AHEAD: Association for Higher Education Access & Disability
Creating inclusive environments in education & employment for people with disabilities.


Remote Work and Individual Differences - The Freedom to Work Well

In recent years, remote work has emerged as a transformative trend in the professional landscape, offering individuals the freedom to work outside of the traditional office setting. While the recent pandemic sped up the adoption of remote work, it is important to note that remote work in a post-pandemic world is not the same as working from home to enable social distancing.

Remote work in a general sense is a way of viewing work as a thing that we do, it is not a place or a time. During the pandemic, remote work meant working from our houses and often during our usual working hours that we kept in the office. However, truly remote work allows us to work from any location and during any hours; its focus is on the outcomes of our efforts, not where or when they take place.

The key difference between remote work during and after the pandemic is the element of choice. During the pandemic, we did not have a choice in where we worked. Office workers were instructed to work from home and offices were closed. Now, some organisations are returning fully to the office, others are continuing to be fully remote, others again are using a hybrid model (where there are some in-office days and some remote days). The ideal situation for individual employees is that there is an opportunity for in-person interaction with colleagues but attendance is not mandatory or expected.

The reason that this is the best option is that it allows for individual differences and preferences. This matters because it is easier to be more productive, engaged and satisfied by our work if we are comfortable in our work environment. We are all individuals and have different needs, so it follows that we are not all going to be equally comfortable in the same work environment. There are many individual differences that remote working allows us to embrace. We will discuss a few of these below but the range of our individual differences is huge and that is why choice and a fully location- and time-free remote model is the ideal in allowing both individuals and businesses to reap the benefits of remote work.

 Energy Patterns

Our energy patterns are influenced by our natural preferences for when we wake up and go to sleep as well as factors in our lives that can impact this. For example, many of us experience energy fluctuations during the day due to health conditions and treatments. Others experience difficulty falling or staying asleep for different reasons, such as stress, anxiety, or the impact of medication.

Additionally, our energy patterns can be impacted by our environment. Introverts recharge their energy when they have time alone and use up energy in social situations. Extroverts experience the reverse of this.

A traditional ‘9 to 5’, in-office environment expects us to work at times when we may not be at our best. It can even cause us to miss hours of the working day entirely if we are unable to work at certain times. Remote work allows us to accommodate these differences in energy patterns throughout the day as we can get work done at the times when our energy is at its highest and we are functioning at our best.

Although not every remote role allows for flexible hours, managing our own energy patterns and matching our workload to them as much as possible throughout the day can be helpful.

 Physical & Mental Health 

In a remote environment, all individuals, including those with disabilities, have the opportunity to optimise their remote work environment for productivity and comfort. This might take the form of certain office equipment or types of seating, wrist rests etc. It could also be the freedom to manage various sensory elements such as noise levels, temperature or brightness in your workspace. It also means that the work dress code can be more flexible, allowing employees to dress in casual, comfortable clothing and wear more traditional work clothes for meetings where they will be visible on camera or to in-person interactions.

Remote working also respects an individual’s right not to disclose any health conditions if they do not need to or want to. A flexible schedule also makes it easier to attend medical appointments as you do not need to look for time off in the middle of the day or use up annual leave. Instead, you can work your job around your life.  For a lot of individuals, it can also be easier to take medication or use treatments at home where you can do so at the time you need and in a way that is comfortable. It also limits the possibility of forgetting to bring medications with you to work and having to choose to go without or to return home to get them. Additionally, you can arrange your working hours around any temporary flare ups in health conditions without having to miss working hours, or with minimal disruption to work hours.

 Emotional Health 

Remote work provides a controlled and familiar environment, reducing commute-related stressors, fatigue and other triggers for those with sensory sensitivities. Individuals with social anxiety or disabilities such as autism may find traditional office environments overwhelming and may benefit from the ability to manage their environment.

There may also be more tools available to us at home to reduce and manage stress in our home environment. This could be as simple as calming ourselves by taking a break and sitting with our pets. It is also easier to take a break without worrying about others’ perceptions of you, as well as being easier to take a break in a private space.

Remote work is not just a change in the location of work; it's a cultural shift that acknowledges and embraces individual differences and the need for choice in working environments. As noted in a report from Employers for Change and The Open Doors Initiative (Nov 2021), this benefits both people with disabilities as it provides greater working options that allow for individual management of disabling conditions around work commitments, and employers, who can avail of a greater, more diverse talent pool. In a world where diversity and inclusion is celebrated, remote work stands as a beacon of opportunity for individuals to thrive both personally and professionally, unlocking the potential for a more inclusive and fulfilling work experience.

For more details and resources in relation to remote working, including remote job boards and remote employer lists, please see the link for the wonderful resource library developed by the team at Grow Remote.

Grow Remote also provides fully-funded remote skills training for people who have never worked remotely before (Remote Work Ready) and for people who have some remote or hybrid work experience but would like to enhance their skills (Thriving Remotely). Contact laura.tighe@growremote.ie for more information.

First published January 2024

Guest Blog Author: Laura Tighe Image of Laura Tighe with short brown hair wearing a grey top

As part of the Grow Remote team, Laura creates a great learner experience and successful outcomes for people looking to break into and thrive in a remote working environment through their training programmes. She is experienced in creating impactful, skills-oriented learning across a range of industries and has 10 years’ experience working in various education settings with both face to face and online learning. She is a big believer in lifelong learning and that it is never too late to develop new skills.

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