As Ontarians continue social distancing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, workplaces are encouraging people to work from home. In addition, some workplaces are providing workers with the technology they need to do their jobs at home. For many Ontario workers, remote work may be a new and strange experience. However, some workers with disabilities already benefit from the accommodation of remote work. Employers who already accommodate employees who work remotely may have an advantage as they extend the same accommodation to non-disabled workers. Workers and employers with previous remote work experience may be able to offer best practices for accessible remote work in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Accessible Remote Work in the COVID-19 Pandemic
When the world is healthy, working from home is useful or preferable for some workers, but not for everyone. Likewise, remote work is usually helpful for some workers with disabilities, but not others. Nonetheless, remote work can be a valuable accommodation for many reasons, such as:
- Enhanced focus in quiet locations
- Physical barriers in the workplace
Alternatively, some people may work part of the time from home and come to their workplace for specific job tasks. This is another accommodation that may increase the health and safety of workers who need to be on the worksite for part but not all of the day during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The accommodation of remote work ensures that people can continue to earn their living and use their skills to help colleagues. Remote work also helps people keep busy and gives them a reason to interact with others despite physical isolation. These benefits have allowed many remote workers in the past, with or without disabilities, to thrive at work. Now, this useful option has become a necessity throughout the province. Here are a few best practices for accessible remote work in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Remote workers can easily miss the social benefits of working and of being part of a team. In a traditional worksite set-up, workers greet each other when they walk in together and wish each other a good evening when they all leave. They chat and get to know each other when they work in the same space and they keep each other posted about major and minor life events. Now that workers are avoiding in-person contact, they may miss this level of social interaction with colleagues. However, workers can find ways to have that same interaction at a distance. For instance, they can extend any Skype meetings or conference calls they have arranged. Remote workers can then stay online for a few extra minutes and chat. When conference calling is not a good option, workers may set up departmental email threads, group chats, or group texts. Having these channels open throughout the workday creates an atmosphere where colleagues can casually turn to each other and ask questions, point things out, or share jokes and stories just as they would when in the same physical space.
Workplaces that try one or more of these strategies should find that morale is boosted during this difficult time. In this way, all people can do their best work while also feeling valued and supported socially.