Exploring disabled workers' experiences of remote and hybrid working

Author: Calum Carson (Page 1 of 2)

Parliamentary impact and engagement work across the UK

Spring 2024 has seen the Inclusive Remote and Hybrid Working Study have the voices of its research participants heard across the UK’s Parliamentary landscape, from Cardiff to London via Edinburgh!

In January 2024  Dr Calum Carson contributed to the Welsh Parliament’s Equality and Social Justice Committee’s Area of Interest call on the disability employment gap, within which the Committee is interested in exploring what action government and employers can take to increase employment opportunities for disabled people and to reduce the disability pay and employment gaps. Calum suggested areas of focus that the Committee could place an emphasis on to affect change in these areas, and provided some early insights from the Inclusive Remote and Hybrid Working Study that are relevant to the Committee’s work.

Following this, in March Dr Paula Holland and Dr Calum Carson were invited to the Houses of Parliament to give evidence to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eye Health and Visual Impairment. Their evidence explored employer attitudes towards reasonable adjustments for blind and visually impaired people within the workplace and insights on individual experiences in this area explored throughout fieldwork for work package 1 of the study, and will help to form part of a larger report to be published by the APPG in the summer of 2024.

And finally in May, Dr Calum Carson and Rebecca Florisson were invited panelists for a roundtable event at the Scottish Parliament to discuss the findings of the report Women in Multiple Low-paid Employment: Pathways between Work, Care and Health,” conducted by researchers at the University of Glasgow and funded by the Nuffield Foundation. The report was informed in part through the emergent insights from fieldwork for the Inclusive Remote and Hybrid Working Study, discussed with the project team and other invited experts at an earlier roundtable event held at the University of Glasgow in March 2024. More information on the wider project can be found here.

With the project still ongoing and employer experiences of inclusive remote and hybrid working currently being explored, watch this space for more parliamentary engagement to come!

Fieldwork on stage 2 of the project continues

Since the beginning of March fieldwork has been ongoing on work package 2 of the study, revolving around employer perspectives of inclusive remote and hybrid working. The team are interested in the journeys that organisations have been on since the pandemic in introducing remote and/or hybrid models of work and what their experiences have been across this time, as well as hearing their thoughts on what the future is for these models of work across the UK labour market.

If you are an organisation interested in discussing your own experiences in implementing and managing remote and hybrid working within your own organisation, we would love to speak with you: please contact Dr Calum Carson at c.carson1@lancaster.ac.uk to set up a call!

First stage of fieldwork fully complete!

February 2024

The beginning of February saw the end of project fieldwork on work package 1 of the study, which specifically focuses on disabled workers’ experiences of remote and hybrid working. These efforts involved an online survey to explore both experiences to date and what respondents would suggest for employers to do to make these models of work more inclusive, alongside 45 in-depth interviews with individuals across the survey sub-sample to explore their thoughts in more detail.

This spring sees the project team now move to a focus on exploring employer perspectives on inclusive remote and hybrid working.

Roundtable with Zoom and the Disability Policy Centre: “How Flexible Working Can Work for Disabled People and Carers”

Calum Carson was an invited panelist at a roundtable hosted by Zoom on Thursday 25 January. Organised by the Disability Policy Centre, the event focused on how flexible working can work better for disabled people and carers, with panelists from across business, academia and the third sector, and was chaired by Wendy Chamberlain MP.  Among other issues, the event discussed current barriers to disabled workers and carers accessing remote and hybrid working, how employers can help make these roles inclusive for all of their workforce, and what role there is for policymakers in helping to promote and facilitate these models of work. A pamphlet summarising some of the main themes of the event is forthcoming.

Employer guest blog: Working from Home – A Personal View

By Fazilet Hadi, Head of Policy, Disability Rights UK

Opening Reflections

A couple of things to say before I share thoughts on working from home.

First, I am an office worker, which means that through the use of email, Word, virtual meetings and telephone, working from home is a realistic option. I am eternally grateful to all those workers, who staff hospitals, train stations, shops, gyms and countless other services, for being physically at work.

Second, whatever we do, there should be flexibility. We all need to juggle work and other responsibilities and it is in the interests of employers to enable us to do this. Depending on the job, this could involve flexible working hours, focus on particular tasks, hybrid working, remote working, making reasonable adjustments and support from Access to Work.

So, back to my experience. I’ve spent most of my working life at the office but for the past 4 years have worked from home. Unlike some Disabled people, who can only work from home or only do their jobs at the workplace, I can do either.

The things I Love:

Not having to travel to work.

As I’m blind, travel isn’t straightforward. It involves a taxi to the station, assistance on and off trains and a bus or taxi to the office. It’s not just the length of the journey that’s a problem but the forward planning and stress, that is part of every journey. Being able to be instantly at work and instantly leave, is amazing.

