Digital Inclusion in Times of Remote Working

Digital Inclusion in

Times of Remote Working

Digital Inclusion in the Time of Remote Work - How to Consider the Needs of All Employees

Much of the global workforce is currently working from home, a shift that will likely impact employers for the long haul. In fact, recent data from the Global Work-from-Home Experience Survey concludes that 25-30% of the workforce – up from 3.6% – will be working remotely one or more days a week within the next two years. That means that organizations urgently need 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.

Digital Inclusion is more than meeting a requirement – rather it means providing equal access to digital interfaces for all users, regardless of their differing abilities. In a previous post, we gave some general tips to prepare your business for Remote Work – but let´s have a closer look today at how you can especially support your team members with disabilities who are working from home.

It´s Time for Reasonable Adjustments

In the UK for example, employers have a duty under the Equality Act 2010 (part of the EU Equal Treatment Directive) to make reasonable workplace adjustments for disabled people to prevent them from being put at a disadvantage compared to non-disabled workers. However, working from home has impacted this. The same tools and adjustments they received in their offices may not be available in their homes. Organizations need to ensure that their impaired employees can still work effectively in this period of uncertainty.

The UK government’s Access to Work scheme has been broadened to include disabled people who now need to work from home, meaning disabled employees can receive a grant to help them work comfortably and effectively at home.

There is no one-size-fits-all reasonable adjustment because each person’s needs are specific and may require specific software or physical equipment. But tools within Microsoft 365 – which most organizations already have access to - can go a long way to overcoming some of the challenges disabled employees face when working remotely.

Get to Know Employees’ Requirements

When researching what your employees need, it’s important to adjust your thinking about disabilities. An impairment is a physical or mental challenge that an employee has to navigate every day. However, their disability is how society – and the workplace – doesn’t accommodate their impairment. Technology can remove this disability, so it’s key that an organization knows what will help to break down the barriers that may exist for these employees, particularly if they are now working remotely for the first time.

Don’t simply assume you know what is needed – ask! People with impairments face challenges that others don’t every day and so they are typically the most knowledgeable about what would help to alleviate said challenges.

Be aware that some employees may be uncomfortable revealing this information if they fear discrimination. A corporate culture of openness, integrity and empathy will go a long way in reassuring disabled employees that they can be free to share their particular needs. Consider setting up an Employee Resource Group (ERG) to provide a support network for employees with particular needs or ensure the issue of reasonable adjustments is made when communicating with employees about remote working.

Optimize Technology

It may seem daunting to have to recreate the same reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities at home, while simultaneously juggling the many other demands on the business. However, there are many accessibility tools built into Microsoft 365 to support all of your employees quickly.

For example, communicating via tools like Microsoft Teams, means you can set up video calls to enable lip reading for deaf employees or you can turn on subtitles so that hard of hearing employees can read what is being said (these are only available in US English currently). The background blur feature was developed by a Microsoft employee who would lip-read during calls but was struggling with background interference. Captions can be auto-generated for videos and people with hearing loss in just one ear can use the Mono Audio feature so that the left and right speakers play the same sounds.

 

Employees suffering from color blindness can benefit from color filters; the ‘Tell Me’ tool helps access commands quickly; and Office 365 applications work seamlessly with screen reading tools for people, who are blind. Microsoft Teams also includes an Immersive Reader featuring the ability to read text aloud.

In addition, physical needs may vary in relation to using a computer or setting up a workspace. For example, some people may be uncomfortable using a keyboard and mouse for long periods. In this instance, voice dictation might be useful. Adjustments include the use of a dictate function like in M365 and/or text-to-speech software.

It´s All About Clear Communication and Organization

You may have neurodivergent workers in your workforce. Neurodiversity is a term that refers to where the brain works differently from others and covers a broad range of people, including those with ADHD, Autism, Bipolar Disorder and Dyslexia. How we’re communicating is changing, and there may be more online and telephone communication than usual which can present particular difficulties for neurodivergent employees. It’s easier to miss social signals and to misinterpret. Therefore, you’ll need to provide extra support. Tools like Focus Assist give these employees quiet hours enabling them to avoid distractions from notifications and alerts.

As an employer, you also need to stress the importance of regular breaks. For some, it can be harder to take a break when working at home. For those with specific disabilities like Multiple Sclerosis, for example, fatigue is a genuine concern.

While some employees may have worked at home before, others have not and may find it challenging. Employees with dyslexia might have a hard time organizing themselves, for example. You can encourage people to make a simple list of tasks at the beginning of the day. Mind mapping software is an excellent way of organizing everything, from tasks to difficult thoughts and emotions. The good news is that there are a lot of freely available resources to help.

Final Thoughts

While remote working is new for some businesses, it is most likely here to stay, and many companies will continue taking advantage of work-from-home protocols after lockdown. By understanding your disabled employees’ requirements, your obligations and ability to accommodate as an employer and choosing the right technologies, not only will you ensure inclusivity for all employees, you will also improve the health, wellbeing and productivity of disabled staff members now and in the future. Why not take this opportunity drive your company’s inclusivity strategy forward?

Help Your Entire Team to Collaborate in a Changing World

Whether it’s remote working, managing costs or preparing for what the future may bring, you need to be ready. We have the expertise to support you in today’s digital world and created a portfolio of solutions to help you through this uncertain time, no matter the business challenges you are currently facing.

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Author

Simon Bishop, author SoftwareONE Blog

Simon Bishop

Global Head - Recruitment

Talent Acquisition

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