Much of the U.S. workforce is now working from home, meaning a shift that will likely impact employers for the long-haul. In fact, recent data concludes that 25-30% of the workforce – up from 3.6% of today’s workforce – will be working remotely one or more days a week within the next two years.While workers with disabilities have been advocating for opportunities to work remotely for years, now many employers are being forced to think about how to ensure all of their employees, including individuals with disabilities, have the support they need to succeed in a virtual workforce.
Here are five tips to help you support your employees with disabilities who are working remotely:
- Check-in/Engage regularly– While working from home can be a great option for workers with disabilities, this doesn’t mean they don’t require interaction or support from their managers. Often remote workers experience isolation and loneliness from lack of human interaction. Even still, while traditional workplaces offer informal opportunities for managers to check-in with their employees consistently, often this can be overlooked when employees aren’t on-site. Employers should use multiple methods to consistently engage with their employees. This not only includes sending check-in emails, but also using other designated communication platforms, including phone calls/texts, videoconferencing systems and internal communication platforms.
- Ensure quality digital access – In order to be successful, employees with disabilities need access to information and resources comparable to that of employees without disabilities. This means employers should focus on removing any potential or existing Information and Communications Technology (ICT) barriers. This includes providing assistive technology, such as screen readers or voice-to-text software. It also means ensuring any shared team management or meeting platforms are accessible for all users. For example, video conferencing platforms should be accessible to those who are blind/low vision or deaf/hard-of-hearing.
- Provide other necessary accommodations – In addition to digital access and overall permission to work from home, employees with disabilities may still require other accommodations to perform their essential functions. Specific requirements around workplace accommodations for remote workers (such as modified office furniture or accessories) are not clearly defined in federal regulations like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but it’s good practice for employers to confer with their employees about the best productivity tools to meet their needs. For more advice on accommodations and compliance for remote workers with disabilities, check out the Job Accommodation Network.
- Enforce worktime boundaries – Without official office hours or other forms of workplace accountability, it’s easy for remote workers to get lost in their work and even become “overworked.” Employers should emphasize the importance of setting boundaries around work schedules and deadlines. This includes encouraging employees to have official daily start and stop times, with time built in for scheduled breaks throughout the day. Additionally, because most remote workers have consistent computer access, many successful remote employees remove email access on their phones as not to be distracted during non-work hours.
- Provide opportunities for teambuilding/social interaction, but don’t require it – For many, lack of opportunity to have informal conversations can be a drawback to working remotely. Employers should provide opportunities for employees/teams to cultivate relationships and interact outside of work-focused meetings and conversations. This can include hosting virtual office “socials,” or simply beginning each meeting with check-ins and updates that focus on how employees are outside of work. Keep in mind that some employees with, and without, disabilities may have specific reasons to refrain from participating in these types of social interactions. Employers should make sure that social activities like these are promoted as optional events.
How is your business supporting remote workers with disabilities?