Keep calm and carry on digitally – adapting to the new normal

Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum

Diane Lightfoot looks at camera

At Business Disability Forum, we talk a lot about the adapting to the “new normal”. That’s usually in the context of when someone becomes disabled or is diagnosed with a new long-term condition but it is also what we are all doing right now – adapting to new ways of working (and living) as the new normal – albeit, we hope, a temporary one.

It’s strange to think about how much has changed in the four weeks since we moved to wholesale remote working. And, after the initial stasis (partly caused by shock and partly by too enthusiastically following Joe Wicks’ daily PE broadcast), we quickly realised that actually most of what we do can be done remotely. Our Advice Service, and our Business Partners are still on the end of a phone or email. Our resources are digital. Even some of our face to face to events can be held remotely – learning and development courses are becoming webinars, for example.

But to be human is to connect: “Only connect”. And though there is a lot that can be done remotely, we need to work harder to make and keep those connections. At Business Disability Forum, we’ve set up daily Microsoft Teams meetings as an opportunity for everyone to check in, catch up with their colleagues and share news on a given topic. They are voluntary to attend but I have been struck – and enormously touched – by the number of people joining every day and the hugely positive team spirit that is shining through as we navigate this strange new landscape.

Of course, any form of catch up needs to be inclusive and accessible so that all can engage and we were delighted to welcome Hector Minto from Microsoft to last week’s Covid-19 webinar (which we are offering free of charge to members and non-members alike – read on for further details) to talk through the inbuilt accessibility and inclusivity features that are already on hand for many of us.

But inclusive communication isn’t just about technical platforms. The nuance that is possible when communicating face to face is often lost when communicating remotely, which means taking care over how emails are worded is even more important. Remember too that not everyone communicates in the same way so try to avoid in-jokes or colloquialisms “it’s raining cats and dogs” which may be lost in translation.

Some employees will also need a bit more support in establishing a new way of working, particularly if a set routine is important to them. People managers might need to help an employee to work out coping mechanisms or signals to separate work and leisure time and to remember to log off rather than letting work blur into the evening. That might not be easy if they are having to get used to new co-workers (family members!) and to juggling work with caring – or schooling – responsibilities and so conversely, you may need to allow employees to schedule their work for different times to usual to allow them to care for children or other family members. This might mean that they work in the evenings or start early in the day.

But if you are working remotely, how can you tell if someone is struggling? There are signs that you can look out for that might indicate that someone who works for you is not well or not coping. Signs to notice might be the way in which the person behaves or talks about physical symptoms or changes in behaviour, such as missing deadlines, forgetting tasks or seeming overly emotional or withdrawn. None of these alone indicate that someone might be experiencing ill-health, but you should be wondering whether something might be wrong if the behaviour is out of character or unusual for that individual or carries on for a long period of time.

We know that this is a tough time for business and that’s why we’ve created a new Covid-19 toolkit specifically to help businesses support disabled employees, customers and clients and people with compromised immune systems. Available to all organisations free of charge, it contains a range of factsheets, webinars, FAQs and other resources that can all be downloaded to print, share or upload to your intranet. We are adding new content regularly so please do check back for updates. We also have a weekly webinar series on Covid-19 – also free – which you can sign up to here and you can download previous instalments on our website too. If there is something you would like to share in a webinar or a topic you’re interested in that we haven’t yet covered, please get in touch!

And today we are launching a survey to find out how you are responding to Covid-19 in terms of support to your disabled employees. The link to the survey is here and we will use the results to inform the resources and support we create to help you through this difficult time.

Meanwhile, our advice service, website, hub and Business Partners are all here to support you so please do get in touch. Stay safe.