How to create inclusive workspaces in a post-pandemic world

Covid-19 accelerated the role of technology in how we work. Our Services Delivery Director, Amy Low (pictured below), shares her advice about ensuring solutions are inclusive.

Disabled people and employment

AbilityNet is on a mission to ensure that workplaces are “inclusive by design,” says Amy.

“It’s even more important in a post-pandemic world that has disproportionately disadvantaged older and disabled people,” Low adds.

In the three months to September 2020, there were over 340,000 unemployed people aged 50 to 64, an increase of 85,000 in the previous quarter.*

Seventy-one per cent of disabled people in employment were affected by the pandemic through a loss of income, being put on furlough, or made redundant.**

“Disability is often acquired. Many people will acquire some kind of disability in their life and, potentially within their career, as working lives seem to be extending into the future,” says Low.

Adapting your home workspace

AbilityNet provides a range of support to individuals in the workplace, which can help older and disabled people in the workplace – including within their home office. 

"Tools that would have been specialist software now come included 'out-of-the-box" in applications such as Microsoft Office 365," says Low. “But people may still need to highlight an issue to an employer.”

AbilityNet worked with the Clear Company to develop Clear Talents On Demand, a free online tool that can help employees identify Reasonable Adjustments that they may need in their working environment. 

The report the tool generates makes practical recommendations around workstation adjustments, for example, but can also help to broker a conversation around mental health. 

In 2020 AbilityNet helped 869 employees and conducted 433 workplace assessments. 

Making the new normal accessible to all

The pandemic has presented fresh technology-based challenges, says Low: “People who weren’t confident with technology and may have perhaps asked the person next to them for help no longer have this option. It’s a steep learning curve,” she says. 

There are cultural challenges, too, particularly when it comes to meeting online. 

"Video calls have given us a window into people's lives that has been a positive experience for some but proved invasive for others," said Low.

Join our free workplace-focused webinar: How to do inclusive, accessible recruitment
Tuesday 2 March, 1 pm GMT

Low added, "The ability to have closed captions can help deaf and hearing-impaired people. Still, they can be hindered by people keeping cameras switched off and by bad audio connections."

Another example includes people who are using a screen-reader with online platforms. A screen reader can read everything in the chatbox to the user, proving distracting.

AbilityNet has worked with organisations to create online meeting guidelines to ensure the experience is inclusive and accessible to all. "People really appreciate being made aware of the unintentional barriers that can arise so that they can adapt their approach," says Low.

Other challenges include Zoom fatigue, anxiety and feelings of isolation.

Technology can form part of the solution, too. Microsoft has introduced some wellbeing tools into its Teams platform including Headspace, a virtual commute. You can set Outlook to build in a buffer and give you a break between meetings while Teams will warn you when a meeting is coming to a close, so they don’t overrun. 

But there are some things it can't replace. "You can't replace water-cooler chats and post-meeting discussions," says Low.

Driving a workplace diversity agenda

AbilityNet is increasingly offering support to companies and leaders looking to drive a Diversity and Inclusion agenda. The charity is helping leaders evaluate their environment, culture and working practices.

AbilityNet can walk companies through a Gap Analysis questionnaire that assesses them against criteria from inclusive recruitment, through onboarding and helping to ensure career progression. 

"We begin at the pre-interview stage," says Low. "Where someone is looking at a job description, and there are lots of 'nice-to-haves' this can be off-putting for candidates. It can exclude some people who have core skills to bring.” 

She adds: “Companies need diversity at all levels to survive and thrive.”

Once the Gap Analysis is complete, AbilityNet can assist with cultural and practical changes, including empathy-building activities people can tap into.

Find out more about inclusive, accessible recruitment best practices on our free webinar on Tuesday 2 March: How to do inclusive, accessible recruitment, in which we will also discuss why AbilityNet is a Disability Confident Leader.

How AbilityNet can help

AbilityNet is a UK-wide charity that offers individuals support at home, at work and in education.


* Age UK reference

** People Management article