Thanks to technology, more employees can work remotely from the comfort of their homes. And businesses are willing to make the change. About 69 percent of U.S. businesses now offer a flexible workplace policy, according to the 2019 IWG Workplace Survey.
However, working from home can also be tied to another trend in the workplace: diversity initiatives. Many businesses are making inclusivity pledges to attract, recruit and retain diverse teams. And it's a welcome change in white, male-dominated industries. Businesses and their customers benefit from the unique perspectives historically marginalized individuals can bring to the table.
But how does remote work factor into diversity initiatives? Primarily, remote work can benefit employees with disabilities in substantial ways.
The truth About Employees With Disabilities
Disabilities come in many different forms, both visible and invisible. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the federal standard for defining disabilities. Enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the ADA also sets accessibility and anti-discrimination standards for private businesses in the United States.
According to the ADA, an individual with a disability "has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment."
The definition is broad. But examples can include a visible physical disability that limits a person's motor skills. It can also include diagnosed, invisible mental health conditions such as anxiety or major depression. Pregnancy and medical conditions that occur due to pregnancy can also be considered disabilities. Surprisingly, very few people who self-identify as having a disability are actively seeking employment.
Just over 19 percent of people with self-identified disabilities are employed, according to a 2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report. Overall, about 8 in 10 respondents in the BLS report are not in the labor force. They're neither employed nor unemployed nor seeking work. The data doesn't account for undiagnosed workers or workers who choose not to disclose their status.
The truth is Americans with disabilities face a harder time finding employment and succeeding in the workforce. Many also experience workplace discrimination, fear of which could prevent them from disclosing their disability status to their employers. Stigmas around mental disorders also makes some people less likely to seek a diagnosis. However, there are workplace accommodation measures that employers can take to help existing and future employees with disabilities feel valued and welcome.
How Remote Work Benefits Those With Disabilities
Luckily, this is where remote work can come in handy for any employee with a disability. Working from home can provide many benefits, but below are three of the biggest.
1. Improved Productivity
Offices are full of distractions. Working from home provides an easy solution. In a 2019 TSheets report, 54 percent of remote employees rated their work performance as "above average," compared to those who work in an office. Additionally, 59 percent of employers rated remote workers' performance as "above average." Fewer distractions at home means employees can focus on their work and improve productivity.
Plus, for people with disabilities such as ADD or ADHD, working from home can be a serious productivity game-changer. They can cater their environments to their needs. People with other disabilities can benefit too. They may feel more comfortable working at home and less likely to experience microaggressions from their co-workers.
2. Shorter Commutes
For many workers with disabilities, traveling to work is difficult. This is especially the case for those who rely on mobility assistance like vanpools and wheelchair-accessible public transportation, which can add time to an already lengthy commute.
Working from home could help these employees tremendously. They can spend less time worrying about how to get to work and more time actually focusing on work. They can also have more freedom to decide where they live and work, as distance to the office won't be a concern - which can be a major competitive recruiting advantage.
3. Greater Flexibility
For employees with disabilities, the home environment may provide them with access to much-needed medications, assistance apparatuses, emotional support animals and much more. Their home environment already caters to their needs, so it can also serve as a comfortable and accessible office environment.
Furthermore, working from home gives people the opportunity to have a more flexible schedule. In the TSheets survey, 64 percent of employees surveyed said they "sometimes take care of personal tasks during the workday." Employers were certainly aware of this. But they still thought their remote employees were more productive and provided "above average" work.
Working from home also allows people with disabilities to take care of personal tasks, as well as themselves. Working from home is no vacation, but it makes self-care much easier. Plus, for those who work from home and have a flexible schedule, they have increased accessibility to doctor visits and other medical appointments. Even if an appointment is in the middle of the afternoon, they can go home and make up their work long after the office has been locked up for the night.
Remote Work Benefits Everyone
The benefits of remote work and flexible working schedules can be career-changing for employees. That includes workers with disabilities, workers who care for those with disabilities, new or expecting parents and more.
In any case, working from home can be seen as a reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities. "The ADA's reasonable accommodation obligation, which includes modifying workplace policies, might require an employer to waive certain eligibility requirements or otherwise modify its telework program for someone with a disability who needs to work at home," the EEOC explains.
Plus, creating a remote work policy can take the pressure off current and future employees who have disabilities but may not feel comfortable disclosing it. If you are interested in hiring a diverse team, creating a remote work policy can help make that happen.
Prior to joining the TSheets by QuickBooks marketing team, Katie McBeth spent her time writing for various blogs across the web, including Quiet Revolution, Fortune Magazine, and many more. Her degree in anthropology helped her establish a strong foundation for researching and empathizing with the many fascinating people she interacts with. When she's not writing, she's hanging out with her small private zoo of three cats, two dogs, and dozens of plants.