Being in control of my environment

Moving with ease around an office space, making myself a drink, finding my way to the toilet, can all pose challenges. One of the nice things about working from home is that I know where everything is, no-one has left a chair sticking out, the kettle is where I left it, and I don’t have to find meeting rooms. Navigating my environment is all together easier.

Finding quiet time

Most workspaces today are open plan with a certain amount of noise and activity.  This can make it difficult to find the quiet time to do some thinking, write a report or consider a knotty problem. I know this won’t be the case for everyone, but I can always find quiet time at home. This helps me to balance responding to emails and attending meetings, with thinking time.

The things I miss:

Everyday human interaction

I used to enjoy a morning chat at the station, with those providing passenger assistance and my fellow travellers. Some of my best friends are people I met on the train. When I got to work, I exchanged a hello with the person on reception, made small talk whilst buying a coffee and greeted co-workers. Before my working day started, I’d already had a number of friendly conversations and there would be other opportunities during the day.

Face to face meetings

Whilst much business can efficiently be done through virtual meetings, there is something unique about in-person interactions. It’s often quicker to build trusting relationships, often easier to have difficult conversations and sometimes better to be creative or problem solve together. When you’re in the room, there can be more empathy, subtlety and nuance.

Learning from colleagues

There is so much we can learn from each other, how to get the best out of people, how to have difficult conversations, how to plan ahead or how to run effective meetings. I know there are many ways of learning, but I loved learning on the job. I think this is harder to replicate in the online world.

Having your own voice heard

So, I’ve shared some of my thoughts on working from home here, but it would be great to hear from other Disabled people too through this project. What are your experiences of doing your job away from the workplace and working from home, either all or some of the time? Have you experienced similar benefits and challenges like the ones I have outlined above, or yours been different? The Inclusive Hybrid and Remote Working Study  would love to hear your views via this survey, which is open until the end of January. Please click anywhere in this sentence to find the survey.

Concluding Reflections

When I started my working life, there was a clear demarcation between work and personal life, it definitely feels like this distinction has blurred. Now, people want to bring their whole selves to work, talk openly about their lives outside work and welcome employer understanding of their wider personal situation.

All this is positive. We need to create work cultures that benefit employers but that also benefit employees, cultures where the employer focuses on outcomes, leaving space to negotiate how work can be delivered in the most flexible way for the individual employee.

To have your own voice heard on how to make remote and hybrid work more inclusive within a post-pandemic employment landscape, please participate in this research by completing our survey of disabled workers’ experiences. Employers are making decisions now about future ways of working that will affect the long-term working conditions, health and wellbeing of disabled workers across the UK and beyond, so we thank you for taking the time to be involved in shaping these decisions through your own participation in this project.

New articles from team members

Dr Calum Carson has written a guest article for Disability Rights UK on the need to listen more clearly to the voices of disabled workers in designing the future of hybrid and remote working models. The article can be read in full here.

Project leader Dr Paula Holland and project partner Dr Calum Carson have written an article together in recognition of the United Nations’ 2023 International Day of Disabilities on how to make remote and hybrid work more inclusive, and what employers can do to make this a reality. The article can be read in full here.

Featured article: “There are many reasons disabled people can’t just work from home”

Project leader Dr Paula Holland and project partners Dr Calum Carson and Rebecca Florisson have written an article together for The Conversation, responding to the government’s new Back to Work Plan and their accompanying rhetoric on disabled people “doing their duty” by taking up remote working roles in greater numbers. The article can be read in full here.

Featured Podcast episode: the Long Covid Podcast

Dr Calum Carson was the featured guest on the latest episode of the “Long Covid Podcast,” which can be listened to in full here. Calum discussed the importance of the project’s focus on representing as many diverse conditions as possible in it’s findings, including the experiences of those suffering from the effects of Long Covid since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Other episodes of the podcast can be listened to here.

Disabled Workers’ Experiences of Remote and Hybrid Working Offer Lessons for Employers and Policymakers

Our Senior Research Associate Dr Calum Carson and Principal Analyst Rebecca Florisson have written a new article together for the International Public Policy Observatory, underlining the need for both employers and policymakers to embed disabled workers’ experiences at the heart of new remote and hybrid working models. You can read the article in full here.

Employer guest blog: Creating sustainable hybrid working environments for disabled workers

By Simone Cheng, Senior Policy Adviser, Acas

As workplaces move beyond the traditional 9-to-5 office culture, the horizon unveils a promising era of hybrid working—blending the best of remote and on-site collaboration. But this revolution must be inclusive. We must ensure that no one is left behind, that every voice is heard in shaping the way forward, and that every door is open to opportunity.

With more disabled workers moving out of work than moving in, and the disability employment gap now at its widest point since 2018, there is a real urgency in ensuring hybrid working practices are both accessible and sustainable in the longer term.

