The current crisis has brought homeworking into sharp reality for millions of office workers. But is it a viable route into the workplace for many living with a disability?
The idea of homeworking as an option for disabled people is nothing new. Scope, for example, provides extensive support and advice https://www.scope.org.uk/advice-and-support/homeworking/ on the topic.
What has changed recently are two key things. First, there’s now a massive focus on homeworking within the boardroom – both as a disaster recovery response and as a longer term option on productivity/ cost grounds. Second, the homeworking industry has moved on … with more effective homeworking models, and a realisation within Corporates that homeworking is a ‘proper’ job, where people can develop rewarding careers.
The contact centre sector is a case in point. 15 years ago, few companies considered it possible to run an effective operation using homeworkers because of a multitude of technology, HR and operational issues. With experience, many of these HR and operational issues have now been resolved, and specialist virtual workplace tools – with virtual training environments, specialist real-time communications, and real-time management – today provide managers with real-time visibility of homeworkers so they can support and collaborate as required.
In the past, homeworkers were frequently either managers and top performing employees offered homeworking ‘as a reward’ or self-employed people required to create their own limited companies before supplying services. Today, homeworkers are now more likely to choose to work from home and be more experienced.
Indeed, according to a 2020 Homeworking Survey conducted before lockdown, 75 per cent of ‘long term’ homeworkers are aged 35 or over, and 61% have over 10 years experience in customer contact roles.
They also come into homeworking for a wide variety of reasons – and our company is a good example. We currently have 700 fully-employed homeworkers who deliver services for Allianz, BUPA and others. Amongst our people are work-at-home mums, many who find working in an office stressful, and others that are excluded from the normal workplace. This includes people who live in rural areas or are simply too far from the office to commute, as well as many living with a disability. Indeed we estimate that 18% of our colleagues have some form of disability, and a further 8% are carers to people with special needs.
The secret to providing excellent work-from-home opportunities is to ensure that everyone is treated equally and fairly, and that engagement, community and socialisation is part and parcel of the homeworking experience. Technology plays a key role here too, ensuring that teams communicate and interact efficiently and that working from home isn’t a solitary experience (unless someone wants it to be!)
Implemented effectively and homeworking can provide not only a route back into the workplace but also a fulfilling career. According to the 2020 homeworking survey, 71 per cent of homeworkers say that they are happy doing what they do, and 65 per cent say they are proud to tell people where they work. As for companies, 50 per cent of organisations employing homeworkers said they expected to increase numbers in the next 12 months.
By Mark Walton
Sensée is in regular contact with organisations that support the disabled community, is a Purple Member, supports the Armed Forces Covenant, is Disability Confident Committed, and is registered with Employers for Carers.