Has the pandemic opened up a whole new workforce?

By Alex Louth, CEO LUK&I, Logicalis

Let me start with an honest reason for why I have written this post. I have no qualification around disability, this post is driven as I qualify as a very proud dad of a 16 year old who has cerebral palsy and is profoundly deaf. I am a dad who wants my son to have the same opportunities as his two brothers, (so I’m the same as all dads really!) and my question is has the pandemic changed the landscape for members of our communities who have disabilities?

IT MUST HAVE! Right!

Also, now I’m on a real Dad rant, if I were to ask you about diversity, would you mention disabilities? I hope so but I know we need to do much more.

The pandemic enforced a period of disability inclusion. “Virtual living” unlocked aspects of society to millions of disabled people – from Zoom job interviews to streamed gigs to NHS phone appointments.

The shift to remote working over the last 18 months has brought on new opportunities for those previously excluded from the workforce. Difficult everyday commutes – which often include train, bus or car journeys – and inaccessible office buildings were no longer anxieties. The world going online introduced a whole new richly talented group of people to the workforce, and as life slowly returns to its pre-pandemic state, it would be absurd to begin to alienate them once again.

I have a new feeling of hope for my son, where pre pandemic it was a subject I found difficult to answer whilst on the packed train into London and working in my 200 year old office. Now as I sit at home I feel happy there is a change I hope we all exploited and drive.

We talk about the new normal and how we don’t want to go back to the way we used to engage with offices and working from home pattens but should the new normal (I hate that saying btw) be expanded so our new normal covers more and helps make diversity cover what diversity should cover, everyone!

The disability employment gap in the UK is vast – in 2020, the employment rate for disabled people was only 53.7%, compared to 82% for non-disabled people. These figures have been largely stagnant for years and retaining flexible working is one way to address the problem.

Working parents and carers will also see the benefits of companies continuing these schemes. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that almost half of workers lack flexible working opportunities, such as flexitime, part-time hours or job shares. Most said the nature of their job does not allow them to, whilst 20% said that their organisations do not offer any flexible working arrangements. 

Commuting is the barrier   

Around 14.1 million people in the UK are disabled, 19% of which are working-age adults. That’s just over 2.5 million either working or searching for their next career move. As I previously mentioned, “virtual living” inadvertently transformed the way that disabled people live and work. One main difference is no longer having to travel to the office. Many must thoroughly plan train journeys, making sure to remember to request Passenger Assist. Whilst others have had to dramatically extend their commutes to navigate the underground in order to find accessible stations.

The frustrations don’t stop there either. Wheelchair-users often undertake extensive research into whether pathways can accommodate wheelchairs and have dropped curbs, if pavements are routinely blocked by parked cars and if buildings have ramps and lifts. 

Is Technology the Answer?  

In the age of the ‘everywhere enterprise’, technology has been the foundation for its success. As I discussed in my earlier blog, I know from personal experience that technology has allowed Logicalis to continue to prosper as a business. Despite our teams sometimes working thousands of miles apart, technology has allowed our business to continue to feel connected.

Technology has been a key enabler in creating an ‘office with a purpose’. The ‘new office’ no longer needs to be a physical space where everyone travels five days a week. Whilst a physical space away from home allows you to break away from your home environment, collaborative and assistive technologies are proving to be a game-changer. The obvious hardware (a working laptop/computer, reliable Wi-Fi, and a smartphone) paired with cloud computing (offering storage, application management, data analysis, security, etc.) can help you recreate your office anywhere you want. 

As non-disabled people eagerly anticipate the return to normal, we shouldn’t overlook how this could mean disabled people are once again excluded. Despite the difficulties the pandemic has brought for us all, a silver lining was offered to the disabled communities. Ironically, it’s taken a pandemic to force employers to carry out this beneficial kind of remote and flexible working.

So, what is my ask, very simple really, now technology and the new vision of working is in place please open all new roles to everyone! Especially my son!