2004 Conference Proceedings

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 2004 Table of Contents 


Michael Burks
5212 Covington Bend Drive
Raleigh, NC 27613
Phone: 919-870-8788
Email: mburks952@att.net


Telework (or working from home on a regular basis using information and communication technologies) offers unprecedented opportunities for people with disabilities and employers. Employers get a reliable, committed employee, while people with disabilities receive career opportunities they might not have had without telework. Properly managed, it is a winning situation for both the employer and the employee. There are important considerations for both the employee and the employer, and this paper will discuss some of them.

Disabilities (especially physical disabilities) are less relevant in the cyberworld. They are compensated for by information networks and appropriate tools. In many cases teleworkers do not know if their colleagues who are teleworking are disabled or not, nor do they care. The only thing they are interested in is the quality of the results. - [1]

This creates advantages for employee and employer alike. High quality work is created without the distraction of looks, disability, or any other physical factors normally seen in the work place. This paper will explore these advantages as well as issues in implementing telework.

Properly managed, telework can prove advantageous for both employer and employee. Employee. General issues Some of the advantages to both employer and employee are not directly connected to disabilities. They are common amongst all employees who engage in telework.

Increased Productivity
Telework can improve productivity by providing a friendlier work environment and reducing the stress of commuting. The worker spends less time and effort getting to and from work, and is able to work in a more controlled environment. While this is important for everyone, for people with disabilities such as muscular dystrophy it can be a critical factor in their being able to work.

Less Commuting Time
Reducing the number of commuting days definitely makes the employee's life easier - and helps to increase their productivity and morale.

Better balance between work and non work issues.
Balancing work and non-work issues is important to everyone. Telework can help to balance these competing demands. Disability Related Issues Some of the issues involved with telework are directly related to the employee's disability. Properly handled, they can produce a positive, productive work environment. Work Environment Designed to accommodate worker's disability Telework offers the worker the opportunity to design an office environment that best fits their needs.

More privacy and fewer distractions
Working at home is less distracting than in the office, and more private. Results-centered Environment - disability is not a distraction to others Telework can produce an environment centered on the employee's results. The disability won't be a distraction to others; often they don't or won't need to know about it. [1] Training Issues The employee must receive training in both job-related areas and in the use of any needed assistive technologies. If using distance learning or other types of education, they need to make their trainer aware of any special needs. Employers General issues Many issues that make telework a positive process for employers apply to all employees. Reduced Cost Three obvious and important cost reductions are:

There are many other possible ways to reduce costs. [2]

More Satisfied Workers
Telework increases job satisfaction, and happy workers are more productive workers

Reduced Absenteeism
Teleworkers who might not be able to come into the office because of weather (for example) are still able to work. [2] Worker Retention Satisfied workers are more likely to stay with their current employer, saving expenses associated with hiring replacements. [2] Disability Related Issues Retention of Older Experienced Workers The experience of senior workers is valuable and hard to replace, and telework has the potential to help keep this experience at work, even if those o workers have become disabled. [2] Increased Productivity in Disabled workers Workers who are disabled can customize their environment to help them to be more effective. [2] Larger pool of workers to choose from When geography isn't an issue, employers have much more talent available. [2] Training Issues While distance education allows students to learn from home, the curriculum should be otherwise accessible to people with disabilities.

Social Responsibility
Reducing commuting reduces air pollution, contributing to a higher quality of life. Additionally, increased work/family balance and job satisfaction help workers live a better life. [2] Making it work Employee. There are a number of things an employee should do to ensure telework will benefit the employee and employer. General issues Personal Assessment The employee should assess themselves as to whether they can successfully telework. [4] Making your case, The employee must make a good case for telework, outlining the benefits to the employer. [5] Setting up your Office, The office to be used should be comfortable, safe, and productive. [6] Setting up a Routine, A daily routine will help the employee separate work from other activities. [9] Trust, Mutual trust between the employee and management is a must. Clearly defined work hours and management by results are critical factors.

Disability Related Issues
Some of the most important issues for an employee with a disability are related to the use of assistive technology.

Assistive Technology
Some of the issues in choosing and using assistive technology include:

Getting appropriate Training
If training is available on new assistive technology, it will improve employee efficiency and effectiveness. Training in job function areas is also vital. It is the employee's responsibility to make management aware of any special needs. Employers General issues Have a Telework Policy A telework policy ensures that the employee, his or her management, and the company have clearly defined roles and responsibilities. [10]

Supervision and Support
Management should use the appropriate management style to achieve goals without regard to location.

The employee and manager must both work to build trust. As examples, managers should not leave virtual employees out of meetings, and employees must be proactive in keeping their management abreast of their work.

Disability Related Issues
Some of the issues involved with making telework successful for employees with disabilities are related to the specific disability. Equipment and supplies The employer should make sure the employee can get their equipment easily serviced, and that the employee can get needed supplies. Assistive technology Employers should approach the use of assistive technology just as they approach the use of any other technology. Technical Support Technical support for assistive technology should be provided within the same structure used to support other technologies. Specialized support may need to be outsourced. Compatibility Issues Limit software and hardware choices to those that work well together. This will reduce support costs and increase productivity.

Training Issues
The employer should ensure training on both assistive technology and work related issues is available to the employee. Things to Remember In order to be successful in a telework environment, there are some things that the employee should remember to do. [7],[8]

Telework offers excellent opportunities for both employees with disabilities and employers. Properly managed by both the employee and the employer, it can be a positive and economically, environmentally and socially advantageous experience for all.

The secret is for both the employee and the employer to properly manage the arrangement to produce good, solid results for everyone involved in the telework process.

Michael Burks is a Principal Member of the Technical Staff for AT&T WorldNet. A member of the disabled community, he's the Webmaster and PIO for the International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet (www.icdri.org).

Joseph Roitz is the AT&T Telework Director and a member of the Board of Directors of the International Telework Association and Council (ITAC). The views expressed are those of the authors, and not necessarily those of AT&T.


Cited References

[1] When People are Invisible, The Message is What Matters by Beatrice Valdez http://www.att.com/telework/article_library/invisible_people.html

[2] FOR MANAGERS: Can telework benefit your business situation? http://www.att.com/telework/get_started/gs_benef.html

[3] Telework: For Employees, Getting Started http://www.att.com/telework/get_started/gs_telemp.html

[4] Telework: For Employees, Getting Started - Personal Screener http://www.att.com/telework/get_started/gs_perscr.html

[5] Telework: For Employees, Getting Started- Developing your Business Case http://www.att.com/telework/get_started/gs_buscas.html

[6] Telework: For Employees, Getting Started -The Home Office http://www.att.com/telework/get_started/gs_homoff.html

[7] Telework: For Employees, Getting Started -Tips http://www.att.com/telework/get_started/gs_tips_c.html

[8] Telework: For Employees, Getting Started -Telework Dos and Don'ts http://www.att.com/telework/get_started/gs_tips_c.html

[9] Telework: For Employees, Getting Started -Tips for managing yourself http://www.att.com/telework/get_started/gs_tips_a.html

[10] For Companies, Getting Started -A Telework Policy http://www.att.com/telework/get_started/gs_sampol.html

General Background Reference

International Telework Association and Council (ITAC) http://www.workingfromanywhere.org/

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 2004 Table of Contents 
Return to Table of Proceedings

Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright.