Virtual not Distant – remote working and disability

Remote working takes inclusive employment to the next level.  It frees up office space. It allows employees to ditch the commute and is even good for the planet.  But what do employers need to consider when implementing it? Is technology the most important thing to consider? Or do the ways we work matter just as much?

Last week, Founder of Evenbreak, Jane Hatton, met up with the team at Virtual not Distant. They believe that the way we work is just as important as the tech.  How does an organisation go about instilling autonomy, trust, flexibility and transparent communication? How do you create a high performing virtual team?

In this podcast, Jane, Maya Middlemiss and Pilar Orti discuss disability and culture. Disabled people still find it twice as hard to find a job as a non-disabled person. And autistic people, in particular, find it hard to gain employment, despite the many benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace. We know that disabled people often have additional skills or ‘superpowers’. We know that diversity is good for business.

So why aren’t all employers tapping into this market?  What stops companies from accessing this pool of incredible skills and talent? Is the fear of ‘saying the wrong thing’ disabling in itself? Listen in and see what conclusions you draw.

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Flexible working – the benefits for business

 

Flexible working used to be something that only Mums requested after maternity leave. They were usually turned down. And they were respected less for having the gumption to ask for it: A death knell in the corporate world, as it were. Now, employers are fast cottoning on to the massive benefits for their organisations. At Evenbreak our entire team works flexibly.

Here are just 3 of the reasons why:

Building an inclusive, diverse workforce

The Evenbreak team is very diverse. Our ages range from 16 to 60. We are multicultural and gender diverse.  We come from a wide range of backgrounds, bringing different work (and life) experience to the team. These differences are our strengths. We are all disabled people. But, our health conditions and disabilities don’t prevent us from working. We work flexibly. One of our team can only work in short bursts of 20 minutes. So, they do. Another prefers to work late at night. They can. We work to our strengths. The Evenbreak recruitment process itself was also flexible and candidate led. This meant it attracted a diverse range of applicants for Founder Jane Hatton, to choose from. You can read more about the recruitment process here.  This diversity means the team has an eclectic mix of skills, talent and varied viewpoints. Diversity also brings financial rewards. In 2015, McKinsey consultants studied over 350 companies in the UK, North America and Latin America. They found that:

“Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.”

Gender diversity brings similar rewards: “Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.” Diversity brings rewards of immense value to any organisation.

Attracting and retaining talent

A traditional work pattern of turning up at a workplace from 9.00am to 5.00pm five days a week doesn’t suit everyone. In truth, it doesn’t suit most people. Travelling in the rush hour isn’t a particularly joyful activity for most.  And people prefer to work flexibly for a variety of reasons. Employers are familiar with the requirements of parents. The need to accommodate school timings and school holidays is obvious. But what about carers? Or those who study alongside work? Or those who simply want to work smart? And for many disabled people or those with long-term health conditions, the 9 – 5 office job just doesn’t make sense.

Many employers only offer traditional working hours and patterns. They are seriously limiting their recruitment talent pool. In doing this you fail to attract many of the people mentioned above, who may be the perfect fit for your company. And the best person for the job. Our entire team works flexibly. This increases productivity, motivation, retention and wellbeing.  It’s very likely that none of the team would have applied if this flexibility hadn’t been on offer.

Productivity and business costs

From a financial perspective, employees who work remotely save the company money. There’s no need to provide office space with all the consequent costs. Employees that don’t have to struggle through rush hour traffic (before even starting work) are likely to be fresh and more productive.  Remote working, travelling at quieter times of the day and working fewer hours, all help to reduce workplace stress. This, in turn, reduces absenteeism and increases productivity. According to research by Canada Life Group Insurance, 77% of employees felt flexible working aided productivity.

Flexible working not only makes the world of work better for employees but helps improve business too. What’s not to like?

