Remote Working is Here to Stay — Now Let's Make it Accessible

Blaise Radley
Remote Working is Here to Stay — Now Let's Make it Accessible

No matter where you normally call work, there’s a good chance you’re reading this from home. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, 88% of organisations worldwide required or encouraged their employees to work from home. And while the world is starting to return to normality, remote working isn’t going anywhere. 

That’s why accessibility has to be a priority. 

A report by the World Health Organization estimated that 15% of the global population have some form of disability, whether visible or not. It’s not good enough to create solutions for the perceived majority of your workforce — any remote working initiative must consider accessibility. 

Remote working isn’t a new concept, but the scale of its implementation in the wake of COVID-19 is unprecedented. Unsurprisingly, there have been teething issues: 62% of remote workers in the UK want employers to provide better technology to communicate with their colleagues. 

But that figure doesn’t illustrate the many reasons why employees are asking more of their employers. At the core of those reasons is accessibility.

The importance of inclusivity & accessibility

Inclusivity is an active choice you make as a company. That choice — to have processes and policies in place to ensure underrepresented groups thrive — will affect your every business decision. 

Inclusivity covers more than accessibility, but the two concepts are inherently tied. When we develop strategies by only considering the world from our perspective, however open-minded we try to be, we’ll inevitably fall short. That’s where an inclusive, accessible approach to work reaps dividends. 

In an extensive report of over 50 organisations, Deloitte found that companies with inclusive cultures were:

  • 2x as likely to meet or exceed financial targets
  • 3x as likely to be high performing
  • 8x as likely to achieve better business outcomes

Making the goal of inclusive, accessible workplaces solely to achieve better business outcomes would miss the point. Rather, these statistics emphasise how positively employees respond to companies that respect each and every individual. It doesn’t matter if the majority of people in your business have the space to be themselves — if it’s not universal, then your employees will become disengaged. 

Understanding accessibility terminology

At Peakon, we believe listening intelligently is the first step towards an accessible workplace. But if you don’t have the words to understand the conversation around accessibility, then how can you make employees feel heard? Before we discuss how to ensure your remote working, it’s important to define the parameters.

Defining accessibility

Put simply, accessibility is making experiences open to all. An accessible workplace will have wheelchair-access embedded into all architectural decisions, in the same way an accessible website will integrate smoothly with screen readers. 

Defining inclusive design

If accessibility is the goal, inclusive design is the methodology. Inclusive design means considering the full range of people using your product or service, and tailoring it to each individual. This may involve utilising different processes on a case-by-case basis.

Remote working: a new normal

The past year has seen the necessity of remote working options increase across the board as countries have entered lockdown, but that change has been a long time coming. In our Employee Expectations report 2020, 99% of employees said they would choose to work remotely some of the time. Flexible working is here to stay.

However, since the decision to send employees home was made during a time of crisis, allowances for disabled individuals weren’t always in place from the outset. Now, as we move forward, we have to consider the differences inherent to working from home, and how we can ensure this change is a positive one. 

The issues raised by remote working for accessibility

Ultimately, accessibility isn’t an issue — it’s about your business meeting the needs of your employees. Instead, you should view each of the below points as opportunities for growth in your company.

Remote working represents a chance for greater equality and freedom of opportunity for those with disabilities — if you take it. Freed of the limits of a physical work space, employees can approach work their way. 

1. Limits of home working spaces

At the crux of accessibility is avoiding assumptions: just because someone has the means to complete their work in an office, doesn’t mean they do at home. Consult your disabled employees, put them in positions to action genuine change, and create comprehensive request forms that give everyone the opportunity to access what they need. This isn’t limited to equipment — consider the needs of neurodivergent employees too. 

2. The restrictions of technology

Technology has the potential to create a level playing field for your employees, but only if your company puts time into understanding and researching the necessary solutions. That might cover software to reduce background noise in calls for the hard-of-hearing, or technology to provide keyboard accessibility for virtual whiteboard tasks. The important part is providing space for your employees to express their needs. 

3. The danger of assumptions

Without a direct face-to-face connection, people often assume that the person on the other end of an email or a Slack message matches their own life experience. That’s where assumptions become a problem. Rather than requiring you to purchase software or equipment, this step is about raising awareness levels. That can either be through training sessions, or regular and reliable feedback. 

The benefits of remote working to accessibility

Accessibility doesn’t end at ensuring voices and experiences aren’t sidelined. It’s about promoting equal opportunities by truly taking advantage of the tools available to us. Together, we can create a world of work where inclusivity is the default. 

1. Removal of physical barriers

This is the most obvious benefit, but it’s such an important one. Whether it’s the ongoing lack of wheelchair accessibility throughout offices, or the difficulty of commuting on tightly-packed transport for people with social anxiety, the ability to work from home on a flexible basis is a gamechanger. That’s part of why global engagement scores around remote working increased by 6% last year — even during a pandemic. 

Global engagement scores around remote working increased by 6% in 2020.

Peakon

2. A reduction in prejudice and bias

Tackling ingrained exclusionary biases requires more than a digital workspace to take place, but it’s a start. Biases need to be addressed at their root cause, but workplace communication platforms give everyone a level playing field. There’s never been more opportunity to meaningfully give every voice equal footing — and to give everyone the tools to present themselves on their terms. 

3. More recruitment opportunities

By making remote working a priority, you open the door to a much wider pool of talent. Whether due to physical access, the need for regular support/breaks, or neurodivergent pressures, remote working is a fantastic solution to office-based issues. This benefit will be felt across the board, since recruitment won’t be dictated by geographical location. Not only that, but you’ll also reduce attrition.

Creating an accessible future for work

What inclusive business strategy recognises is that catering to the specific needs of one individual has positive impacts across the board. A key principle of inclusive design is solve for one, extend to many. That’s why accessibility isn’t design for disabled people — it’s just good design. 

The first step forward is simple: listen to your employees. This is a new world of work for all of us, and a one-off employee engagement survey won’t cut it anymore. We need to listen to employee needs on a day-to-day basis, ensuring that each employee’s voice is heard, even when they’re not in the office.

With Peakon Include, not only do you have the space to listen, you also have the means to ensure those voices are supported. If you want to learn more about coding accessibility into your workplace, book a demo today.

Author - Blaise Radley