As the global workforce navigates changes to where and how we do business during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic, I wanted to share some tips for my brothers and sisters in the disability community on how to be effective when working from a remote location. These simple steps will greatly impact your ability to successfully manage your workday, deliver on crucial projects, and feel connected with your colleagues.

1. Develop a Routine

Routines are important for everyone, but for some people with disabilities those routines are crucial to being productive at work. I have a saying I often share with people I am preparing for interviews or training on how to be effective in the workplace, and that is to take control of the things you have control over and you will be better prepared to handle those things out of your control when they arise.

Whether you are a person with a mental health disability, a neurodiverse disability, or a chronic health disability, routines play a large part in how you manage your life. As a person with epilepsy, I understand how disruptions to routines, such as not getting enough sleep, strong spikes in stress, and inconsistency with regards to when medication is taken can impact the overall quality of life for a person with a disability.

In these times of almost constant change to work routines, from work location to hours worked, combined with the feeling of a loss of control with your environment, from a limited access to common household goods to limited ability to engage with loved ones and the community, it is easy to let other positive patterns of behavior be disregarded. My recommendation is to not let that happen.   

Instead, develop a schedule for when you will go to bed each day, break up your work day to meet the needs of your position, identify specific times to eat meals and potentially go outside for a walk or to sit on your porch, schedule when personal assistants should come, set timers to remind yourself when to take medications, and determine the best time for daily grooming. Consider creating a daily checklist of things you need to accomplish and putting times for when you want to accomplish them by.

2. Designate a Workspace

Another action you can take to help you to stay focused and be productive is to designate a specific place in your home to work from. If possible, refrain from selecting high traffic areas of the house such as the kitchen or living room.

Take time to ensure your workspace is uncluttered and comfortable. Pick a chair that offers strong support and allows you to continue to use best practices with regards to posture to avoid stress on your back and for typing. Ensure your workspace is well-lit and free from distractions such as a television. Prior to the start of your day, set up your workspace with a water or coffee, ensure your phone is charged, and review your daily task list.

If you have multiple people in your household that are working from home, try to carve out spaces that allow for some privacy, so you do not have to be concerned about overlap of teleconferences and meetings. If you cannot do that, consider wearing headphones when not on a call to limit distractions.

3. Establish Boundaries

Minimize interruptions by establishing boundaries for when you are available to engage in non-work activities with friends and family members. If there are people that you need to check in with regularly, or who wish to check in with you daily, try to determine a specific day and time for calls so that it is easier for that person to be considerate of when you are at work. Relay your ‘at work’ hours to them and explain that if you are unable to answer a call during that time, it is likely because you are on a work call or busy with a project and not experiencing an emergency. Once you establish a boundary, do not be the one to break it. By being available when you say you will be and not reaching out during ‘at work’ hours will help to reinforce the considerations you are requesting the others to take.

If you are working from home with another person, establish specific times when the two of you are available to spend time with each other, such as meals or time to get out and take a walk or watch a shared television program. See if you can line up breaks to check in with each other. If not, be as respectful of the other person working from home as you want them to be for you.

If you are a parent navigating having your children home while you are working, some effective practices include:

  • Planning activities and projects the children can do that do not require supervision
  • Creating a boredom box that has a variety of items in it for kids to explore
  • Giving them specific times to spend with you
  • Establishing parameters for childcare workers
  • Taking time to exercise as a family on breaks or before or after work
  • Planning family mealtimes
  • Prepping easy-to-grab, kid-friendly snacks
  • Rewarding good behavior

4. Stay Connected

Maintaining contact and being precise with communicating information with your colleagues will greatly impact productivity. Many companies are finding that their technology infrastructure is not prepared to handle the quantity of employees who are currently working remotely. These organizations are getting creative in figuring out ways to keep people productive during this time while managing an overload on their network. This can result in you collaborating on projects with team members who are no longer working the same hours as you, making it harder to get things done.

One thing you can do to help with this is to schedule a meeting close to when two shifts start/end to allow you to connect. When doing this, be respectful of company resources. Because of data limitations, it may no longer be as easy to connect via videoconference and may impact the effectiveness of the meeting when connections are hard to maintain. If that is the case, use the phone to connect. Take time to inquire how your colleague is doing and remind them of how much you appreciate their contributions to the project, make plans for when you get back to the office, and be friendly.

Another thing you can do is to provide a daily report of the status of important tasks assigned to you along with any questions you need answered from your colleague. Let them know of a specific time you will be available over the phone or text, during their working hours if they need to ask you questions. Likewise, share times when you know you will not be available. Remember, when communicating via email and text to be thoughtful with your language so the person knows you are not angry or frustrated with their questions.

5. Communicate Accommodation Needs

During this time, if you need an adjustment to your workplace accommodations or need accommodations for the first time, don’t be silent. While flexibility is important, it is also important to be able to be consistent with job performance. Remember, it is your responsibility as an employee to request an accommodation. If you do not speak up, they will not know that you need assistance. Talk with your supervisor or manager and take the correct steps to submit your accommodation request. Ensure they understand the reason you need the accommodation. For example, one of our employees worked out schedule flexibility to allow him to adjust with regards to sleep patterns being affected by a change in work hours. This allowed the employee to take extra breaks throughout his scheduled work time, as long as he met his required hours and remained productive.

As we all navigate this confusing time, supporting others is crucial to our success within the disability community. We will be continuing to share content via this blog and other outreach channels to support you. If you are currently seeking work, we encourage you to register for our spring virtual career fair for people with disabilities where you can connect with employers remotely or apply now.