Written by Jane Hatton and Cassandra Leese

To advertise jobs on Evenbreak click here

To find jobs on Evenbreak click here

And to find out more about best practice around disability in the workplace take a peek here

 

 

Guest blog: How flexibility can impact on disability in the workplace

Today’s guest blog is from Elizabeth Wright, Paralympic medallist, professional speaker and author (www.elizabethwright.net):

It was my first paid job – EVER! I was nearly eighteen, had a disability, limb deficiency, and was training hard for the 2000 Paralympic Games. Janine, the boss of the Olympic Shop in Sydney, had been looking for two up-and-coming athletes to work on a casual basis at the shop – to bring a little excitement and an all inclusive sporty feel to the premises. I had managed to snag one of these jobs, and therefore, between my morning training and my evening training at the pool, I would work for 4 hours three days a week. Janine, my boss, understood when I had to sit down for a while due to my disability, or if I had to change a work day due to a swimming competition. I felt appreciated and because of this I gave my all to my job. That’s to say, I didn’t particularly enjoy working in a shop, but the boss and fellow workers were so understanding of my situation that my time there was pleasant, I had fun, I felt included.

A year later I moved an hour away from Sydney, which meant I had to leave the Olympic Shop. I was still training for the Paralympics, but I had to find something else to do, something else to focus on to keep me from burning out in my sport. So, I started a marketing degree at TAFE (Technical and Further Education College), which fit perfectly in with my disability and training. I also looked for work experience in marketing, with the hopes that it may lead to a paid job. Going into this venture I determined that I would have to be completely honest with the marketing firm which took me on – I have a disability which means I have varying needs from other people, and I am also training for the Paralympics and my work cannot interfere with my training; in other words I need flexibility and support from my workplace for both aspects of my life. I found a marketing firm that would take me on for work experience … little did I know how scarily different this work experience would be for me from my Olympic Shop experience. Accommodation was not given for my disability, or swimming training, I was so exhausted by the time I got home from work that I could barely make it up and down the lanes at the pool. I physically could not cope, and because I physically could not cope, I mentally couldn’t cope either. The stress drove me to tears and ill health and the lack of understanding made me feel worthless and lazy. I lasted two weeks at the marketing firm.

Flexibility in the workplace has become the new “IT” word, especially now, with the government here in the UK opening up the flexible working options for many more people on the 30th June. The thing is, as a focus on work/life balance, the whole flexible working thing is seen as a solution for “workers” (be that anyone who works) without further discussion into how this can open up the workplace for those with specialist needs due to their physical and mental health. Firstly, though, what is flexible working and how does it impact on people in general?

Flexible working can include: “Flexitime,” “Compressed Hours,” “Annual Hours,” “Staggered Hours,” and “Job Sharing.” These varying ways of working can reduce the stress on staff, lead to better physical and mental health for workers, and reduce negative spill-over. With the advent of certain technologies, particularly ViOP programs, the ability to work anywhere, anytime, is becoming an appealing way to do business. The question I have though, is why, when we now have flexible work as an option for people, people with disabilities are still being overlooked for positions?

Of course problems can arise from flexible working that can create negative perceptions; some people think that flexible working can mean the work that needs to be done is not getting done, that employee relationships can breakdown, that the employee doesn’t have the companies best interest at heart. However, if the flexible working is managed in such a way that all options are catered for and businesses are still tied together through technology, why shouldn’t it work – especially for those with a disability?

What impact, then, can flexible working hours have on the person with a disability? Disability is a term so wide and varied these days, therefore, when it comes to flexible working there has to be an openness to what that can mean to people. The main points though include – time management for medical and health related factors, accommodation for lack of transport, the ability to adjust work days to fit with the physical implications of disability, and most importantly, the understanding shown towards the person with a disability by their employer. When these points (and others) are considered it opens the door to a wider variety of workers as well as clear communication between the wants and needs of both the employee and employer.

