There has been much excitement (including from me) that working from home may become more commonplace after the Covid-19 crisis, opening up opportunities for more disabled people. At Evenbreak, a specialist online job board run by and for disabled people, we have all been working from home since long before anyone had even heard of Coronavirus. Our culture is based on inclusion and accessibility, which includes flexible working. However, flexible working (or agile working or dynamic working, as it can also be known) is about far more than just location.
At Evenbreak, like every other organisation, we want our people to thrive and use their talents as effectively as possible. This means creating an environment where that can happen. This will inevitably mean different things for different people.
Certainly, having the ability to work from home can be beneficial for many disabled (and non-disabled) people. It negates the need to navigate inaccessible transport and avoids the stress of the rush hour. It means that inaccessible buildings aren’t a problem. It can be helpful for people who have their homes set up for their access needs. All of the Evenbreak team work from home, which gives us the opportunity to attract talent from any geographical location (as opposed to only people within easy travelling distance of a specific location). So, we have Kiana’s talents from Glasgow, Adam’s talents from Nottingham and Dee’s talents from London.
However, working from home isn’t ideal for everyone, and needs careful consideration. Disabled staff need to have access to any workplace adjustments they might require, including chairs, desks, lighting, assistive technology and so on. Some people enjoy the social aspect of going to a place of work. Others find it distracting to work from home if they live in shared accommodation or with family. And some like there to be a separation between work life and home life.
At Evenbreak, we don’t have offices, and it’s made clear that staff are expected to work remotely. This doesn’t mean we don’t attend meetings or events, but neither are compulsory. And we provide all our team with the technology to be effective (e.g. Zoom, Teams, HubSpot) and any workplace adjustments they might need.
Flexibility in location is only part of the story. 37 hours a week is an arbitrary figure and doesn’t suit everyone. At Evenbreak, people work the number of hours that suits them, meaning we all work different hours. Two of the team (brothers Lewis and Aaron, from Devon) work two and one hour a week respectively. They both have M.E. which means too much work would be exhausting for them. But it’s not just about how many hours, it’s also about when they are worked. Lewis and Arron work their hours around their condition. They tend to work for 20 minutes at a time, when they are feeling well, and rest when they need to. From an employer’s perspective, they reliably complete the work and almost never have time off sick. From their perspective, they are able to be employed and contribute their talents in a way which suits them.
Some team members choose to work the same hours consistently, preferring to have a regular schedule. Adam, for example, works 7 hours every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Kiana works her hours at different times of the week, depending on her situation and the needs of the business. Ruby tends to work on similar days, but changes this now and again. As long as people do their work, it makes little difference when they do it.
The only fixed part of managers’ schedules is the weekly team meeting, held on Zoom.
Flexible job design
Getting the best from people is about much more than just where and when they work. It’s also about what they do, and requires identifying people’s strengths and aspirations, and making job roles more flexible, or even changing them completely.
We didn’t discover most of our team’s real talents and passion until after they started working with us. For example,Kiana was taken on as a Candidate Engagement Manager initially; a job she did brilliantly. But it turns out her real strength is film-making. So now she creates short videos for Evenbreak. This might be informal vlogs giving advice to candidates, or more formal videos challenging perceptions or sharing best practice.
Dee was taken on as a Data Entry Clerk – again, a role she performed well. However, she is really a master storyteller and now spends her time telling great stories about our candidates, clients, colleagues etc. Another team member, Thirath, is also a Data Entry Clerk, and her first language is British Sign Language – a skill which has turned out to be so useful!
Ruby is a whizz at social media, which she mainly manages for Evenbreak, and she also has a background in technology, which is unexpectedly advantageous for us. Rachael started out in business development but has so many other skills and strengths and energy and enthusiasm, that she quickly rose to Chief Operations Officer.
In summary, the Covid-19 crisis has shown most employers that working from home is not only possible but quite often desirable. This can be good news for some disabled people and is great news for inclusion in general. We should, of course, continue to make buildings and transport more accessible. Flexible working is about adding more options and making the world of work a place where everyone can thrive, and shine, and use their strengths and talents in ways that work for both them and their employer.