How Remote Work Supports My Career Living With a Disability
Remote work has been a popular topic of conversation for the last two years as the world continues to deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Much of the focus has been centered around the time saved commuting, the effects on productivity working outside of the office, and the growing worker demand for more flexibility from their employers. A less discussed but equally important aspect of remote work is the accessibility it provides people with disabilities or other circumstances that prevent them from working from a physical office every day.
I am immunocompromised. I have severe Crohn's disease and Ankylosing spondylitis. The symptoms of these diseases can be hard to detect if you're not the one experiencing them. While I see them every day, others don't. Working asynchronously from wherever I want at Float has given me access to a fulfilling career, supported my health, and enabled me to live a great life.
My normal is different from everyone else's
I was just about to start my first real 9-5 job when everything changed overnight in October 2013. I'd been struggling for years before I received my official diagnosis. I'll never forget being told to "stay positive because there was a new normal ahead of me."
For the first five years after my diagnosis, every moment was working towards that new normal. It was difficult figuring out how to appear normal to others—including my employer—when I was dealing with a scary new reality. Crohn's disease is a digestive disease. Rigorous preparation was needed just to make it into the office. I remember people complimenting me on my extremely lean figure, not knowing that I couldn't eat or drink from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in order to avoid having an accident in the workplace. I needed a minimum of 10 hours of sleep or more each night and a fistful of medications just to survive the day.
Having a disability impacts so many things. The control you have over your own body, intimacy within your relationships, the ability to do things that others take for granted (like going to dinner with friends), and even the means to insure yourself and your property. It's hard—especially when you have big goals like I do. I've always wanted to be an independent, well-traveled, successful businesswoman rocking a smart power suit!
It's a constant battle to prevent your illness from taking over your life, and it can be isolating and, oftentimes, overwhelming. I became obsessed with working harder than everyone else to ensure that I never lacked the stability in other areas of my life that I did with my health.
There's no one size fits all for accessibility
Newsflash: work is not life. Or at least it shouldn't be.
For some people with a disability, though, working is the only way to afford the care they need to have a life that's actually worth living. An emotionally and professionally fulfilling career can provide a lot of gratitude, strength, and energy that may be tough to come by otherwise when you're dealing with a disability or illness. While most employers are required to make their offices accessible for those with disabilities, in some cases, it's not the individual with the disability who gets to determine what accessible actually means. For those with disabilities that are hidden (like mine) or that have stigmas associated with them, the accommodations the employer offers may be more detrimental than helpful.
While I eventually learned to adapt to working in an office, my quality of life was not great. Many medical procedures (including routine doctor visits) are scheduled during regular business hours. Specialists can often be located in large cities with long commute times or delays that must be taken into account when planning your day. When I had the occasional opportunity to work remotely, it always felt like a special favor from my employer. As a result (and being the people pleaser I am), I often worked even harder when I was not in the office, which negated most of the other benefits.
When a company trusts its employees to get the job done, whether they are in the office or not, it builds a strong reciprocal relationship. Flexible work hours make attending maintenance and ongoing treatment appointments easier and remove any fear of disappointing your employer. When an employer allows its employees to work from their own safe and accessible environment, it removes a lot of stress and leads to a better work-life balance.
Yes, it's important to do good work and keep your employer happy, but that's impossible if you're not also taking care of your body and mind.
Working remotely helps me do my best work without compromising my health
Back in the day, I assumed that if I wanted to be successful in my career, I'd have to sacrifice any and all fun—including social activities—in order to channel every bit of energy I had into my work. I neglected relationships and my physical well-being (my entire 20s were basically a blur) to succeed in my career and in my personal life. I exhausted so much mental energy and felt so much anxiety about looking and performing well in order to avoid getting caught being sick.
Since joining Float, I no longer have to put myself in situations that cause an escalation in my physical symptoms just so I can appear normal to others. Remote work has provided me with the tools to stay fit and be physically capable. I dropped the 2-hour commute and can feed myself comfortably in my own home. I currently live in Northern Italy where I grow my own produce 8 months of the year, walk outdoors everyday, and have very limited dietary and physical restrictions. I now take a fraction of the medications I used to take.
My productivity has also skyrocketed. Success in my role feels gratifying, engaging, and invigorating. Although my diseases haven't disappeared, my overall quality of life has improved dramatically.
A more efficient, productive, and confident me
Everyone starts with a blank canvas in life. When you have a disability, it's like your canvas has a big hole in the middle, but you still have to try to paint a beautiful picture to hide it.
A disability doesn't have to mean disabled work; it can mean able, accomplished, successful, and fulfilling work. Float is the first company I felt comfortable mentioning my disability to during the interview process. It was clear there was an expectation to perform, but given the right environment, I knew I could excel and function at peak efficiency in the role. My disability doesn't define me, but it does feel like I have a level playing field again working remotely.
I feel supported and understood at Float. I am granted the flexibility to look after my medical needs and live where I am the healthiest. This incentivizes me to continue to invest in my role and truly live my best work life—Remy agrees too!
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