I am now self-employed as a professional speaker and writer, my work time is keenly balanced with my disability, allowing me the space to keep myself healthy and stress free. Because I am healthy, stress free, and managing my disability, when it comes to speaking at companies, conferences, and schools I can give my all, I can be energetic, enthusiastic, and authentic, I can do the job to the absolute best of my ability. I can manage my hours to fit in with the exercise I need to keep my balance good and my full limbs strong, I can dictate the amount of speaking I do a week which controls the amount of standing I can do and rest I need, and I can minimise the stress that comes with working whilst having a disability. Working flexibly means that I can give my all everyday, whether it be at work or in life; and this is something that can enable people with disabilities to reach their potential in all facets of their lives.

 

To advertise jobs on Evenbreak go here – http://www.evenbreak.co.uk/employers/

To find jobs on Evenbreak go here – http://www.evenbreak.co.uk/jobs/

To make a donation to Evenbreak go here – https://localgiving.com/charity/evenbreak

Evenbreak walks the talk!

I’d like to introduce you to Lewis. Lewis is 16 and has ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, so severely that he has been unable to attend school for the past six years. His conditions mean that even home-schooling was restricted to four hours a week spread over the week, and he would become exhausted after each half hour lesson. As a result, at the age of 16, he had no GCSEs and no work experience, was unable to go out to work, and even working from home would only be able to work for a few hours a week, spread out throughout the week. His careers counsellor told him he would find it very difficult to find work, but he could always get a sick note. He had been effectively written off, at sixteen.

However, Lewis is also very bright and has a huge desire to contribute as much as he can. Despite his physical limitations he was determined not to spend the rest of his days as an invalid. He is continuing with his education, recently achieving great results in an English exam. He is good with computers, conscientious, has great attention to detail and would be a loyal employee. But what could he do?

Thankfully, he heard about Evenbreak, and a discussion ensued. As we talked, I was wracking my brains trying to think of what kind of work Lewis could do, and quickly realised that he could be really helpful to me! Much of my time is spent doing data entry work (inputting jobs onto the Evenbreak job board), which is vital, but time-consuming. It would make a huge difference to me if someone could do that for me, leaving me to do all the other things I also need to do.

Lewis was interested, and I trained him remotely over the ‘phone using our computers (our respective disabilities make it difficult for either of us to travel). It immediately became apparent that Lewis was keen, and picked things up quickly. I offered him the role of Data Entry Clerk, at a decent hourly rate, and he immediately accepted.

We have both learned as we have gone along, and we find that Lewis finds it easier to concentrate for short periods of time, so will work for no longer than half an hour at one sitting, spreading his hours over the week. Since his appointment in April this year, Lewis has proved to be excellent. His accuracy has always been spot on, and his speed has picked up as he has gained confidence and got used to the role. I know he is doing as much as he is physically able and he always keeps me informed with progress, doing overtime when he is able to. He is a real asset to Evenbreak, and employing him was definitely one of my better decisions.

I asked Lewis’ permission to write this blog about him, and how he felt about his work at Evenbreak. He said, “I had previously worried whether I would ever be able to work – that no-one would employ me with all my health problems. Now I feel proud that I am doing such an important job, and feel much more confident than I used to. The job is flexible and I can work from home around my health issues. I feel happy and it has given me hope!”

I recognise that Lewis is destined for bigger and better things in the future, but in the meantime I’m very much enjoying him being such an important part of the Evenbreak team.

To advertise jobs on Evenbreak go here – http://www.evenbreak.co.uk/employers/

To find jobs on Evenbreak go here – http://www.evenbreak.co.uk/jobs/

To make a donation to Evenbreak go here – https://localgiving.com/charity/evenbreak

Guest Blog: Apprenticeships for homeworkers

Nisai virtual academy logoToday’s guest blog is written by Bernie Emery, and explores an exciting and innovative way to help organisations offer apprenticeships to people who work from home. I think this is an amazing opportunity for both employers and disabled employees who wish to learn and work from home. Bernie discusses it here:

As part of our venture into exploring employment opportunities for our students, I came across Evenbreak.  Not only was I enthused by the fact that such a company existed but I was inspired by Jane who runs the company.

