The Hallway Commute
What was thought impossible by most employers just a few years ago has become commonplace. Teleworking is the new normal for many industries.
The last two years have been trying. So many of the ways we interact with the broader world have changed dramatically. Parents have become teachers–in more ways than usual. Friends and loved ones exchange hug emojis because in-person gatherings are few and far between. The aisles in the grocery store see more shoppers who deliver than families looking for dinner ideas. And, rooms in our homes have increasingly become permanent offices as fewer and fewer people are going back to office buildings. Teleworking is the new normal for many industries. What was thought impossible by most employers just a few years ago has become commonplace.
In a survey done by PwC, 77 percent of America’s office workers transitioned to working from home (WFH) due to the pandemic. Going back to an office is not an enticing prospect for a large percentage of those workers. And, seeing an uptick in productivity from WFH staff, the notion that telecommuting has adverse outcomes for the bottom line has been put to pasture, thanks to a reality that shows the opposite. The pandemic’s impact on our work lives will be with us for a long time to come. And, some businesses may never go back to pre-COVID work policies. But, some will revert to old practices, while others will see a hybrid of the old and the new. As we enter year three of the pandemic, only the perspective of history will tell how it all shakes out.
Undoubtedly, there are perks to being a WFH employee–sleeping later, shorter and less costly commute, and lax dress codes. It can also be the best option for persons with disabilities. They, along with their advocates, have been lobbying for flexible work schedules and remote work options for many years only to face barriers from employers who believed traditional ways of doing business were the only viable ones. Coupled with the fact that disabled persons are unemployed at rates double those of their non-disabled counterparts, the options for successful careers are limited. If anything good has come from the pandemic, it’s that we now know a lot of work can happen at the kitchen table just as well as the cubicle. And, this should—but does not—work to the benefit of disabled employees. As employers look to the future, disabled persons continue to be absent from the conversation about what that landscape looks like and their place in it. Additionally, many disabled people are living hand-to-mouth because of poverty-inducing governmental benefits.
This means that with most applications taking place primarily online, the lack of access to technology, because of a lack of resources, can put the kibosh on applying if one is disabled. Additionally, many people with disabilities do not have the luxury of an in-person application as they are more at risk than most for health complications due to the pandemic. Barriers abound. But, it does not have to be that way.
“We need to connect the dots here. If it benefits [the disabled] community, it benefits everyone, particularly the disabled community. It’s the largest minority group in the country.” —Vilissa Thompson, LMSW
However, not everyone has the advantage of a job that can be done from home. There are countless industries for which in-person attendance is the only option. And, the majority of people in these positions earn far less than those who can work from home and face higher rates of unemployment. PwC’s 2020 survey found that those earning less than $27,000 per year have an unemployment rate of 20 percent. That is significant. With the risk of just being in public, people like our cashiers, service workers, educators, and medical personnel face the brunt of the pandemic. They are paying a steep price for doing so.
And, lest we think that working from home is all ups and no downs, it is not. The problems that isolation presents for one person are different from what that looks like for others. I am an identical twin living with my husband and adult-disabled son; my sister is single. I am never alone, and she is always alone. The impact on both of our psyches is profound and, at times, challenging to navigate. And then you have the families with children who try to navigate homeschooling, teleworking, and having something left at the end of the day for their partner. The mental health struggle can be significant. Many of those who now work from home while holding class in their living rooms miss the adult-to-adult interactions and socialization that comes with working in a central location with other adults. We are, after all, social creatures that thrive in communities. The isolation of the last two years has frayed the edges of even the strongest among us.
What You Can Do
There is no shame in asking for help. If you are or know someone who struggles with mental health challenges, NAMI may be able to help you. Are you looking to make your workplace more inclusive, more diverse? Vilissa Thompson, LMSW of Ramp Your Voice has the tools to help.
Live in N.Y.? City Workers for N.Y. created this petition. Consider signing and supporting the movement for teleworkers in the Big Apple. If you live in another state, you can always pen your own and invite your friends and family to sign, text state to get started.
Join Resistbot Live on Sunday, January 16th, as we listen to and learn more about teleworking and its impact on our communities.