Hybrid Theory.

A laptop showing a blank screen, notepads, and coffee mug.

There haven’t been many positives to come from the pandemic; generally widespread illness that kills or disables millions of people isn’t exactly a joyous occasion. However, one positive outcome of the pandemic has been the uptake of remote or hybrid working once offices re-opened, even if many managers and politicians have tried to label it as sheer laziness. The truth of the matter is that it has been a matter of convenience, not laziness, for many people, helping parents look after children, and reducing the time and cost spent travelling to and from the office. Furthermore, for disabled people, it has been a boon.

There are a huge number of barriers impacting disabled people in the physical workplace. In the absence of lifts, stairs are an insurmountable barrier for many, and even in office blocks with lifts the competition to access them can cause delays when moving around the building. While height-adjustable desks are becoming more common in offices, the chances of a fixed desk being the wrong height for a wheelchair user to access are still fairly high (much like the desks, ironically). Kitchen facilities can be awkward to access so that even making a drink in the office becomes a challenge, but if bathroom access is also an issue, then you don’t want to be having much to drink anyway. Desks clustered together, chairs left pushed out from desks, and awkward shelves and printers also cause major issues when moving around for a variety of disabilities, and prolonged exposure to harsh office lighting triggers migraines for some. Furthermore, the sheer amount of noise generated in an office can be distracting or overwhelming. Offices, often depicted as being the most accessible workplace, often feel outright hostile to disabled employees.

It’s worth noting that commuting is also a problem for many disabled people, with accessible parking or public transport being hard to come by. Even as a pedestrian, I have often had to contend with unnecessary barriers on my journey when crossings and pavements were blocked, forcing me to either argue with a driver who will “only be a minute” or find another route. Commuting also adds a significant chunk of time onto the working day, which saps energy for those with chronic illnesses in particular.

In short, the modern workplace simply does not take disabled people into account.

Working remotely, either full time or in a hybrid pattern of sometimes being in the office and sometimes at home, is liberating for disabled people. That’s not to say it doesn’t have issues; having the physical space to work in is often a problem, video conference software is notoriously inaccessible (for example, captions are often poor quality and hidden behind paywalls), and it can be very isolating to work remotely all the time. Where commuting costs have gone down, energy and water use in the home has gone up. However, most disabled people prefer contending with those issues to the problems they encounter in the office and have enjoyed working from home at least some of the time.

Speaking for myself, I don’t have to worry about navigating a physically inaccessible space, contend with the migraines induced by horrible lighting, or sit cross-legged outside the only accessible bathroom in an office of over 200 people waiting for it to become available. I get more work done to a higher standard, and I don’t burn through anywhere near as much energy. There are aspects of my work in clinical trials that require me to be in the office, but with a little planning, these can all be done together on one day so that I can work remotely the rest of the time. My quality of life since hybrid working took off has improved beyond measure, and I don’t think I’ll ever want to work full-time in the office again.

Convenience and accessibility are not laziness. This is true for work, and it’s also true for the plethora of household appliances designed to help disabled people look after themselves that get lambasted as being for lazy people. Put frankly, if you manage a work environment where the role does not physically have to be performed on site all of the time and you don’t offer the option to work remotely, you’re not combatting the self-entitlement and laziness of younger generations; you’re ableist.

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