But to put this into context, we run the Nisai Virtual Academy which provides mainstream education for children and young people, who, for whatever reason are unable to attend school or college.  Our services are available to all, however, we have developed an expertise in working with Hard to Reach groups including those with Medical conditions, LDD, Emotional and Behavioural Disorders, Mental health issues, Excluded pupils, Young Carers, Teenage Parents, Travellers, Offenders etc.

Many of our students have a learning difficulty/disability and we’re keen, not only to provide them with an education, but also to encourage their progression into further education, training or employment.  Hence my link up with Evenbreak.

Many of our students are housebound for either physical or emotional reasons and therefore the concept of “going out to work” is a difficult one.  In order to find a way to address this issue, we have been exploring “Virtual Employment/Virtual Apprenticeships”.  This is where the young person undertakes their experience of work in the home.  Whilst many occupations do need to be situated at an employer’s location, others don’t.  Take for example Data input or Business Administration.

Employment opportunities are extremely restricted for those young people who are unable to leave their homes, consequently we are keen to work with innovative employers to create new ways of working so that the valuable talents available within this group can be utilised.  To effectively compete in a global economy, UK companies need to harness the best skills and talents available.  Using technology, skills which were previously unavailable to employers can be made accessible and can lead to benefits such as reduced costs and increased labour flexibility for the future.

In addition to providing access to previously untapped skills, employing this group of young people ensures that diversity is inherent in the workforce leading to a greater understanding of diversity across the customer base.  Likewise policy makers need to support initiatives that provide opportunities for disabled young people to get a job and support themselves rather than being consigned to a life on benefits.

The concept of a Virtual Apprenticeship is straightforward in that all the usual “apprenticeship” activities (training, working, mentoring, and learning) take place, but the difference is that they take place in the Apprentice’s environment rather than the employers.  Whilst this approach may at first sight, seem unworkable particularly for traditional apprenticeship occupations such as construction and engineering, it is more appropriate for occupations that are predominantly computer/telephone based e.g. Call Centres, Virtual Assistants, Software engineers, Designers, etc.  Alongside this, it is much easier to overcome the barriers to delivering the mentoring and support normally provided in the workplace, with online classroom technology.  Using the live, real-time space allows the mentor and apprentice to communicate, share documents and work jointly on information and is the next best thing to “sitting next to Nellie”.    The added advantage of using this approach is that every mentor session can be recorded so that the Apprentice/Mentor can revisit the information if they need to clarify points discussed.

This approach is not designed to replace traditional apprenticeship programmes but is an attempt to enhance them.  An opportunity such as this can enable those currently excluded from the workplace due to their disability/condition and who want to work, to engage and become successfully employed.

There are numerous benefits to employers including the recruitment of loyal and flexible staff, not to mention the reduced need for office space.  There is financial support from programmes such as “Access to Work” that can help to facilitate this type of approach plus the added bonus of proving innovation and creativity credentials.

We are keen to talk to employers who already have home working processes in place and occupations that can be undertaken on line/telephone (e.g. call centres, virtual assistants, software technicians, business administration, designers etc.).

If you are interested in discussing Virtual Apprenticeships, please contact Bernie Emery at the Nisai Group on 07834 350875 or bernie.emery@nisai.com

 

To advertise jobs on Evenbreak go here – http://www.evenbreak.co.uk/employers/

To find jobs on Evenbreak go here – http://www.evenbreak.co.uk/jobs/

To make a donation to Evenbreak go here – https://localgiving.com/charity/evenbreak

Best Practice Case Studies: Rank

I strongly believe that collaboration is the way forward in making the world of work inclusive and accessible to all who wish to work. Sharing best practice and learning from each other makes it easier for employers to find ways to improve their own practice. When I asked employers for examples of innovative practice in their own organisations I was overwhelmed with the response, and I will be sharing these with you, in no particular order, over the next few weeks and months. Some examples are about policies and procedures, and others are about how specific employees were enabled to thrive in that organisation. To kick us off we’ll look at how Rank recruited and employed a recent employee, Ben Gordon:

Rank logoBen applied for the role of Learning and Development Administrator at Rank, and advised them that he has a disability and uses a wheelchair.  Given this information it was arranged for the Head of Learning and Development to interview Ben at his home.  During the interview the role content was discussed in detail and discussions took place surrounding how as a company Rank could accommodate Ben’s disability to enable him to work for them.

