Enabling disability-inclusive hybrid working: Panel discussion

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An expert panel discusses ‘The changing workplace’, a research project which examined how disabled workers experienced the transition to hybrid working, and the related opportunities and benefits for workers and employees

Screengrab showing seven smiling people taking part in The changing workplace online debate.

On 20 July 2022, the Work Foundation at Lancaster University hosted an event on ‘The changing workplace’ and launched a new study into disabled workers’ experiences of hybrid and remote working. The research was commissioned and supported by City Bridge Trust.

An expert panel discussed the key challenges and opportunities posed by remote and hybrid working for disabled workers’ job entry, retention and progression.

The panel also advised on what employers and policymakers should prioritise to ensure the future hybrid working world is disability-inclusive.

Some thoughts from the panellists

Shani Dhanda, Disability Specialist & Accessibility Consultant

Shani described the new research as “ground-breaking” and made it clear that progress is not about ticking boxes for compliance: “It’s about how we remove barriers…. we need to keep that in the heart of this”.

Shani also pointed out that when we create solutions for disabled people, those solutions can be extended to others, and everybody benefits in the end. She also noted how the report helps to highlight that flexibility is key, and that “blanket approaches do not work.”

Alice Arkwright, Policy and Campaigns Support Officer, Equality Team, TUC

Alice highlighted how the report emphasised that “no one size fits all.” Alice also referenced the unfair power dynamics which can occur when some colleagues share a physical space and others don’t. She recommended that those chairing hybrid meetings can do so from online, shifting the power to an online space and equalising it.

Alice also noted how employers can monitor who has access to training, and access to promotion. This can be analysed, looking at protected characteristics and by the type of working arrangements, to identify if there is a problem within their organisation.

Mark Russell, Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Manager, KPMG UK

Mark emphasised that preference and choice are really important and that “adjustments in their broadest sense help everyone”.

Mark also raised the point that while the term ‘reasonable adjustments’ may be used in the Equity Act, KPMG prefer to use the word ‘adjustment’ or ‘workplace adjustment’ and omit the word ‘reasonable’ in general usage. Mark said it was important to use “intentional, inclusive communications to describe adjustments”, and what we mean by adjustments.

Paulette Cohen, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Barclays

Paulette said “For me, representing an employer, I will be sharing the research widely within the organisation, and we will be sense checking what we do against the recommendations… and what more we can do”.

Noting that many employers don’t appreciate the complexity of multiple impairments, Paulette said “I think the research shows that superbly… I’ve taken that research and we’re already looking at the way we gather data to better understand our disabled community [at Barclays] through that lens of multiple impairments”.

The Changing Workplace on YouTube

The discussion was recorded and is available on YouTube: The changing workplace: Enabling disability-inclusive hybrid working.

Please note that although a British Sign Language interpreter was visible on screen at all times during the session, they are unfortunately not consistently visible through the recording.

More information

A summary and full copy of the report, The changing workplace, can be found on the Work Foundation’s website.

The event was hosted by Melanie Wiles (Head of Research, Work Foundation) and speakers included:

  • Heather Taylor (Research Analyst, Work Foundation)
  • Dr Paula Holland (Senior Lecturer, Lancaster University)
  • Paul Martinelli (Chair of the Grants Committee, City Bridge Trust)
  • Mark Russell (Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Manager, KPMG UK)
  • Shani Dhanda (Disability Inclusion & Accessibility Consultant)
  • Paulette Cohen (Head of Diversity and Inclusion, Barclays)
  • Alice Arkwright (Policy and Campaigns Support Officer, Equality Team, TUC).

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