Working from home with a spinal cord injury

One of the people we've supported, working from home.

Read on for a guide by Becky Hill, our former chair of trustees, on her top tips for working from home with a spinal cord injury.

As part of the Back Up to Work course we explore flexible forms of working as reasonable adjustments for those newly injured or for those who haven’t worked following their spinal cord injury that are looking to get back into work. Home-working is often discussed as an option that can suit many people, for a variety of reasons.

Many workers and employers were forced to embrace the prospect of home-based working when lockdown first started in March this year. It has been proven that working from home can be just as productive, if not more so, than working from the office. Whatever the future holds, many businesses and employees are continuing to work from home. It negates the need to commute, often avoiding long journey times and packed public transport and provides flexibility. Especially with families with kids at home, home-schooling, or for others with caring responsibilities.

The benefits of working from home can be particularly relevant for those with a spinal cord injury. Home working can be a useful reasonable adjustment to enable a return to work following injury. Now it has become a form of flexible working for most office-based workers, it should be much easier for disabled employees to request such forms of working. It will benefit those who otherwise might find travel to an office difficult, have support from PAs for their personal needs, or have other health or routine implications that impact on normal working hours. Work can often fit around these considerations.

It’s worth noting though that working from home doesn’t always suit everyone. Many value the social interaction of work, particularly in an office environment. Some job roles cannot be completed from home – think about manufacturing or production line roles, as examples. Others just need more support and supervision, or benefit from a face to face creative and interactive environment. Some people also just don’t have the space at home to work effectively.

For those that do work from home or are considering it as part of a return to work plan, here are a few things to consider to make it work as efficiently as possible.

Things to consider:

 

Space & technology – This may depend on whether you are working from home occasionally or more permanently, but think about where you will work. Some may be fortunate enough to have a separate workshop/office in the garden or have a spare room you can convert to an office. Others may use the kitchen table or the sofa. Ideally you need space that is comfortable, secure and where you are likely to be uninterrupted. Although we all know this has been difficult for many with other family members or flat-mates working from home and home schooling. Many employers have been flexible and understanding on this point during lockdown. You’ll also need to ensure you have sufficient broadband speed to allow for increased use of online remote working platforms especially during busy times.

Switching off – ‘Working from Home’ has also been dubbed ‘Living at the Office’! There has certainly been an increase in ‘virtual presenteeism’ while employees have been working remotely, with many employees feeling pressured to always be online. This has caused the lines between work and family life to become blurred. It’s far too easy to fall into the trap of leaving your work laptop, or phone always on and to keep checking for messages. It’s important to set yourself boundaries and to be able to physically and mentally ‘switch-off’ to maintain a good work-life balance and positive mental well-being.

Communication –When working remotely from colleagues and your managers, it’s important that channels of communication are kept open and are used. Teams often devise ways of keeping each other informed. It helps to let others know when you’re working and available but equally when you’re not. This helps prevent frustration in this ‘here and now’ world when we all expect responses straight away.

Allow for breaks – Pre Covid-19, in between meetings we might grab a coffee, have a light-hearted chat with colleagues, or move to a different meeting room. It is harder to do that at home, but not impossible. Make sure you give yourself time for breaks in between work tasks and calls to refresh and avoid back-to-back video calls where possible.

Don’t lose the social aspect – For many people, office space is not always a reflection of productivity, but is a place you share with your co-workers and often signifies collaboration and friendship. People seek purpose, peer-to-peer interactions and somewhere to meet and be inspired by other people working. It’s a good idea to incorporate social catch-ups as part of a working day, to recreate that five-minute chat with your colleague at the coffee machine and to keep those bonds strong.

Do you have any questions about work and spinal cord injury? We can help. Call us on 020 8875 1805.

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