The Covid-19 pandemic has fundamentally shifted the way in which people work, with a rise in remote and hybrid working. While many workers, businesses and sectors have benefited from changing working practices during the pandemic, disabled people bore the brunt of the pandemic’s economic consequences and experienced higher rates of unemployment and redundancies than non-disabled people.
Just 52.7% of disabled people are in employment, compared with 81% of non-disabled people. A key driver of the disability employment gap is workplace inflexibility. Pre-pandemic, many employers were reluctant to allow remote or hybrid working, even as a reasonable adjustment for disabled workers. However, as the pandemic led to compulsory remote working for most desk-based workers, we are now seeing employer plans change.
But all too often, the ambitions and perspectives of disabled people haven’t been a part of conversations about our changing working lives. New research from The Work Foundation, a leading think tank dedicated to improving work in the UK, aims to address this. Through a survey of 406 disabled people, interviews with 20 disabled workers, and two roundtables with employers and other stakeholders, we have developed new evidence about disabled workers’ experiences of remote and hybrid work.
The majority of disabled workers who took part in this project valued the opportunity to decide where they worked, and this had positive impacts for them and their organisation:
- 70% of disabled workers said that if their employer did not allow them to work remotely, it would negatively impact their physical or mental health
- Survey respondents and interviewees highlighted clear benefits to working from home, including having more autonomy and control over when and how they work, which in turn allowed them to better manage their health and wellbeing.
- This brought wider benefits for their organisations too; 85% of disabled workers surveyed felt more productive working from home.
This research also draws attention to the challenges some disabled workers have experienced, ranging from difficulties securing essential adjustments to outdated attitudes from managers about flexible work, and touches on concerns about how working remotely may impact relationships with colleagues and career progression:
- Of all survey respondents who requested additional support or new adjustments while working remotely, close to 1 in 5 (19.1%) had their request refused, with no alternative arrangements put in place.
- Both survey respondents and interviewees highlighted concerns that they might lose access to opportunities at work if they need to be based at home, and these concerns were greatest among individuals with multiple impairments or conditions.
- 70.3% of survey respondents with multiple impairments agreed that opportunities to stretch and grow might go to those in the office, compared with 52.8% of respondents with a single impairment.
Outdated cultures meant that some disabled workers felt left out or isolated while working at home, particularly when colleagues used different working patterns. The report concludes with practical steps for employers to take to ensure their approach to hybrid and remote working is inclusive of disabled employees; and recommendations to Government for policy changes that will be needed to tackle the disability employment gap.
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