That’s where the Inclusive Hybrid and Remote Working Study (IHRWS) comes in. This two-year project, led by Dr Paula Holland of Lancaster University, seeks to better understand disabled workers’ experiences of hybrid and remote working in order to promote more inclusive workplaces and indeed, greater labour market participation. Acas exists to make working life better for everyone, and so we are delighted to be involved in this timely and important study.

Insights from calls to the Acas helpline tell us that implementation of hybrid models can often fail to take account of disabled workers’ needs. Previous research by Paula Holland and The Work Foundation (a project partner on IHRWS) also found that of all respondents who requested additional support or new adjustments while working remotely, almost 1 in 5 (19.1%) had their request refused, with no alternative arrangements put in place. To make hybrid working work for disabled workers, Acas believes there are some fundamental actions employers should prioritise.

Listen to the evidence

A steady stream of research consistently points to the positives of hybrid working. A recent report by the CIPD, for instance, found that 68% of employers that offer hybrid or remote working say it has allowed their organisation to attract and retain more talent. Further,  research by The Work Foundation noted a huge 85% of disabled workers felt more productive while working from home, adding to a long list of survey findings which challenge the myth of on-site productivity.

Evidence also shows the multitude of benefits of home and hybrid working on workers’ health and wellbeing. For disabled workers in particular, being in the comfort of one’s own space can provide the flexibility to manage their health condition in a way that suits them. This can include, for example, being able to take regular breaks or administer any medication as necessary, as well as having ready access to a support system around them, such as family and friends. A home environment can also mean less distractions and sensory demands, which can be of particular advantage to people with neurodivergent conditions.

In order to reap the benefits, however, organisations need to take a considered approach. Managed poorly and without an appropriate framework in place, hybrid working can have negative impacts on both physical and mental health, as well as more broadly on job satisfaction and job quality.

Understand the duty of care

As set out in Acas’s guidance on employers’ legal obligations, employers must by law do all they reasonably can to protect their employees’ health, safety and wellbeing at work. Thinking specifically about hybrid working, this includes the following:

  • Carrying out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of the home and employer workspace – If changes are needed to make sure an employee can work at home in a safe and healthy way, employers are responsible for making sure they happen
  • Providing the appropriate equipment in every work location – Not only does this allow a smooth transition between different workplaces, but it can also reduce the risk of musculoskeletal complaints and disorders
  • Being responsive to people’s needs – Reasonable adjustments are often very simple changes which carry little or no cost. These can come in all forms depending on individual needs, such as changes to start and finish times, ad hoc time off for medical appointments, assistive technology, or additional managerial support
  • Protecting employees from discrimination, bullying and harassment at work – Employers must take steps to prevent discrimination, whether on site or at home. Policies should plainly set out what is and is not acceptable. Examples of remote discrimination include offensive remarks on social media, or inappropriately stopping someone from coming to meetings or activities
  • Putting robust measures in place to minimise stress – Working remotely can make it easier to hide excessive hours or for people to work while unwell. As well as setting clear expectations around work, managers should agree regular check-ins with their staff to discuss wellbeing. Together, parties can identify any triggers and explore the potential solutions, including any reasonable adjustments

Of course, we should always strive to go beyond the legal minimum to cultivate an inclusive environment. Employers need to consider every aspect of working life and address any risks of marginalising their disabled workforce, whether inadvertently or otherwise. For example, it’s important to avoid ‘proximity bias’ so that those working remotely don’t have fewer learning and development opportunities than their office counterparts. Ongoing data gathering, including through direct engagement with disabled workers, representatives and staff networks, can provide helpful insights on where and which interventions are needed.

Take a people-centred approach

No two situations will ever be the same – the same disability can affect different people in unique ways, and conditions can fluctuate or progress over time. The very individual impacts of a health condition mean that managers need to be well-trained to have the knowledge and skills to engage sensitively in regular, two-way conversations with individuals to understand their specific needs. This is especially important in a remote setting where day-to-day signals might be less easily picked up.

As with every change, the path to progress requires thoughtful navigation. Managers and senior leaders should be purposeful in creating psychologically safer workplaces, backing up their commitments with tangible actions – from implementing strong policies, to talking openly and sharing personal experiences, to role-modelling positive behaviours. Everyone should feel able to open up about a health condition if they wish to and feel safe in the knowledge that sharing this information will each time be met with understanding, compassion and support.

Making hybrid working sustainable requires organisations to actively seek out the voices of their disabled workforce, and that engagement will prove far more meaningful if those workers are already empowered to speak up.

Simone Cheng is a Senior Policy Adviser for Workplace Policy at the Advisory, Conciliatory and Arbitration Service (Acas).

To have your own voice heard on how to make remote and hybrid work more inclusive within a post-pandemic employment landscape, please participate in this research by completing our survey of disabled workers’ experiences. Employers are making decisions now about future ways of working that will affect the long-term working conditions, health and wellbeing of disabled workers across the UK and beyond, so we thank you for taking the time to be involved in shaping these decisions through your own participation in this project.

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