How managers can support employees with disability to work from home

By Shannon Jenkins

Monday April 20, 2020

The Australian Public Service Commission has released guidance on how managers can help staff with disability adjust to working-from-home arrangements during the coronavirus pandemic.

The four principles call on managers to support the individual requirements of workers with disability by exploring a range of solutions, having an open mind, and effectively and regularly communicating with staff.

Ask the question

The APSC notes that the support or accessibility needs of some employees may change when working from home. It suggests managers initiate an “open conversation” with staff to find out about their unique requirements.

“A good place to start is your employee’s existing workplace support plan or workplace adjustment passport, which should identify support and/or individual work, health and safety considerations,” the APSC says.

“Everyone is different; don’t make assumptions about needs or capabilities. Taking the time to ask is a vital step in supporting all team members equally.”

Managers should also consider whether an employee has a support worker or family member that they might need to contact, and whether they have permission to do so.

Explore solutions

Managers should support employees who need assistive technology or other equipment to work from home, the APSC says. If this cannot be done immediately, managers should look for interim solutions, re-adjust the support plan, or reach out to other APS agencies that may have the capacity to provide the needed adjustments.

If a staff member is unable to perform their usual work, managers should consider:

  • redesigning work if needed (refer to the job customisation page on the Disability Employment Australia website),
  • a different role, other tasks within the agency, or a temporary mobility opportunity in another agency that the employee might be able to undertake,
  • learning and development opportunities the employee could undertake instead,
  • leave entitlements, but only as a last resort, if working from home cannot be facilitated or other options are not possible.

Be flexible about flexibility

Managers should have an “open, flexible mindset” while also being clear about roles and responsibilities. Expected work hours should be discussed with staff, the APSC recommends.

“Set realistic expectations and timeframes on work to be done and allow additional time wherever possible if there are barriers identified,” it notes.

Managers should also:

  • consider employees’ individual circumstances and the support they need outside of their disability,
  • regularly review flexible work arrangements and adjustments to ensure they balance the changing needs of employees, managers and workplaces,
  • look at what’s working well and adjust the things that aren’t.

Communicate

Communicating regularly and clearly via the appropriate channels — such as phone, email, instant messenger, or video — is “critical in supporting all employees to feel connected, supported and engaged”, the APSC says.

Managers should:

  • ensure everyone has equal access to information and is included in workplace discussions — especially if they are virtual,
  • ask which channels of communication work best for the employee,
  • consider a meeting summary, or follow up with individuals after meetings to convey important information,
  • encourage and support employees to set up a routine, create healthy boundaries for starting and finishing work, and schedule regular break times,
  • expect that employees will be feeling anxious and may need reassurance or time to adjust,
  • check in regularly,
  • set aside time for virtual catch-ups with employees one-on-one and as a team,
  • consider whether documents are digitally accessible for assistive technology, and if digital platforms work for those who have low vision or are hard of hearing,
  • communicate in a way that is appropriate for all employees when conveying complex information relating to COVID-19.

 

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