How Remote Work Changed Working With a Disability
Remote and hybrid work policies that started with the pandemic seem to be sticking around for the long term. The result for many employees with disabilities has been reduced stress and greater autonomy to care for themselves while they work.
An electric kettle, tea bags and sweetener sit on a small tray next to a desk. The room is quiet. The lights are off, the curtains drawn. A BECU employee created this setting at home so she can manage her disability and feel at peace while she works.
When the pandemic forced businesses to close offices, employers rapidly transitioned many workers to remote roles. Now, nearly 60% of U.S. workers who say their jobs can be done from home continue to work from home all or most of the time, according to the Pew Research Center.
It's important to note that most U.S. workers don't have remote jobs, and people with disabilities are overrepresented in service-industry jobs they can't do from home.
But for those with disabilities who do work from home, many say it's made balancing work and managing their own needs easier.
"If I'm experiencing a lot of pain, I don't have to put on that 'brave face' I wear in public," said a BECU employee. "That actually takes a lot of energy that I can save and use for work."
BECU's Transition to Remote and Hybrid Work
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, less than 10% of BECU's employees were in remote roles.
At the height of the pandemic, the numbers shifted dramatically — and they have stayed that way. Of the more than 2,700 employees, 70% are now in remote roles.
About 9.4% of BECU's employees have voluntarily disclosed they have a disability. The number of people with disabilities is likely higher since people often choose not to share that information with their employer.
BECU recognizes hybrid and remote work arrangements enable employees to do their best work, and offering employees that option keeps BECU competitive in attracting and retaining talent, according to BECU's Employee Hybrid Work Guide.
Feeling Safe and In Control
One of the biggest benefits of working from home is the ability to customize a workspace.
For those with a disability, that customization is even more important, giving employees space to manage their work and their health in ways that work best for them.
"Remote work has provided me with a safe space that is tailored to my physical and mental needs and has allowed me to flourish," one BECU employee said.
One employee bought a special gaming chair and a trackball mouse with multiple configurations that help him feel comfortable working all day. Another values her webcam because it's an important part of staying connected with her coworkers.
Employees with mobility issues can avoid the stress of commuting, especially during periods of inclement weather. Others can reduce stimuli such as light and sound if they need to. People whose disabilities cause them pain can take a break to rest without having to take a whole day off.
"Being able to use my home, which is set up for my needs, I have noticed that I have been able to reduce time off for doctors' appointments and sick time," a BECU employee said.
Improved Work-Life Balance
For people who like working from home, some of the benefits are universal. Things like being home to see kids off to school or greet them when they get home, walking the dog, or having more time to cook are all benefits that BECU employees with disabilities described.
But having a disability can come with more medical appointments, medication deliveries and changes in energy levels.
Managing those everyday needs can be easier for people with disabilities if they don't have to go into an office.
Working and living in the same space can also make it more challenging to find work-life balance.
"When I first started working from home, I had to learn to separate myself from the room I work in," a BECU employee said. "It's challenging sometimes to leave work at home when you work at home. I've had to learn how to literally close my office door every night and not open it until my next shift."
Asked what the biggest downside was of working from home with a disability, several BECU employees said they missed interacting with other people in person.
"I miss the potlucks and having lunch with coworkers, the banter you develop with your teammates," a BECU employee said.
The sense of isolation can trigger depression for some people.
"It just means I have to be more purposeful with my connections," one employee said, "to build those relationships with coworkers and leadership."