A new study by Coventry University highlights the need for an overarching government policy on remote working to help level the playing field for disabled and neurodivergent workers.
The Covid pandemic forced millions of people across the UK to work from home, and many firms have now adopted remote or hybrid working as the norm. But the research shows that while there are clear advantages for some people, remote working poses new problems for some workers with additional needs.
Dr Christine Grant, a researcher in the Centre for Healthcare Research at Coventry University, launched the Remote4All project to fill a gap in understanding the impact of home working on the disabled and neurodiverse community of workers.
Dr Grant worked with NHS Employers, Vodafone, Coventry City Council, Leonard Cheshire, Dyslexia Box, SEND and other disability charities on the project. It was supported by the UK Economic and Social Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, through the Digital Futures at Work Research Centre‘s Innovation Fund.
The research explored lived experiences of working remotely and found advantages and disadvantages that can depend on an individual’s needs and specific disability and/ or neurodiversity. Six themes emerged, including; choice of communications, accessibility and technology use, managing work-life balance, social isolation, and line manager support.
Dr Grant said: “Our research has revealed that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Working regularly from home may help some neurodivergent individuals by limiting social interactions and providing greater control over their environment. Still, it may trigger serious difficulties with work-life balance for others. Online meetings might be particularly effective for employees with physical disabilities but become immensely challenging for people with sensory impairments or neurodiversity.”
“The employees we spoke to about their lived experiences agreed on the importance of understanding and listening to the individual needs and line managers understanding accessibility and optimisation for all. This project has evidenced the need to develop key guidance and an overarching policy on remote and flexible work that has to be properly and intrinsically inclusive for all.”
Line managers play a key role in promoting inclusiveness and helping to identify appropriate support, so training and guidance for line managers should be a key priority.
The research also spotlighted the need to rethink the recruitment and career development processes for people with disabilities or neurodiversity to optimise the access and use of remote working practices.
Carl Clarke, director of talent, learning, leadership, and skills at Vodafone said: “Research like this is really important as it allows us to hear from employees on how we can make our working environment accessible for all. We are thrilled to see that our new ‘Inclusion Standards’ planned launch aligns with the research findings and that we are correctly promoting inclusion and diversity for all our employees. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with Coventry University to continue learning and supporting our employees.”
The collaborators plan to produce an employee and employer toolkit focussing on the outputs from this study and plan to continue their research in this area.
Dr Deborah Leveroy, neurodiversity and inclusion lead at Dyslexia Box, said: “Dyslexia Box is proud to be part of the innovative work of the Remote for All project. Over the past 12 months, we have worked with the project team, provided subject matter guidance and research support, and facilitated participant recruitment. The project is the first to explore the lived experience of disabled and neurodivergent workers in remote working contexts, an area previously under-researched.”
“We look forward to further working with the team to embed the findings into our existing Neurodiversity Awareness Training service and developing other research outputs.”