Telecommuting is a direct path to the workplace of the future, especially for people with disabilities. And it works to an employer’s advantage, too.
Think Beyond the Label is hosting an online career fair on July 30. Powered by Brazen Careerist, the career fair lets employers network with qualified candidates with disabilities. Join employers including Aetna, IBM and Merck by registering here.
Redefining success is the current theme in today’s workplace, with more workers seeking what Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington recently coined “work/life fit.” This is the philosophy that workers—especially women—need and want more autonomy and control over their work environment, including work-from-home arrangements.
Study after study shows why telecommuting is the gem of all benefits. In a report from Global Workplace Analytics, more than half of hiring managers surveyed say GenY is more difficult to recruit and retain, but they’re particularly attracted to flexible work programs. And a poll of 1,500 technology professionals revealed that more than one-third would take a 10 percent pay cut for the opportunity to work from home.
So why do employees want the option to telecommute?
Workers who are able to take advantage of telework programs are generally happier, stay longer and have fewer unscheduled absences. Apart from attracting a younger workforce that desires to work remotely, offering telecommuting can also help recruiters expand their talent pool to include people with disabilities, who often can truly reap the extraordinary benefits and flexibility that remote work brings—especially if they can’t physically get to an office every day.
Just think about someone who has multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that affects 400,000 people in the US. It has no cure. Having MS means a person can have some perfectly normal days, and other days where it’s difficult to walk. The ability for an employee to telecommute spares her from having to take a sick day, and signals the employer’s commitment to supporting her and other people with disabilities in the workplace. She’s more apt to stay longer and be happier.
Here’s proof: In a recent survey from Think Beyond the Label, a nonprofit working to increase job opportunities for people with disabilities, eight out of 10 workers with disabilities say they would prefer the option to telecommute to other sought-after perks such as free meals and flexible spending programs. In the survey, telecommuting was the second-ranked workplace benefit after paid time off. Also, 17 percent of respondents say they telecommute to accommodate a disability, while a larger portion—37 percent—say their employer allows them to telecommute, revealing that job seekers with disabilities look for employers that are tuned into shifting workplace ideals.
“People with disabilities, like anyone else, look for jobs that offer strong workplace benefits such as telecommuting,” says Barbara Otto, principal of Think Beyond the Label. “By offering telecommuting, employers can cast a wider net for talent and open up more full-time employment opportunities to this group,” she says.
Otto cites Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2013, where eight of the top 10 companies offer telecommuting options, and DiversityInc’s Top 10 Companies for People with Disabilities, where flexible work options are a criterion for the award.
For example, Ernst & Young, the global professional services firm, offers flexible work programs. “Anything we can do to enable our people to make them more productive, regardless of ability, is integral to our business,” says Lori Golden, Abilities Strategy Leader. “This includes providing them with the right physical environment for their needs as well as the tools they need.”
And it’s a strong recruiting strategy too; Golden says younger workers in particular are “more accustomed to asking for what they need.”
Telecommuting can work in the employer’s favor, too
Telecommuting is often cited as a productivity enhancer—workers save the long commutes to and from the office and don’t have to interact with chatty coworkers if they’re busy. Plus, technology, including assistive technologies and devices, makes everyone work faster and more efficiently.
The Think Beyond the Label survey revealed that nearly three-fourths of people with disabilities believe telecommuting makes them more efficient in their jobs. A good example is someone who is paraplegic, uses a wheelchair and needs help getting ready for work. They may also need to use public transportation if they don’t drive a car, which can add hours to a workday. While their brain works fine, their legs might not, but that shouldn’t stop them from having meaningful work.
The benefits of hiring a person with a disability are enormous, says Otto. People with disabilities have had to adapt and creatively solve problems that others haven’t faced, and thus have innovative thinking and fresh perspectives that organizations need and that are valuable for product development, marketing, employee recruitment and enhancing teams. “I like to tell businesses that if they want someone who thinks outside the box, hire someone who lives outside the box,” Otto says.
That’s not to say that a person with a disability needs to telecommute to hold a job. Then again, neither does a Millennial. The message is that to cast a wider net for talent, to be seen as an employer of choice and to keep employees happy on the work-life balance scale, telecommuting gives employers great leverage—and a direct path to the workplace of the future.
Suzanne Robitaille is the founder of abledbody.com and a recognized writer on disability issues. She is the author of The Illustrated Guide to Assistive Technologies & Devices.