2020 saw an overnight shift to home-based working, but where were these accommodations when disabled people were asking for them?
For decades disabled and chronically sick people have been requesting the ability to work and study from home, allowing us to take part in employment and education without sacrificing our health.
Surely that’s not too much to ask for?
But apparently it was. Disabled people were told it would cost too much, there wasn’t the funding, there wasn’t the staff power. Simply put, it wasn’t possible. And yet then it was, overnight, with no prior warning or time to find these elusive resources required. It had to be done and so it was.
For many, remote working is seen as restrictive and isolating. I’m not doubting that it can be on an individual level, but for others it can be a vital lifeline. Not everyone can work from home, and not everyone wants to, but not everyone has the flexibility of other options.
The key here is options. People deserve options. Now more than ever.
If you’re used to an office-based environment then I can see why home working could seem lonely, where you miss out on casual conversation with colleagues and informal networking. Teamwork might seem stagnated, communication deemed more difficult and processes made more complex. And yet it needn’t be that way.
Advancements in technology mean communication and a sense of community can be forged over screens; just look to how the housebound use social media to battle isolation. Deep, meaningful and vibrant conversations can and do happen online. Is there reason to think corporate conversations should be a different story?
If your company culture doesn’t translate online, and the system doesn’t work when people start working from home, then maybe it never really worked in the way you might have thought. Perhaps an overhaul is needed, a shift towards a more inclusive practise, and that doesn’t have to be a daunting prospect.
Growth is good.
Remote working can help, amongst others, people with disabilities, mental health issues or caring responsibilities. It helps employers expand their pool of potential employees to these people, which in turn will ensure the work the company produces will be more inclusive and representative.
We have insight to offer. We have skills and talent and experiences that hold value. We can help. Accommodations don’t drain resources; they help us add to them. It’s a two-way street, and I’m not after a favour.
Remote working helps local economies, spreading out wealth around the country. It benefits smaller independent businesses and local communities. It can help people’s wellbeing with less time spent commuting and more time for rest and relaxation. Remote working can help the environment with lower emissions.
However it isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, and for many I’m sure it’s been inherently stressful over the last two years. On an individual basis home-based working isn’t suitable for every one, every role and every industry. But on a corporate culture level, why shouldn’t it be?
Is an office-first approach really necessary? Who does it exclude? Why are we scrambling to go back? I’m willing to bet many issues with current remote-working have a lot more to do with the current climate we find ourselves working through, and not necessarily where our desk sits.
For many with chronic illnesses and disabilities, continuously hearing “this is an office-based position” is yet another door slammed in our face. For many reasons. Heading into the new year, if you're at all involved in recruitment, please question this phrase. Need it be?
For many, offices often aren’t accessible. But they could and should be. Remote working cannot be used as an unjust reason to deny other reasonable adjustments. Many disabled people can, and want to, work in office with the right accommodations in place. These people cannot be side-lined.
But neither can those that need or want to be based from home. For many positions, throughout many industries, it can and does work. If only we would let it.