Telework and Disability

Exploring Barriers and Opportunities

Telework (or flexible work) involves working from home or any other place that is removed from the physical infrastructure, colleagues, clients and the employer. The rollout of the National Broadband Network has generated increasing interest in flexible work arrangements and practices. While telework is encouraging from a digital connectivity, social inclusion and wellbeing perspective, there is also the promise that home-based telework may help to integrate a large community of disabled workers into the workforce. Flexible work can open up new opportunities to hire disabled people however, there may also be constraints such as the type of work, the workplace environment and interactions with other workers, as well as the social inclusion of disabled workers.

Disability varies in terms of type, form and severity, and is generally considered to be a condition caused by accident, trauma, genetics or disease. With an estimated 4 million, or 18.5%, people in Australia having one or more forms of disability, telework may to increase employment opportunities. While the potential is certainly there, a number of barriers exist with respect to the successful deployment of telework for the disabled. This research project, together with partner Infoxchange, investigates the opportunities and challenges associated with the adoption of telework for the disabled, both from the point of view of disabled employees, as well as managers.

Researchers have conducted a number of in-depth interviews with disabled employees who telework either on a part-time or full-time basis, with a view to understanding their motivation to be part of a flexible workforce, as well as their individual experiences of telework. Additional information has been collected on their perspectives in relation to productivity and wellbeing associated with the ability to work flexibly, and perceptions regarding the challenges associated with teleworking. Participants were also asked to comment on whether they felt that flexible work arrangements led to social exclusion.

Combined with this information, researchers have interviewed line managers, and HR and diversity managers for their insights and experiences of managing disabled flexible workers. Key themes emerged from this research specific to the opportunities, barriers, productivity and wellbeing associated with the inclusion of disabled flexible workers have emerged as a result. Preliminary findings indicate that there are a number of challenges with regard to telework as a means of increasing employment for the disabled, including the need for greater awareness and training with respect to both disability and telework, as well as specialised ICT and management support.

Team

  • Rachelle Bosua - Computing and Information Systems
  • Marianne Gloet - Computing and Information Systems
  • Jongsay Yong - Melbourne Institute for Economic and Social Research
  • Brendan Fitzgerald - Infoxchange

Funding

IBES Seed Funding 2013

Completition

December 2015