Back in March of this year everything changed. Overnight our lives became a lot smaller. Part of this was the quick move to remote working for most people involved in office type jobs. For many people with disabilities this caused additional problems; adjusting to a new way of working, the stress of what was happening in the outside world, fear for their own health, as many fell under the shielding category, all added up to difficulties adapting.
Nine months later the first vaccine has been approved for use in the UK, meaning there is a hope that at some point in the future we can go back to the old way of doing things. Although this is wonderful news, and something many have longed for, for people with disabilities this marks the possibility of yet another change. Many people have not only become used to remote working, but actually find that they have been able to focus better and be more efficient and productive, than they ever were in the office. Particularly thinking about people who struggle with sensory overload or distractibility, such as people on the autistic spectrum or with ADHD/dyslexia who find concentrating in the, now common, open plan office very difficult. In a home environment they are able to control the sensory environment to maximise efficiency and minimise distraction. For others, the flexibility of being able to work when they are most able, be this early in the morning or late at night, rather than the traditional 9-to-5 office hours, has been greatly beneficial. For people with fluctuating conditions such as chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia the ability to work when they feel most energised and rest when they are feeling more tired as a result of their conditions has been a huge blessing.
It is important to also point out that for some people the lack of structure and peer support has made working from home more difficult, and less productive than working in the office environment. Some people may have found other distractions such as housework or DIY rather than office banter and sensory overload. Others, who have not been able to establish a defined working area at home, may have struggled to keep motivated while working in the living room or have not been able to switch off at the end of the day having office paperwork and computers in the house.
So, the question for employers, as we look to a brighter future where we are able to be together without social distancing and therefore head back to our offices is: should we? I think it’s important as employers to look at how remote working has benefited or hindered our employees. Where before the pandemic we may have been reluctant to allow people to work from home, we can see from individuals’ performances over this year whether it may actually be more beneficial to them and to the organisation to allow them to continue to work from home at least part of the time. In being more flexible about how people work, treating each person as an individual and looking at their individual ways of working, will help us to not only increase productivity, but also, reduce levels of stress, and the resulting loss of days through illness.