August 14, 2018

How to Be a Pro at Teleworking With a Disability


Many people currently collecting social security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits want to return to work, but to do so, they require accommodations to help them perform at their best. One of the most common and simplest accommodations employers can offer to individuals with disabilities is the opportunity to work remotely for at least part of the week. Not only does this help employees of all abilities, but it can also save employers a good chunk of cash in the process. For example, IBM and Sun Microsystems saved an estimated $50 million and $68 million on real estate costs, respectively, thanks to telework.

Telecommuting comes with many advantages, including the opportunity to create a disability-friendly work space uniquely crafted for an employee’s individual needs — without added financial burden for the employer. However, working from home does not come naturally to everyone. This article breaks down some of the considerations to keep in mind if you are given the option to work remotely when you have a disability.

1. Set Up a Workspace That Meets Your Needs

The first thing to consider in transforming your home office into your main workplace is whether it allows you to be comfortable for the duration of the day (or your specified working hours, if you are on a flexible work schedule). This can be a case-by-case situation based on your particular health condition. Your medical provider can assist in determining accommodations that may be useful to you.

For example, let’s say you experience ongoing back pain and have undergone multiple corrective spine surgeries. You want to work, but your clinician has let you know the only way you can realistically do so is by having an opportunity to frequently alternate between sitting, standing, walking, and reclining. You’ll want enough space in your home office to walk around and pace a bit, and your chair and workstation should allow for an easy transition from a seated position to a standing position. If it’s affordable, one option may be to purchase a chair that has an option to recline, or a small sofa to allow for periodic reclining throughout the day. You may want to have a heating pad and/or ice pack nearby, perhaps in a mini freezer, should you experience any spasms or sudden pain.

On the other hand, if you have a condition like Crohn’s disease, which can require frequent bathroom visits, the characteristics of your work space may be different. Because of the ongoing challenges of this health condition, returning to work in the most conventional manner (i.e., in an office setting) may not prove successful. The convenience of working from home is evident, especially because of the possibility to create a home workspace that is just a few steps from your personal restroom. You have the privacy connected to working at home, plus immediate access to changes of clothing, if needed.

2. Set Realistic Goals

The second thing to remember when working from home is to set realistic goals and expectations in order to stay healthy and manage job expectations. When individuals, disabled or not, work from home, it can be hard to maintain work/life balance, and your home life can blend into your work life easily, creating distractions in both. Watch for thoughts that you must be always on the clock, even outside your scheduled work shifts. It is important for anyone who works from home to know the process for clocking in and clocking out so that you and your supervisor have a clear understanding of your availability. This will help maintain the boundary between your work time and personal time while at home.

Job burnout is a very real phenomenon, and it can compound preexisting stresses from your disability. Too much physical or mental stress can easily exacerbate many health conditions, leading to more doctor visits and, in extreme cases, emergency room visits or even hospital admissions. Returning to work after a disability can be very rewarding financially and offer a self-esteem boost — but if you spend too many hours working and not enough time resting, you may find your medical conditions deteriorating such that you have to stop working again. Know your limits!

3. Keep the Lines of Communication Open

The last critical thing to consider when working remotely with a disability is how to communicate concerns with management and your colleagues. Make sure to maintain an open line of communication, as it can be more challenging to effectively raise issues around performance, results, and other matters when you are not in an office environment. Take advantage of remote communication methods that offer more face time, such as video chat. If you have the option and ability, go into the office periodically to speak with your supervisor about important issues and concerns.

In addition to general feedback and questions, keep your supervisor up to date on your needs and abilities. Be willing to revisit and renegotiate your work arrangement as your health status dictates. Are you feeling up to working an extra five hours this week? Do you need a break today because your condition is acting up? Let your boss how they can help you.

Paula Morgan is senior claims representative at Allsup Employment Services. 

Read more in Disability Benefits

Paula Morgan has more than 18 years of public and private experience helping people successfully navigate Social Security Administration (SSA) disability programs. She is a return to work case manager for Allsup Employment Services (AES), a national, SSA-authorized employment network (EN). Morgan works with former workers with disabilities to help them navigate the SSA's Ticket to Work (TTW) program. She focuses on education and early intervention of social security disability insurance (SSDI) applicants as they move through the insurance program and identifies opportunities for returning to work should their condition improve.