Changed working arrangements can create opportunities and challenges for all employees. For Australian Public Service (APS) employees with disability, sometimes those challenges have greater impacts.
Below are some principles managers can follow to better support employees with disability to work from home.
1. Ask the question
Not all employees’ experience their disability at home in the same way they do in the office. This may mean the support or accessibility requirements to do their job could differ when working from home. Your employee is always in the best position to advise you of what they need to do their job, so simply ask.
An open conversation will help you to find out about your employee’s individual requirements and create an opportunity to talk about challenges and possible solutions.
A good place to start is your employee’s existing workplace support plan or workplace adjustment passport, which should identify support and/or individual work, health and safety considerations. This will help you understand what support requirements you need to be aware of and what works for your employee.
Another consideration is whether your employee has a support worker or a family member that you need to liaise with and if you have permission to contact them.
Everyone is different; don't make assumptions about needs or capabilities. Taking the time to ask is a vital step in supporting all team members equally.
2. Explore solutions
If your employee requires assistive technology or other equipment to work from home this should be supported, where practicable. If this is likely to take some time, explore interim solutions, re-adjust the support plan or consider reaching out to other APS agencies who may have the capacity to provide the adjustments needed.
If your employee is unable to perform their usual work, whether in the office or at home, refer to Circular 2020/1: COVID-19 leave arrangements and Circular 2020/3: COVID-19 – Remote working and evolving work arrangements for guidance.
3. Be flexible about flexibility
Have an open, flexible mindset. Be open to change, and adjust as you go.
Be clear about roles and responsibilities. Set realistic expectations and timeframes on work to be done and allow additional time wherever possible if there are barriers identified.
Discuss expected work hours or work patterns together. Consider the employee’s individual circumstances and the support they need outside of their disability, for example are they also supporting kids at home with school?
Regularly review flexible work arrangements and adjustments to ensure they balance the changing needs of employees, managers and workplaces. From time-to-time, existing arrangements or workplace adjustments may need to be altered to accommodate changing circumstances and to ensure they are having a positive effect on your employee.
If the arrangement isn’t working, try again – look at what’s working well and adjust the things that aren’t. We are all working under conditions never experienced before so be patient with yourself and your team as you navigate your way to a new normal.
Communicating clearly, often and using appropriate channels (phone, email, instant messenger, video etc) is critical in supporting all employees to feel connected, supported and engaged.
Ensure everyone has equal access to information and is included in workplace conversations, especially if they are conducted virtually. Ask what channels of communication work best for your employee.
Consider a meeting summary or following up with individuals after the meeting to convey important information or actions. This is particularly important for employees with disability who may have accessibility requirements and or find it difficult to participate.
In these challenging situations and times of change, having boundaries, routines and structure is one way to help prioritise your employees physical and mental health.
Encourage and support your employees to:
- set up a routine and structure for the day.
- create healthy boundaries for starting and finishing work and for check-ins (daily, weekly, fortnightly).
- schedule regular break times.
Expect that many employees will be feeling anxious and may need time to adjust and more reassurance. Checking in regularly can help reduce social isolation and the stress that can come from a change in routine.
Set aside time for virtual catch-ups with employees one-on-one and as a team.
You can also consider the following:
- Are our documents digitally accessible for assistive technology, such as screen readers?
- When conveying complex information relating to COVID-19, am I communicating in a way that is appropriate for all employees?
- Do our digital platforms work for employees who have low vision, employees who are deaf or hard of hearing?
Where can I get more information?
- Your agency specific workplace flexibility or working from home policies and documents
- Your agency Employee Assistance Program, including the manager assistance hotline.
- The home-based work checklist on the Comcare website.
- COVID-19 resources on the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) website.
- Comcare and APSC fact sheet: Looking after your mental health – Responding to uncertainty factsheet
- Comcare and APSC fact sheet: Looking after your mental health – Supporting others in times of uncertainty on the APSC website.
- A beginner's guide to accessible content on the Australian Network on Disability website.
- Make it accessible guide on the Australian Digital Transformation Agency website for accessibility principles to design better services and digital content.
- Supporting employees with disability through new ways of working on the Australian Network on Disability website.