6 Strategies for Accommodating Remote Workers With Disabilities
Learn about the importance of accommodating remote employees with disabilities and 6 strategies that benefit everyone.
“Disability” is a broad term. It encompasses physical conditions, as well as mental and emotional differences. The list of disabilities and possible accommodations is extensive — making it even more prudent to know how and where certain characteristics are present and what you can do to help remote employees with disabilities. In fact, not knowing can put you in some serious legal trouble.
As remote work becomes more and more common (and necessary), accommodating workers with disabilities is even more important. It can feel like a daunting task, especially when you really want to make sure your people are positioned to succeed but can’t see a clear path forward.
Here’s the other big thing: Flexible, remote work arrangements are excellent fits for numerous situations. Adapting your remote work model can take your company to the next level regardless of whom you have geared it toward. It is worth being open to it in general because it’s a reasonable alternative to rigid 9-5 environments.
Back to the disability discussion: We know this can feel overwhelming and complicated, so we put together 6 strategies to help you accommodate remote workers with disabilities.
1. Make sure your communication is crystal clear
We can’t overstate the importance of this. So much is lost over email, text, and direct message. Vital aspects of human communication such as tone and body language are lost when you’re talking with someone in writing.
Even phone or video calls, which are a step above text, are still not as effective as in-person conversations. This can lead to some pretty harmful misinterpretations and misunderstandings.
You want to be sure you can accommodate work with different people and improving communication is a fantastic way to start.
Certain “invisible” disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorders or generalized anxiety disorders, can potentially make communication stressful or difficult. Sometimes, you have to meet these people more than halfway (which you should always be ready to do as a manager).
But autism, anxiety, and other disabilities themselves are not necessarily a hindrance at work. Discrimination is, though.
Hiring someone with disabilities can be a great opportunity to examine existing communication protocols and make sure they are clear. You want to be sure you can accommodate work with different people and improving communication is a fantastic way to start.
2. Be kind, always
This may be a no-brainer but it’s still important. If it’s not an issue for you specifically, then perhaps use this to guide a coworker who may be struggling to understand different workplace needs. Someone somewhere can benefit from this.
Also, remember that understanding is not a prerequisite for acceptance. Remember that accommodations exist to help people with disabilities excel at their jobs. They are support systems put in place to help workers function optimally. Viewed that way, it is much easier for HR professionals to empower employees to feel proud of their abilities and be unafraid to ask for help.
Fostering an internal culture that is welcoming and inclusive should never be conditional. Every employee walking through your doors has earned their place at your organization. Again, this reminder may seem like a given but it’s especially important to let this sink in and guide your decisions in the office.
3. Allow flexible work schedules
This was not as big of a thing pre-COVID. It existed but it was usually only reserved for certain situations or as an absolute last resort. In fact, the only reason flexible work schedules became a widespread practice at all was due to government mandates.
But here’s the thing: pandemic or not, offering or allowing a flexible work schedule can be a game-changer. It’s not clear what the job landscape will look like when the pandemic is finally behind us, but the need for flexibility will always be here. Sometimes, people need schedules that leave room for life to happen.
For many years, workers languished at jobs that didn’t accommodate their lives and they ended up suffering because of it. We’ve all heard it somewhere: burnout driving someone to a breakdown. Exhaustion and overtime forcing a hard-working employee to quit a job they needed desperately. Flexibility can not only help mitigate these situations, but it can help workers avoid these types of headaches altogether.
Sometimes, a flexible schedule is all a remote worker will need to succeed in the position.
Thankfully, flexible work options are becoming more and more common (especially in the middle of a global pandemic). Another thing to keep in mind: This strategy works best if done with the communication tip in mind. A flexible work schedule must come with excellent communication. It most likely will not work otherwise.
Sometimes, a flexible schedule is all a remote worker will need to succeed in the position. Knowing that they are not tied to a set-in-stone schedule can have the added benefit of boosting morale, too.
Regardless, be ready to work with various schedules. Be open to compromise and hear their suggestions. More often than not, you can reach a solution that works for everyone.
4. Offer training via teleconference (or other virtual means)
Software programs such as Zoom or Google Meet were a lifesaver in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. These things existed beforehand, but when government shutdowns forced everyone to stay at home for months, Zoom helped keep people productive, engaged, and connected.
Strengthening habits and protocols around video conferences can be remarkably beneficial, especially in this specific context. Organizing teleconferences for remote workers with disabilities is extremely important. These virtual meetings can be set up in minutes, and it does not have to take too much effort to shift a meeting from in-person to remote.
In a way, teleconferencing is a compromise: the meeting still happens and work still gets done. It just happens in a way that helps everyone get the most out of it regardless of location or circumstance.
5. Mentorship can be a game-changer
Mentorship can be immensely helpful for those willing to participate and learn from it. Frankly, though, we don’t feel that it is utilized nearly enough. Most “mentoring” happens between new hires and their managers during the employee onboarding process.
After that, though, the employee, whether they are remote or not, is thrown into the job and has to learn as they go. That’s all fine, but the fact remains that having a fleshed out mentorship program could be a worthwhile use of personnel and resources. It could also set a cool precedent for different programs or team building opportunities down the line.
Mentorship should not stop after the onboarding or training period. In fact, the most effective teaching happens during the job. Unofficial mentoring happens in some workplaces, but it often isn’t structured or consistent enough to be as helpful as it could be.
Assigning a mentor to a remote worker with a disability often becomes an incredible learning experience for both parties.
What are some qualities of a great mentor?
Well, for starters, a good mentor is gentle but firm, knowledgeable, humble, and nearly always equipped to help. If they don’t have the answer to a question or concern, they have a pretty solid idea of where to find it.
Assigning a mentor to a remote worker with a disability often becomes an incredible learning experience for both parties. The worker with disabilities can acclimate and get comfortable while the mentor can develop a new skill and adapt to different needs and learning styles.
A solid mentoring program really can be a win-win for everyone. If done right, it absolutely is. It is a level of growth that other, less hands-on managers may not be able to elicit. It will probably take some adjusting and fine-tuning (as most things do) but getting it right is worth it.
6. Ensure remote workers receive the same information at the same time as onsite workers
This one is hyper-specific and hyper-important. It is easy — and often natural — for in-office employees to stay more abreast of company announcements/developments than remote workers. After all, they are at the center of the action. That’s part of why this point may be overlooked at many organizations. It makes sense.
But while this outcome may seem unavoidable, it is important that you, as a boss or HR manager, make sure every employee, whether they are remote or onsite, receives this information at the same time. That way, no one falls through the cracks. Everyone feels up to date, valued, and in the loop.
There are multiple ways you can do this. Having remote workers call in to an in-person meeting is a great way to ensure this. Utilizing communication channels such as Slack or Trello can also be really helpful. There are so many apps and options out there that it would be nearly impossible for you to not find something that fits your needs.
As these strategies illustrate, your ability to accommodate remote workers with disabilities is huge. It will help expand your work options as well as cement your company as a place that is willing to meet people where they are rather than forcing them to be where you need them to be. The importance of this cannot be overstated.