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Diane Lightfoot

Business Disability Forum


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Are your hybrid working plans inclusive of disabled people?

Organisations must consider how hybrid working plans may affect disabled people to ensure inclusivity.

There has been much in the national and HR press recently on the topic of hybrid working with a recent survey from ACAS estimating that approximately half of all employers are expecting an increase in staff requests to work from home or remotely. 

There is no doubt that our experiences of having to work through a global pandemic have acted as a catalyst, speeding up the more organic progression towards flexible working that was already happening prior to Covid-19.

Hybrid working and inclusive practice are not the same thing.

Hybrid working, flexible working and disability awareness

As an organisation that works with businesses to transform the life chances of disabled people, Business Disability Forum has campaigned for many years on the benefits of flexible working for both disabled employees and their employers. Having greater choice over the how, when and where of work can make it easier for people with fluctuating, progressive or energy limiting conditions to manage their disability whilst carrying out their roles in the most productive way. 

Given that most disabilities are acquired later in life, flexible working also allows employers to respond to the needs of an aging workforce, whilst retaining talented and experienced staff – a pertinent issue, given the skills shortage currently facing many sectors. It is perhaps no surprise then that our Great Big Workplace Adjustments survey, conducted in 2019, found that flexible and home working were the workplace adjustments that disabled employees most requested.

The opportunity, therefore, that the pandemic has afforded us to rethink how we do work is to be welcomed. But we must remember that hybrid working and inclusive practice are not the same thing.

An individualised approach to work

Whilst being able to work remotely may remove workplace barriers for some disabled people, it can easily create new barriers if the policy hasn’t been well thought through and doesn’t take an individualised approach.

What about the person’s tech needs, for example? Will they have access to the same assistive tech at home as they do in the office? Will they be expected to move their tech between locations? Is that realistic, reasonable or fair?

Some people will prefer to return to the workplace full time, or may have a role that requires them to do so. How will their physical access or other needs be met in a workspace that is now set up primarily for hot desking? Inclusive design is as important as ever.

We must not just stop at hybrid working. If we want to attract and retain skilled and motivated staff, we need to continue to look for other ways to offer flexibility as standard.  

We must also remember that hybrid working is just one form of flexible working. For some people being able to work flexible hours will be as important as where they work. I have already mentioned some of the reasons, such as managing fatigue or pain. Caring responsibilities should also be added to that list. 

Constraints on social care funding (another topical issue) and an aging population, mean that more people are taking on unpaid caring responsibilities, which they have to juggle with their paid work, and need the flexibility to work hours that allow for this. 

Through consulting with our members, we know that the current rules around flexible working simply aren’t flexible enough to meet the needs of carers or people managing changing conditions. We therefore welcome the UK government’s plans to consult on flexible working rules as part of the National Disability Strategy, including the right to request flexible working from day one of employment. 

Changing the narrative on flexible working

For too long, flexible working has been seen as a privilege that has to be earnt or, worse still, a negative that translates into ‘lacking in career ambition’. Now is the time to change that narrative once and for all.

The pandemic has shown that many of the assumptions we have made around how work needs to be done are wrong. We must not make similar assumptions about hybrid working. 

Hybrid working is just another way of working. If we are looking for a new ‘norm’ to replace the old, then I would argue that what we really need is inclusive working, which allows everyone – regardless of the position they hold, or how long they have been in a role – to work in flexible ways that enhance their productivity. Hybrid working may be part of that for many people but only if it is based on honest conversations about meeting individual needs. 

We must not just stop at hybrid working. If we want to attract and retain skilled and motivated staff, we need to continue to look for other ways to offer flexibility as standard.  

Interested in this topic? Read ‘Disability in the post-pandemic workplace.’

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