Remote Working: A New Normal
The past year has seen the necessity of remote working options increase across the board as countries have entered lockdown, but that change has been a long time coming. In our Employee Expectations Report 2020, 99% of employees said they would choose to work remotely some of the time. Flexible working is here to stay.
However, since the decision to send employees home was made during a time of crisis, allowances for disabled individuals weren’t always in place from the outset. Now, as we move forward, we have to consider the differences inherent to working from home, and how we can ensure this change is a positive one.
The Issues Raised by Remote Working for Accessibility
Accessibility shouldn’t be viewed as a problem. Rather, it’s about your business meeting the needs of your employees. You should view each of the below points as opportunities for growth in your company, rather than a chore.
Remote working represents a chance for greater equality and freedom of opportunity for those with disabilities—if businesses take it. Freed of the limits of a physical work space, employees can approach work in a manner that’s attuned to their personal needs.
1. Limits of Home Working Spaces
At the crux of accessibility is the need to avoid assumptions. Just because someone has the means to complete their work in an office, doesn’t mean they do at home. Consult your disabled employees, put them in positions to action genuine change, and create comprehensive request forms that give everyone the opportunity to access what they need. This isn’t limited to desks or office equipment—consider the needs of neurodivergent employees too.
2. The Restrictions of Technology
Technology has the potential to create a level playing field for your employees, but only if your company puts time into understanding and researching the necessary solutions. That might cover software to reduce background noise in calls for the hard-of-hearing, or technology to provide keyboard accessibility for virtual whiteboard tasks. The important part is providing space for your employees to express their needs.
3. The Danger of Assumptions
Without a direct face-to-face connection, people often assume that the person on the other end of an email or a Slack message matches their own life experience. That’s where assumptions become a problem. Rather than requiring you to purchase software or equipment, this step is about raising awareness levels, and encouraging staff to consider how the needs of those they’re working with might differ. That can either be through training days, or regular and reliable feedback opportunities.
The Benefits of Remote Working to Accessibility
Accessibility doesn’t end at ensuring voices and experiences aren’t sidelined. It’s about promoting equal opportunities by truly taking advantage of the tools available to us. Together, we can create a world of work where inclusivity is the default.
1. Removal of Physical Barriers
This is the most obvious benefit, but it’s an important one. Whether it’s the ongoing lack of wheelchair accessibility throughout offices, or the difficulty of commuting on tightly-packed transport for people with social anxiety, the ability to work from home on a flexible basis is a game-changer. That’s part of why global engagement scores around remote working increased by 6% last year—even during a pandemic.