The legacy of a more widespread acceptance of remote working practices initially triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic represents an undoubted boon for employees with disabilities.
In fact, research published late last year by the Economic Innovation Group suggested a clear correlation between increased trends towards remote working and people with disabilities being 3.5% more likely to be employed in Q2 2022 than pre-pandemic.
Many of the potential factors driving this are self-evident.
Working from home naturally strips away a number of important access barriers associated with regular office-based employment.
These can include having to navigate to work using inaccessible public transportation systems, which can be physically and psychologically draining — whilst the office building itself may not be wholly accessible and optimized for employees with disabilities.
That’s not to mention the human factors that come into play once somebody is through the door. These might involve discriminatory attitudes from management and co-workers which, in physical shared workspaces in particular, play out against the intensified interpersonal backdrops commonly associated with office politics.
Not always the answer
This might go some of the way to explaining why, in research recently published in the U.K. by Instant Offices (a world-leading provider of procured office space), only 55% of disabled workers said that they believe they receive recognition from management in contrast to 67% of non-disabled employees.
Another surprising statistic to emerge from the research was that, while 26% of respondents with disabilities said that their mental health improved as a result of working from home, a further 30% reported that it had declined.
Additionally, 34% of respondents complained of lacking the proper office equipment at home and 9% said that they struggled to use online meeting platforms.
Perhaps, most tellingly, 60% of respondents said that, when working from home, they missed social interactions with co-workers.
This is noteworthy as it’s important to remember that people with disabilities are far more likely to face social isolation than their non-disabled peers. This isn’t as simple as just being physically present and surrounded by others.
Communicating and working directly alongside other people can, over a sustained period, at least for the open-minded, go a tremendous way to breaking down certain negative perceptions and stereotypes associated with disability.
Not only, through in-person office work, can employees with disabilities demonstrate their on-the-job talents more directly, but their simple humanity too – be that over a quick catch-up on last night’s ball game or poking fun along with everyone else at corporate idiosyncrasies.
Of course, working from home carries with it clear efficiencies, particularly in relation to types of work that require less collaborative interaction. For this reason, 40% of respondents said that they experience less fatigue when working from home.
Nonetheless, important aspects of human contact can be lost and the only instance in which this is an outright advantage is when it applies to a work environment that is already toxic.
Best of both worlds
Given these nuances, employers should not rush to rash assumptions in believing that they are doing staff with disabilities a favor by offering them work patterns involving 100% remote work.
Instead, employees with disabilities need to be included in the post-pandemic trend towards hybrid working – presenting staff members with the opportunity of enjoying the best of both worlds.
It may well be that employees with disabilities lean in to remote working more than their non-disabled colleagues but they should be enabled to play an active role in determining how their working week is divided up between home and office.
Moreover, the modern trend towards remote working should never be used as an excuse to make office spaces less physically accessible and welcoming to employees of all backgrounds.
The more open, robust and flexible hybrid work arrangements are – the more the workforce as a whole can benefit in the long run.