A lady in a wheelchair who is working from home at her desk

The Coronavirus is Exposing Inequalities – Including Work From Home Policies 

COVID-19 is Causing Companies to Rethink Work From Home Policies

For many, this might be the first time they have ever had the opportunity to work from home, outside of “My-kid-is-snotting-all-over-the-house-and-I-need-to-be-there-for-him” or “I’m-on-a-work-trip-and-will-still-be-checking-email-in-every-cab-ride” situations. 

At BraunAbility, there is no written policy for working from home which allows managers some flexibility based on the job functions within their team. When we opened our new global headquarters in Carmel, Indiana, in Fall 2019, some employees moved to the area to be closer.  However, as full office transitions took time, managers had to develop plans for how people could split time between the two locations.  In some cases, employees could work from home when not in the main office, and up until the coronavirus struck, it was a practice that continued for those whose roles do not always require them to be in the office, in-person. 

Now, our teams are looking at how to write a work from home policy when coronavirus concerns have finally ebbed and the country is ready to head back into our office buildings. The question is, will everyone?

Amy Meng is a Buzzfeed contributor that writes about the problem from the perspective of someone with a disability.  She writes:  “It’s great that America’s companies were willing and able to make so many concessions to ensure there was a minimization of lost productivity during this time, but where was this when we – members of the disability community - needed it and asked for it?”

Amy recalls finding the disability community and understanding for the first time the rigidness of the schools and workplaces she had been exposed to.

“The more I read about the experiences of people with disabilities, the more I saw my own experience. The differences between myself and able-bodied people came into sudden, sharp focus […] An able-bodied person isn’t in constant negotiation with their body. For many in the disability community, this is just the reality of our bodies. And we figure it out. Even when we’ve been told telecommunication is not possible. Even when we’ve been told online instruction is not possible. Even when we’ve been told paid sick leave is not possible.”

We’ve seen widescale changes from huge global conferences canceled or postponed to travel restrictions to a reliance on technology to connect with people across the country to across town. Will a pandemic be the catalyst for changes to work from home policies across the board? What would that look like? How should they be written?

Re-Writing or Writing Work From Home Policies

Work from home policies are increasingly becoming more important in our ultra-connected world. A great work from home policy supports employees by setting clear expectations and creating channels of communication while minimizing things that may be counterproductive. It also creates flexibility to support growing families or employees who manage chronic diseases or disabilities.

So, what should be included in your work from home policy?

1. Define who it applies to.

Not everyone can effectively perform their job from home due to the job requirements. Your HR department should partner with executive leadership and managers to clearly define which teams can be remote and which cannot.

2. Establish lines of communication.

Who will you report to? Who reports to you? What teams are you on?  How do the teams communicate?  Figure out your lines of communication and what platforms will be used for these communications.

- Meetings: good for reviewing and discussing detailed requests

- Email: best for standard communications that are primarily to inform or update

- Instant Messaging:  great for time-sensitive requests on a platform like Teams or Skype.

Setting guidelines will help employees optimally use the platforms and avoid the feeling of chasing down co-workers for requests.

3. Create a work schedule.

Decide how flexible you want your schedule to be and work with your manager on how realistic those desires are. Are you a 9-5 office? You should probably ask your remote workers to keep this same schedule. If you value flexibility, perhaps say employees are expected to put in 8 hours a day, but how they plan to meet that requirement is up to them and their schedule.

Additional precautions may need to be made around creating a secure Virtual Private Network (VPN) and looking for ways to keep virtual employees motivated and connected to the broader company culture.

Work from Home and the Drive for Inclusion

If there is any upside to this global pandemic, it’s that a sense of community has value again, acts of caring are celebrated, and perhaps most importantly, that community must be inclusive.  We are finally reading news articles that talk about the most vulnerable members of our population when it comes to infection and injury.  We are excited about the return of thoughtfulness and caring, from acts as simple as not parking in an access aisle to companies changing their manufacturing to make personal protective equipment for health care workers, store personnel and the at-risk community.  We are seeing the recognition that policies which once seemed like “an accommodation” aren’t that at all, they are simply a way to be more inclusive, to capture the contribution that all can make to our broader community if simply given the chance – a chance as simple as working from home.  Being a part of our community is a fundamental want of each and every one of us, and with this recognition, with this viral catalyst for change, the drive for inclusion has come within our reach.  We simply have to grab it and not let go.   

Drive for Inclusion Movement Supports the Disability Community

If you are ready to lend your voice to a movement that supports changes in your local community to make the world a more inclusive place, we are ready for you.

The Drive for Inclusion looks for ways to make lasting positive changes to our world to make it a more accessible and inclusive place. Sometimes that means giving feedback on a BraunAbility product to make it better and sometimes it means volunteering to install one of our 3D access aisles in your town. Join the thousands already in the Driving Force who are actively making a difference.

Learn more about the Drive for Inclusion here. 

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