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Why developing better accessibility should now be a boardroom priority

By Sarah Plant, Experience Strategist, Cognizant Digital Experience

For millions of people, the last 18 months has been characterised by adjusting to a completely new work/life balance. Offices became dining room tables and spare rooms, with all interactions with colleagues and clients taking place via a screen. Fast forward to summer 2021 with renowned companies such as Google, Slack, Bumble and Shopify all now offering staff remote working options, it’s no surprise we are seeing a new working revolution.

As a result, all businesses have been forced to reevaluate ways of working and reassess the way they do things to make a more equitable and accessible place for employees, clients and customers.

This has led to new conversations in boardrooms and questions rightly being raised. How do we look after our employees when not in the office? How will our employees return to work? What will that workplace look like? What assessments around the business processes need to be reviewed and adapted to create a fair and accessible workplace that accommodates all needs?

Understanding the Problem

With 1 in 10 job roles listed now remote-working, regardless of whether employees are sitting in the office or at the desk in their bedroom, their voice needs to be just as loud. Businesses are at a real turning point – and acknowledging that working practices have changed irreversibly is the first step to aid real progression. Despite the awkward pauses, connection issues and frustrating ‘you’re on mute’ conversations, hybrid working is here to stay and employees are looking to businesses to implement meaningful solutions that work for all situations. This means properly investing in your employee experience and allowing them to play a key role in shaping their ways of working. It wasn’t surprising to us to learn that more than half (58%) of companies we surveyed in partnership with Forrester agreed that they were not investing enough in employee enablement which was, in turn, hindering customer experience performance. This is more important than ever before – from understanding individual needs to help employees day-to-day right down to what chair people sit on.

What does change look like?

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One of the most important ways a business can learn and develop its new culture is by listening to its employees. When we work with clients on this challenge, our first step is to help them implement inclusive and accessible ways for staff to offer company feedback. Including the employee voice in decision making is crucial – they need to feel comfortable, reassured and motivated which directly helps the business evolve so you need them on board.

The second focus is using design and technology to reduce noise and effort, supporting people, especially during stressful and unsettling times not adding to it. We believe in ensuring responsible design from inclusive research to accessibility and calm technology to promote a more enjoyable, streamlined and productive working environment for all employees. Many have felt varying levels of anxiety adjusting to new virtual and hybrid ways of working – and understandably so.

Technology without guidance can be daunting so making changes that can really support and enable employees is important. This can be from ensuring  a company has clear communication that is accessible to all – embedding cultural values of safety, trust and a healthy approach to working. Also, continuing to maintain this by checking in on employees as life shifts again in complexity.

Increasing flexibility

It’s important to be flexible. Lots of people’s lives have changed in ways that people won’t understand. With various lockdowns shutting off our social lives, research showed 52% of us were working more hours in a week when working from home. So it’s no surprise that mental health and physical wellbeing support has become increasingly higher on the agenda for both employers and employees.

We are now increasingly partnering with businesses to help them understand their employee experience, from accessible hardware, to consistent communication and creating a sustainable culture that supports the employees, now, next year and in the future. At Cognizant, every member of staff has had to complete specific ‘return to work’ training via video and interactive platforms educating on the importance of learning new policies and processes designed to keep people safe and feel assured. This includes understanding new etiquette to accommodate people working both in the office and from home. For example, ensuring that when a meeting finishes, those working in the office don’t continue a discussion in another room, thus excluding those dialling in remotely. Or creating an environment to be inclusive and involve colleagues who started a role during the pandemic and subsequently don’t always know the sea of faces greeting you on the first day of the new job.

Regardless of sector or working choices, it’s important for businesses to recognise the opportunity this reset can allow. It is a new beginning that can lead to exciting and progressive change across the board if allowed. But leaders’ organisations must remember that these changes aren’t a quick fix, it is an ever-evolving process to slowly and sustainably provide a place to work that is truly accessible to every employee. It’s time to learn from changing behaviours, cultural shifts and listen to the different experiences everyone has had to create a place to thrive for everyone — something that in most cases, is well-overdue.

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