Ben expressed during his interview that he would like to work in an environment with other people, rather than always being on his own at home.  He was interviewed along with a number of other candidates and was considered the best candidate and so was offered the role.

Taking into consideration his request to work with others in a team, it was arranged for Ben to share his work time between his home and at an office in one of the local Grosvenor Casino Clubs (part of the Rank chain). To ensure that Ben was able to carry out his role in the most comfortable way possible Rank set up an office in his home and arranged for him to have a modified desk.  In addition they worked closely with Access to Work to support travel for Ben to enable him to get out and about for meetings etc.  Team meetings, previously held elsewhere, were relocated to the Midlands area to enable Ben to attend.

His Line Manager, Debbie Conroy, the HR Training and Development Manager, tells me that Ben is popular and reliable and that he produces excellent work. He is technically literate and creative and has proved to be a real asset to the team.

I also spoke to Ben, who said he was pleasantly surprised at how very helpful and welcoming Rank had been. They worked with him to find working arrangements that not only accommodated his disability but also his personality. For example, in addition to ensuring his working arrangements at home were suitable (by providing a height-adjustable desk), they met his preference to work with other people by arrangung for some of his work to be carried out in a local venue with the rest of the team. So that he wouldn’t be excluded from team meetings, they are now held in this location. And they were happy to for him to work 10.00am – 6.00pm instead of the normal 9.00am – 5.00pm as his energy levels are low first thing in the morning. Ben says he already feels very much a part of the team and is very much enjoying his role at Rank.

This is a good example of where relevant and helpful adjustments were made which enabled the organisation to hire a talented employee they may otherwise have lost. Little cost was involved, but much thought, and a willingness to be creative.

Do you have any examples of good practice around employing disabled people? If so, please leave a comment below or email me at janeh@evenbreak.co.uk.

To advertise jobs on Evenbreak go here – http://www.evenbreak.co.uk/employers/

To find jobs on Evenbreak go here – http://www.evenbreak.co.uk/jobs/

To make a donation to Evenbreak go here – https://localgiving.com/charity/evenbreak

 

Homeworking – a good thing?

Commuters by a trainPeople go to work for many reasons, in addition to the requirement to receive an income. Those reasons will vary from individual to individual, but may include having a purpose, feeling valuable and valued, using their skills, the social contact with colleagues, having a challenge, having a structure to their lives and many more. And people have other factors outside of work to accommodate. They may be parents or carers. They may wish to work part time. They may be studying or have a demanding hobby or have other demands on their time. They may be disabled. They may hate commuting in the rush hour!

In order to meet some of these needs, many organisations offer flexible working. This can include flexible start and finish times (e.g. to avoid the rush hour), flexi-time, part-time working, job-share, term-time working, annualised hours, nine-day fortnights, job carving and the opportunity to carry out some or all tasks from home.

I’m particularly interested in exploring the idea of home-working for those jobs, or parts of jobs, that could be carried out remotely. The benefits for the employer include saving money on office space, greater retention of staff, wider pool of candidates to choose from, increased productivity (research suggests that employees are, on average, more productive at home) and savings on travel expenses. Benefits for employees include less time and money spent commuting, greater flexibility in juggling other reponsibilities, working in an accessible environment and a better work/life balance. Society gains the ecological benefits of far fewer people travelling by car/train.

However, there may be drawbacks. Managers may not feel comfortable with remotely managing people’s performance, employees may miss the cameraderie of working in a team.

I’d be interested to hear how employers have overcome some of these obstacles. Do you know of any examples of good practice?

To advertise jobs on Evenbreak go here – http://www.evenbreak.co.uk/employers/
To find jobs on Evenbreak go here – http://www.evenbreak.co.uk/jobs/
To make a donation to Evenbreak go here – https://localgiving.com/charity/evenbreak