As the pandemic ushered in a new era of working from home for many, we're left wondering how to remain connected to our colleagues and team. To utilize a new term, those working from home are not working remotely or working from home. They are now working as nomads existing in the digital landscape, joining teams without much context, and having limited knowledge about individual members on that team. Although there are many benefits to working from home, such as being able to use your own set-ups and features like screen readers for those with disabilities, we are losing our human and cultural connections with our colleagues. The question is: how can working from home still have that interplay with bosses, colleagues, and teams while maintaining boundaries?
The missing office experience
People entering the workforce today don't have the water cooler discussions since we're meeting virtually, missing that in-person connection. Water cooler discussions and meetings are how you get to know your bosses and colleagues. Junior staff members are usually trying to figure out what is needed to meet the obligations of the role. And it can be even worse for a person with a disability. With 3.7 million (20%) of working-age adults having one or more disabilities, you must consider their needs as well.
How does the remote new hire get included and treated as an equal? How do they learn someone identifies as a person with a disability? How do they learn the rules and culture of the new organization?
When you are all in one location, new hires can learn about their new work environment by osmosis—simply watching and learning what people say to create a mental understanding of the company culture. This has worked well in the past, but it hasn't been an option for almost two years now.
Employers might have completely new considerations for individuals with disabilities, depending on their specific situation. For example, you might need to enable the transcript (CC) and other functions on video calls. Some accounts allow you record the transcript and store it where people can access it. However, some do not have a process to see the recorded version. There might not be a way to review the transcript of the meeting and listen to the video recording.
Learning to thrive in distributed teams
First, you need to recognize there's a problem and try to replicate the in-person office experience as much as possible. Before a new employee even starts take the extra time to check and verify their computer setup. This could mean making sure the computer works correctly, including VPN settings, email is operating, and ensuring they have access to necessary databases and tools. A manager should also meet with new employees on their first day and regularly check-in throughout the first few months.
From an office culture perspective, schedule regular virtual gatherings where team members can socialize, get to know each other, and discuss issues unrelated to work. Managers should create [virtual] opportunities to for lunch, coffee, and other social interactions to encourage teams to be more collaborative amongst themselves.
Mentorship is more important than ever in our current virtual working environment. Now multiple mentors are key, and the mentorship role is more important to new employees than it was before. Therefore, employers may want to assign a mentor for new employees, so they have a connection from the very start.
For distributed teams, where people are working from homes in various locations, the human need is still there. Keep it simple and use the existing video technology to schedule a virtual meeting late Friday afternoon for a happy hour. There are benefits from in-person meetings that are difficult to replicate in a virtual space, but that's why it's important to create a space where team members can gather and talk.
BDO can help
Connection amongst your team is more important than ever. Recognize and develop solutions for the varying issues that exist for people with disabilities. Don't forget about social interactions. Reach out to our professionals if you need help in creating a barrier-free virtual workplace.