The buzz of an open plan office, chatty coworkers and spontaneous discussions are things some people are eager to get back to. For others, avoiding these is precisely what makes remote work so appealing. Pre-pandemic offices were not effective places to work for everyone, especially people who are not neurotypical or able-bodied.
It goes beyond the office too. For people with disabilities, virtual events have been life-changing. People have been able to attend live music events, lectures, and even church services without worrying about the accessibility of venues. This has led to disabled people feeling more included in events and communities than ever. It’s really important that we don’t lose this as we come out of the other side of the pandemic.
Loving the office-free life
Working from home is so much more neurodivergence friendly than being in an office. You can get up and move around whenever you need to, you’re able to move to different spots around the house when your attention starts to wander. Suddenly, jobs that were difficult due to the office environment became considerably easier.
Having scheduled Zoom calls in your calendar is far less anxiety-inducing than knowing someone is going to ‘pop by your desk’ at some point in the day; the spontaneity of offices is not something the anxious people among us miss.
If you struggle to focus, the distractions of an in-person office massively hinder your productivity. If you’re anxious, working from your familiar home environment makes meetings and phone calls far easier than if you’re in an otherwise stimulating space. If you’re disabled, no longer having to navigate public transport and inaccessible office spaces is a blessing.
Removing these barriers by allowing people to work from home can make team members happier, healthier, and more efficient. With less mental stress, people have a greater ability to come up with new and creative ideas that will benefit their work.
This raises the question of whether office meetings were ever actually the best place to come up with ideas in the first place. Patty McCord, former chief talent officer at Netflix, doesn’t think so:
‘Meetings are a great place to discuss decisions, make decisions and communicate. But that spark of the idea very often happens at the beach, or in your backyard, or in the middle of the night walking the baby around. Creativity often happens when we’re alone. We need a little space where we can dream.’
The battle to work from home pre-pandemic
About a year before the pandemic, Anna (not her real name) was embroiled in a dispute with her manager and the HR department regarding the option to work from home. As someone with multiple mental illnesses, commuting daily and working from the office was taking its toll. She sought to work from home to improve her health and wellbeing – she explained to her management that this would mean less time off sick, but they felt working from home would be incompatible with the rest of the team.
At the time, working from home was a luxury her department was offered two days per week and only if it was pre-arranged and they weren’t needed for face-to-face meetings. Anna feared she would lose her job as the flexibility to work from home was something the company felt was simply not possible.
When the pandemic hit, the entire company went remote and management were surprised by how quickly the teams adapted to the new way of working. Now that restrictions are easing, returning to the office is optional for the whole team. They go in for one key meeting a week, but if people are unable to attend they can join remotely.
The transition to hybrid working has made their workplace more accessible and now when Anna has a day where her symptoms are worse she doesn’t need to worry about getting to the office or navigating that physical and emotional space – she can simply open up her laptop and settle down to work. As a byproduct of the pandemic, her workplace became more accessible.
Making the option of remote work a permanent fixture can help create a more positive and inclusive environment in your office or company. Having it as a default option also makes it far less stressful for employees when they need to ask for adjustments.
Remote schooling has made a huge difference for neurodivergent kids. Some parents, like Ben and Henry (not their real names), have chosen to continue home educating their kids post-covid. Whilst homeschooling they realised how much happier their daughter is when learning from home and how much more effectively she’s learning. It wasn’t plain sailing though – she didn’t get on particularly well with Zoom classes and it was only when her parents took over with her teaching that she found her stride.
Remote learning provided by schools is rarely able to efficiently cater to every member fo the class. Normal classroom learning faces this challenge too but it is easier to adapt to children’s needs when you have real in-person feedback. For example, ‘in the physical classroom, teachers can generally see when students with ADHD are confused, fidgety, and in need of a quick refocus prompt—but many of these signals are lost in translation during Zoom instruction.’
In a February Ofsted report, it was revealed that ‘fewer than half (46%) of the teachers surveyed stated that their school offered additional remote learning arrangements for pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities’. This lack of provisions for making remote learning more accessible for neurodivergent kids has contributed to parents, such as Ben and Henry, choosing to take over homeschooling their children.
Making live music more accessible has been a great unexpected side effect of Covid-19. During lockdowns, bands and DJs performed sets to cameras in empty music venues or in their own living rooms. The experience was a strange one for performers: some said it just felt a high tech band practice so don’t think it will last, others had a lot of fun doing it and plan to keep it up between other live shows.
Frank, from Frank Carter and The Rattlesnakes, sees this as an exciting opportunity to ‘combine the audience and a livestream to homes of people who can’t get to a gig or may have anxiety or a disability which prevents them from having the experience that they’d want to have.’ This is a shining example of the possibilities of a more accessible hybrid future where people will be able to attend remotely or in person depending on their needs.
While we eagerly await the return of some aspects of life before the pandemic, we hope that a more accessible remote-friendly society is here to stay. Returning to a society without remote options would mean removing these accessibility options from people who have massively benefited from them over this past year.
[All names have been changed]
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