“After the coronavirus situation, I dare any organisation to say ‘we don’t do flexible working’. I am going to call them out. Any organisation will have to be flexible.”
Steve Shutts, CEO of Astriid
As a result of the global pandemic, businesses have been forced to adapt… and quickly. If they wanted to ensure the survival of their organisation, they needed to comply with social distancing protocol and amend their working conditions accordingly.
For many, the most significant change was the move to working remotely. Instead of our typical working culture of commuting to an office, working the 9am-5pm day surrounded by managers and colleagues, and then leaving the job behind to come home in the evening, our entire lives suddenly shifted to taking place in full within our own four walls.
At the time of writing, our society has officially been in lockdown for almost a month. Those who have been working from home for the first time have been quick to share their frustrations, and their feelings are of course, valid. Many have found it difficult to stick to a routine or be productive alongside distractions in their environment, and there have also been consequential effects on workers’ mental health; loneliness and low mood frequently being reported.
However, one will be acknowledging that those of us who still even have a job, let alone one that can just as successfully be carried out remotely, are the lucky ones here. Generally speaking, the transition from bustling day-to-day office life to setting people up to work from home has been remarkably smooth, and incredibly rapid. In these turbulent times, when people have so much more on their minds, perhaps we have neglected to think about the magnitude of these practical changes and be impressed by how quickly they were rolled out.
Unfortunately, however, past experiences haven’t been quite so seamless for the chronic illness community: a notoriously under-represented group in our society. For years, those with long-term conditions who were willing and able to work have had to fight tooth and nail for reasonable adjustments, such as working from home. Time after time, their requests have not been granted, and their subsequent working conditions have had a detrimental effect on their health and wellbeing as a result. In the past, many employers simply haven’t been open to discovering just how easy and beneficial offering remote working can be.
For many chronically ill people, the ability to work remotely can be transformative. It allows people to exhibit more flexibility over their working day, balancing tasks around healthcare needs such as rest breaks or treatment regimes. It takes away the somewhat unthinkable levels of exertion that simply leaving the house, commuting, and dealing with the sensory overload of being around a bustling office environment all require. In short, working from home allows those with long-term conditions to perform their role to the best of their ability, without compromising their health.
In the past, anecdotally reported reasons for employers not being open to working remotely include beliefs that communication would be hindered, or day-to-day tasks would not be possible. However, the introduction of technology over the past few years, plus the number of organisations implementing remote working so successfully, begs to differ. With so many practical tools at our fingertips, slowly but surely, attitudes have begun to shift over the last few years: more people in positions of power have begun to consider the benefits and potential for more inclusive employment practice.
Before Covid-19, one’s prediction would have been that this slow increase would have continued for at least another 2-3 years before we saw large-scale tangible change in the sector. However, as a result of the pandemic, would it be rational to wonder whether the actions we’ve all been forced to take could facilitate this process?
Now that they’ve been forced to implement remote working, employers have no reason to deny its efficacy. The fact that businesses all over the country have adapted to these changes and continued to operate with people working from home shows that it is possible. With the right technology, these adaptations can indeed be made at the drop of a hat, with the numerous benefits vastly outweighing any small financial costs.
So, when life after the pandemic resumes, we should see chronically ill workers, our country’s ‘Invisible Talent Pool’, have their needs met much more readily by their employers. We know now that remote working is possible, and as we become more experienced and knowledgeable, I have no doubt our skills in this area will continue to improve. If supporting somebody to work from home enables them to put their best foot forward and shine, then we can all reap the benefits of such practice. Remote working is a game changer for individuals, and it could well be a game changer for facilitating a more inclusive employment sector too.
(Article by Astriid, the charity using its online platform to pair chronically ill workers with inclusive employment opportunities that match their talents and requirements)