Remote work sees its most significant rise thanks to the pandemic. Many articles, talks, job ads focus on work-life balance, social isolation, finding the best talent everywhere, working with different cultures, or so on. But people forget another aspect: remote work is more inclusive than on-site work at all levels. It provides many opportunities to the people who struggle in the office, especially people with disabilities, disorders, and deficiencies.
Depending on the disability, there are different advantages. For example, using text-to-speech in video calls provides a significant benefit to people with hearing disabilities. Although these technologies are still not perfect, they are better than any option that the office can provide.
Maybe we didn't find a chance to work with a person with disabilities. Yet, I believe everyone in international companies is not great at understanding different English accents. Even for native English speakers, it's challenging to understand different pronunciations of the same word. Many people, such as myself, turn on the captions or speech-to-text in video calls in these cases.
My English is good, which means I can speak, write, listen in English, and I don't have any disabilities. However, I had problems with an Australian accent; it took me a while to get used to it. For example, in the office, I had to ask repeatedly to understand what some people are saying. Now, I turn on captions, and it already helps a ton.
When we think about people with physical disabilities or difficulties, remote work is a big chance. Physically going to the office is a massive hassle. Although many countries enforce accessible offices and transportation by law, there are many visible and invisible barriers in day-to-day life. These difficulties create stress, cause tiredness and demotivation for work, and end up with people leaving the job and even socially isolating themselves in worst cases.
Also, there are invisible disorders from the outside and not even very well-known by the person who has them. Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is one of the cognitive disorders. People who have ADD can have difficulties giving attention to something for extended periods. It might be difficult for them to work effectively in an office where there are many meetings and more prolonged social interactions. If they take many breaks, it might seem like they are not working as much as others.
In remote work, especially async communication, they can better design their day to be more effective. Additionally, recording meetings becomes notably beneficial for these people to watch back the parts where they lost their attention.
Another example is people with autism, who may have difficulties understanding some communications and social interactions. Autism spectrum disorder has a range of conditions; depending on the level and the circumstances, people with autism can work in companies that provide a comfortable environment. However, office environments might be troublesome because these people might avoid eye contact, be sensitive to loud noises, or have difficulty understanding what and how others feel.
Some of these conditions are easily solvable by remote work. They can adjust the volume however they want in a remote environment, and they don't have to have eye contact. Additionally, while working over a document asynchronously, they don't need to understand how others feel as much as they need to in the office.
Many people with cognitive or intellectual disabilities and disorders can be more welcomed in remote work. Offering everyone (not only for certain people) a remote work option by standard helps them feel included.
If we enable remote work only for people with disabilities and disorders, we won't be that inclusive because our processes won't be aligned for them to work efficiently and grow in their careers. If we fall back to the office practices, regardless of disabilities or disorders, any remote employee feels alone or privileged.
Including a diverse group in the workforce starts being inclusive in job listings, continues with the inclusive hiring and interviewing process, and later on, adopting or adjusting the perks and benefits according to the person's needs. But it doesn't stop there.
Creating a safe environment and culture is a complex but crucial task. Don't focus on making everyone happy; that is impossible. However, having a culture where everyone feels safe and feel neither forced nor expected to share their situation should be your focus.
If you ask about the disabilities during interviewing to ensure that you treat the person right to be more inclusive, you still have work to do.
The hiring and working processes should be comprehensive enough so that you shouldn't even need to ask anyone (except for legal reasons) about their disabilities, disorders, nationality, gender, etc. If you build the systems and processes to be inclusive, people probably won't feel that they get special treatment. It should be their judgment to explain their situation.
Offer remote work not only for work-life balance or to reach the best talent on the other side of the world but also to be more inclusive. As a result, you will get the very best and diverse team that feels safe and can put their best into their work. Make your processes inclusive from beginning till the end so that you find the hidden gems in society and provide your team the best work experience while enabling everyone to be more engaged and active at their job.
Complement with listening to Diversity, Gender Discrimination, and Women in Tech livestream to learn more about the reality and reading tips for leading partially remote teams.