Levelling the playing field through remote working

workingwise.co.uk talks to Dr Christine Grant about her work on making remote and hybrid working work better for people with disabilities and neurodivergence.

Desk with laptop and coffee depicting remote working


Remote working is an overwhelmingly positive experience for many people with a disability and/or neurodivergence, according to research by a Coventry University academic.

Prompted by a gap in the research, Dr Christine Grant, an Associate Professor at the university’s Research Centre for Healthcare and Communities, led the Remote4All project which involved collecting data in 2021-22 from remote workers, in particular people with a disability or neurodivergence. The project looked at the benefits and challenges of remote working for this population and sought to discover what might be needed to address any concerns.

“We knew that being able to request remote working was really important for this group,” says Dr Grant, “and what we found was that it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. Many spoke of how useful remote work is for them to gain and sustain work.”

The qualitative research involved very in-depth interviews with 24 workers, other stakeholders and five employers including the NHS, Vodafone and neurobox. Following this research, Dr Grant’s team did a survey of over 600 disabled and neurodivergent people.

Not only was remote working found to be overwhelmingly beneficial for this group – who make up 20% of the working population, but some people said that without it they would not be able to work at all and others said that if remote working was not part of the reasonable adaptation for their disability they may have to leave their job. It can also help people have greater autonomy over how they manage their own care, for instance, pacing themselves if they have a chronic illness.

No one-size-fits-all approach

Dr Grant, who gave evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee* this month on how disabled people can be better supported to start and stay in work, says there is a need to destigmatise flexible working requests and to open up conversations between line managers and those who might want more flexibility. That might mean hybrid or remote working in cases where people are not working on the frontline. Stigmatising flexible/remote working can have a disproportionate effect on the most vulnerable, she says.

What is also important, she says, is that line managers don’t make assumptions and don’t adopt a one-size-fits-all approach. “They need to promote a culture of openness and trust,” she states. That means employees can feel psychologically safe enough to start conversations on how they work and can ask for any support them need, for instance, from occupational health.

While Dr Grant recognises there may be some downsides to remote working for disabled and neurodivergent people – for instance, overworking or isolation which, for people who may already be socially isolated, could make things worse – she says there needs to be a focus on amplifying the benefits through careful management, including regular check-ins and ensuring remote workers have visibility at work. She adds that hybrid working can help address the benefits and challenges of remote and office working.

Dr Grant is currently working on a toolkit for line managers which aims to offer guidance on how to open up remote working conversations. She says her research found some line managers were not even aware that remote working might be a possible option for people with disabilities or neurodivergence. The toolkit will help managers with conversation starters and with knowing the right questions to ask in a sensitive way. It will also emphasise the need to listen. “Line managers need to let people speak and not make assumptions on their behalf and then give them the support that is required, especially in this case where there is so much complexity and a need for understanding,” she says. “That is what makes for sustainable working.”

Remote working policies

The toolkit should be ready in the next six months to a year. Dr Grant says the employers she has been in contact with have been ‘exemplary’ and are keen to make their workplaces more inclusive. She adds that the pandemic has really made a difference when it comes to remote and hybrid jobs, but she says there is still more to do on levelling the recruitment process for people who are disabled or neurodivergent, particularly when it comes to psychometric testing. 

She is also keen to encourage employers to develop remote policies, whether these are part of their overall flexible working guidance or standalone policies. The toolkit could then be part of them, she says, adding that employee networks are also a key tool when it comes to support for disabled and neurodivergent workers and help to give them a bigger voice.

*Dr Grant’s submission to the Committee can be found here.

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