went one step further and transformed our Reasonable Adjustments policy, replacing it with a more inclusive and sustainable Workplace Adjustments policy.
What did we improve and how?
We worked closely with our disability network as we shaped and iterated the policy, while also seeking expert support and advice from the Business Disability Forum (BDF) and an external disability consultant. We expanded the scope of who can request workplace adjustments beyond disability to parents and/or carers, colleagues with cultural or religious observances and colleagues experiencing challenging life events, which more recently has included the impact of Covid-19. We simplified and unified the process across our support teams (ICT, H&S, Facilities, HR), putting in place a single decision making and coordination point for colleagues and their adjustments, making the process as smooth as possible. We also introduced a central budget for the provision of workplace adjustments, moving away from local budgets and local decision making to ensure we have a consistent and coherent approach across Ofcom.
We also gave much clearer guidance on the role and expectations of line managers and colleagues, and made it trust-based and conversation-based rather than asking for medical proof of a condition, for example. We focused on the barriers, not the condition, and also thought about how we could make the process easier for our colleagues. One of the ways we did this was to introduce a workplace adjustments ‘passport’, which made it easier for adjustments to be taken with colleagues when they moved into new teams or roles across Ofcom, rather than needing to start brand new conversations on adjustments each time. We introduced a needs-based assessment route, particularly for colleagues with neurodiverse conditions, to sit alongside traditional occupational health support. We listened, we engaged and we took action to remove barriers and really support our colleagues with our new Workplace Adjustments policy. Admittedly this approach and mindset to adjustments was new, and it took a little while for us to adapt our thinking and truly put the colleague front and centre but, now we are there, we won’t turn back.
What was the impact?
With this refreshed, more inclusive policy in place, when Covid-19 turned our world upside down in 2020, it meant that we had strong foundations in place to ensure that every colleague across the organisation had access to the support and adjustments necessary to work remotely, not just for the odd day, but for an indefinite period of time.
- Colleagues with existing office-based adjustments (such as an adapted chair, monitors or sit stand desk) are able to request the same, or closest alternative, solution at home, as far as practically possible
- Colleagues can continue to request new workplace adjustments for working from home (e.g. footstand, backrest, ergonomic keyboard etc.) and all colleagues are supported with an additional allowance which they can use on ICT and desk type equipment, to enable a more comfortable and safe working environment
- Display Screen Equipment evaluations continued with the use of an online assessment tool, which is helping to speed up the provision of adjustments
- Workplace needs-based assessments are also being continued remotely and we use the BDF advice service too. We have continued to support colleagues with neurodiverse conditions during this time, including:
- using flexible working to create a working routine that the colleague feels comfortable with (and which also works with the needs of the team). This might be a specific routine with scheduled times such as for start time, end time, breaks, lunch break, etc. – creating a new normal routine for the days
- regular check-ins (daily, maybe at set times) 1:1 and regular check-ins with the team on the colleague’s preferred platform (e.g phone rather than Teams, Teams call over Teams video, etc.)
- adjusting the workload (or type of work) that will help the colleague
- encouraging regular breaks (might want to schedule) and regular exercise
- ensure that any workplace adjustments that were in place in the office are replicated at home as much as possible
We also put some measures in place to ensure the health and wellbeing of our employees during this time:
- We created comprehensive guidance and support materials for colleagues and Ofcom to provide them with as much useful information as possible during this time, and also adopted a maximum flexibility and families-first approach
- We amplified our Wellbeing support, ‘Thrive at Ofcom’, to provide mental wellbeing support. We promoted our mental health support from our private medical provider, our EAP support, 52 trained mental health first aiders, Headspace app, our peer-to-peer colleague Listening Network, colleague network support groups, etc.
The fact that we have very good technology across the organisation, with all colleagues having lightweight laptops and Teams functionality, it has meant that our colleagues are empowered to work from anywhere.
In a recent survey, 96% of Ofcom have felt very well supported during the pandemic, a statistic we are proud of. While it remains to be seen what the lasting effects of Covid-19 will be and what the ‘new normal’ will look like, many will agree that the working world will be different in the future. With remote working looking like it’s here to stay, having a comprehensive and inclusive Workplace Adjustments policy and team passionate to solve problems for colleagues is key to creating a sustainable and inclusive workplace for everybody where they can feel supported, healthy and productive.
At Texthelp we want to make sure that every employee has what they need to succeed at work, whether they're working in the office or from home. We hope you've been given some inspiration from hearing how Ofcom have reshaped their workplace adjustments policy. And, if you’d like to find out how we at Texthelp can support you, explore more about us and our support tools.
About the authors
Kerri-Ann O'Neill, People and Transformation Director, Ofcom
Kerri-Ann is the People and Transformation Director at Ofcom and is the functional leader for human resources and for organisational and digital transformation at the communications regulator. Kerri sits on the main Executive Policy and Management Board of Ofcom.
Kerri aims to create a colleague experience which enables people to work collaboratively to build a purpose driven and agile organisation centred on respect, trust, wellbeing and excellence. Kerri leads Ofcom’s agenda for diversity and inclusion, wellbeing, reward, talent acquisition and management, culture and delivering people centred technological change.
Alpha Abraham, Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Ofcom
Alpha is the Diversity and Inclusion Manager at Ofcom and is energised by issues of diversity, inclusion and difference and effecting positive change.
She is responsible for delivering Ofcom’s employer D&I commitments, monitoring and tracking progress and building sustainable change through, and with, others across the whole organisation. She played a central role in bringing about Ofcom’s workplace adjustments policy and process and remains very much involved.
She finds it a real privilege to be able to drive inclusion, diversity and equity every day.