What does the new normal mean for the workplace?

The phrase  “new normal” has been bandied around a lot but what does it mean for the workplace, and how do we ensure that where and how we work is inclusive?

Covid-19 has driven, perhaps, the biggest change to the workplace in decades.

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How has the workplace changed post-pandemic?

Image shows someone sitting at a home desk in front of a blank wall. They have their hands folded behind their head.The obvious shift has been to homeworking with 46.6 adults working from home in the UK as Covid hit, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

As things return to a new normal 85% of working adults saying hybrid working (part home/part-office) based working is their preferred model (ONS).

Yet, there is uncertainty from employers with 32% of businesses saying they are not sure what proportion of the workforce will be working from their usual place of work (ONS).

How has Covid-19 affected working people with disabilities?

Sadly, Covid-19 disproportionally impacted disabled people including at work.

For example, a staggering 71% of disabled people in employment were affected by the pandemic through a loss of income, furlough, or redundancy, according to a report by Leonard Cheshire.

Worryingly, 42% of employers were discouraged from hiring disabled job applicants due to concerns around supporting them properly during the pandemic says the same report. Little wonder the unemployment rate for disabled people is 8.4% compared to an unemployment rate of 4.6% for people who are not disabled.

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Hybrid working: a more inclusive approach?

There are pros and cons of the switch to hybrid working. Among the pros are there’s no need to endure a tedious – and potentially stressful commute. Public transport can present logistical challenges for disabled people.

Equally, the switch to online meeting platforms such as Zoom, and Teams brings some benefits. For example, support for captions can make following meetings easier for people who have hearing loss.

But technology is not a panacea; captions are no substitute for BSL for Deaf people.

Too much online work can be overwhelming. People with neurodiverse needs may experience cognitive overload from too many Zoom meetings, for example.

Developing an inclusive workplace

Creating an inclusive workplace means considering cultural and practical elements.

Culturally, there is a perception gap between employees and employers. Nearly three-quarters of leaders (70%) feel they are creating empowering environments where people feel belong and yet only 40% of employees agree, says Accenture.

Additionally, the proportion of employees who do not feel included in their organizations is 9x higher than leaders believe (18% vs 2%, respectively)

How confident are you having conversations about disability and diversity and inclusion? Is your recruitment inclusive? Do you have an inclusive onboarding programme?

Technology has a role to play, too. Digital accessibility can drive diversity and inclusion if you ensure that internal platforms are accessible to all, and that staff receiving training in how to use accessibility features.

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