The year 2020 will be remembered as the year of COVID-19 and how profoundly it has impacted many facets of our lives including the way we work. On the work front, the most fundamental shift has been adoption of the Work from Home (WFH) model. So while we remain, in the midst of one of the greatest global crises of our lifetime, prevalence of virtual work on a mass scale – has advanced dramatically across industries and geographies.
Virtual workplace environment has an innate advantage in terms of creating more equitable work opportunities for a diverse set of population given it breaks barriers caused by distance, accessibility, rigid schedules and many more such challenges. Therefore, it seems to be an ideal solution to many of the diversity and inclusion concerns that organizations have been struggling with for years. Even before COVID-19 hit us, a 2018 Global Talent Trends study reported that 51% of employees wish their company offered more flexible work options.
PwDs have already struggled with unreliable, time-consuming, or expensive commutes to work and the sudden embrace of remote working can potentially turn out to be a massive moment of inclusion for them. This unexpected shift of work model can open significantly more windows of opportunities for the PwD community. Here are a few ways to make your virtual workplace disability friendly:
Digital accessibility is crucial to the success of every diversity and inclusion initiative. The sudden shift to the remote working environment has underscored the importance of accessibility like never before.
Organizations must mandatorily embed accessibility in all forms of organizational digital assets right from websites to intranets.
Today, accessibility at the workplace, be it physical or virtual should not be a choice anymore rather an imperative. Ensuring technology accessibility will help PwDs deliver their best, creating an authentically inclusive workplace.
Procuring accessible virtual tools
In the virtual workplace, technology plays a crucial role. Video conferencing tools, instant messaging apps, cloud storage, etc. have become popular ways to be connected with the employees. Not every tool is PwD accessible which is why it is important for organizations to procure such tools and IT products which are PwD accessible so that they can work on such tools seamlessly.
Organizations must offer reasonable accommodation for different kinds of disabilities. As soon as an employee gets on-boarded, they must be asked for necessary adjustments and support needed in their work environment, which will enable them to deliver work smoothly. These accommodations may require reassessment and expansion of the original accommodations in the physical work setting as establishing an office like set-up in residences may require some thoughtful planning and out-of-the-box thinking.
Organizations must establish a committee or liaison officers within the system who should regularly speak to PwD employees and support them should they need assistance.
This is important to ensure they are not overwhelmed and feel supported in the new work set up. Working from home can be isolating and using new tools can be daunting for some. Hence, checking the pulse of the employees proactively can take the stress away.
The right technology, dedicated D&I teams as well as ambassadors and commitment to inclusivity can transform virtual working spaces into productive and seamless working environments.