Exploring disabled workers' experiences of remote and hybrid working

Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 2)

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.

Employer guest blog: New ways of working – good for disabled workers?  

By Jane Hatton, Founder and CEO of Evenbreak

Employers across the UK are currently making decisions about the future shape and make up of new forms of hybrid and remote working following the pandemic, and there is a risk that these new models of work will not be inclusive of the needs of disabled workers if their voices are not heard at this critical time of discussion and deliberation. To lessen this risk, Lancaster University are currently conducting a study, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, into Inclusive Remote and Hybrid Working, based on the lived experience of disabled people, which will add their voices to this debate.

This is a subject I am heavily invested in. As a disabled employer, all team members of Evenbreak, the social enterprise I founded in 2011, are also disabled people. We have all worked remotely since our inception, long before Covid-19 started its devastating impact on the world’s population. Evenbreak supports disabled people into new or better work, through a global specialist disability job board, and through an inclusive and accessible career support service. I can see the issues around remote and hybrid working from a number of perspectives – as an employer, as a disabled person who works remotely, as an employer of disabled people who work remotely, and from working with disabled people who are looking for new or better work in this new landscape.

The reason I chose a remote working model for Evenbreak – long before it was fashionable – was for a number of reasons. I founded the company from my bed, following spinal surgery which had left me with limited ability to sit, stand or walk, meaning travelling anywhere was very problematic and I needed to work lying down. Selfishly, I needed to work remotely, as few workplaces offer the facilities to work in that position.

Whilst my home was geared up for my needs (such as a laptop suspended above my bed), I knew that this was the case for many other disabled people, too. As I had made the decision, right from the start, to only employ disabled people, offering remote working seemed eminently sensible.

Another important consideration was that, like any other business, I wanted the very best people, and did not want to restrict my search to the small area within travelling distance of a particular location. I wanted talented people from wherever they happened to be – and twelve years on, our team are spread across the UK, including Scotland, Cornwall, London, the Midlands and elsewhere. It means that we can employ people in other countries, as we expand globally.

As a business, it also saves a significant amount of money on real estate – not to be sniffed at!

Remote working had obvious benefits for Evenbreak, but what about its people? Well, if they had been expected to come to work in a central London location (where I now live), none of the team would have even applied for the job. Evenbreak would have missed out on an extremely talented group of people.

For many of our team, even if they had lived within reach of an office, a daily commute would prove difficult, if not impossible. This might be because of pain or fatigue, but also because of inaccessible public transport. Not having the daily fight through rush hour traffic, or crowded public transport, is an immediately obvious advantage to not mandating office working.

Also, our team have homes which are geared up for their access requirements.  If they need specific furniture, equipment or technology to carry out their roles, this is provided for them, either through Access to Work, or during the current backlog and slow turnaround, through us.

Many people, our team included, prefer to work at different times during the day. Some prefer to work at evenings and weekends, uninterrupted by the constant stream of emails and phone calls. Some prefer to work from early in the morning, others not until their morning care needs have been met. And others choose to work flexibly, to accommodate fluctuating conditions, or unpredictable care needs. Working from home makes this easy – no keeping offices open for extended periods or travelling at unusual times of the day.

Homeworking works really well for Evenbreak and its team of disabled employees. So, is it the panacea for all disabled people? Absolutely not!

There are some real risks around remote and hybrid working.

One was discovered when the pandemic lockdowns ended. Having discovered that working from home opened up the candidate market to more disabled people, some employers took the view that disabled people could work from home, whilst non-disabled people could work on site. This could also negate the need to make the physical workplace accessible. This, of course, would lead to unfair and unjustified segregation. Whilst working from home may suit many disabled people, many others much prefer to work on site. Similarly, working from home suits many non-disabled people and would be their preference, whilst others may prefer to work on site. The ideal situation is that, where roles allow, all employees would have the option to work from home for all or part of the week, regardless of disability.

Another risk is that if more disabled people work from home, through choice or necessity, they may be overlooked for development opportunities or promotion, or be missed out on interesting projects, and the informal communication that happens in the workplace. They may feel isolated from the team, and excluded from important conversations.

People work for many reasons, and high up on the list can be the social aspect. Disabled people are more likely than others to feel isolated, and working away from their team mates can exacerbate this. We try to combat this by having online Morning Coffee and Afternoon Tea sessions, where anyone who is free can drop in, and talk about work is forbidden (although naturally crops up sometimes). We also have in-person get togethers at various events throughout the year, and a whole team event two or three times a year, arranging accessible transport and accommodation for everyone.

People who work in a hybrid way, who require accessible equipment (ergonomic chairs, height adjustable desks, assistive technology, etc), will require two sets – one for home and one for the workplace. Employers are not always prepared to meet this additional cost, meaning some employees will be working without their access needs being met, for at least part of the week. This may affect their physical or mental health, their performance and their career prospects.

Another risk with hybrid working is the use of ‘hot desking’. For many, this will be fine, but for others can cause problems. A person with visual impairment, who has everything laid out where they can find it. An autistic employee who struggles with change. Someone with hearing impairment who might like to sit with their back to a wall so they can see people approaching them. This is fairly simple to manage, but not all employers are open to making exceptions.

In conclusion, the wider acceptance of new ways of working, including remote and hybrid working patterns, are generally much better for everyone. However, like every other working practice, inclusion and accessibility need to be designed and embedded in from the start, to ensure that disabled people do not face further disadvantages in the process.

Jane Hatton is the founder and CEO of Evenbreak, an organisation dedicated to joining up disabled jobseekers with inclusively-minded employers.

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.

« Older posts