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The workplace has changed. Employers need to change with it.

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In January, we predicted that workplace accommodations would take off in 2021.

We’re about to see how that shakes out.

After more than a year working remotely, employees are starting to look for a different experience than the one they left behind. As expectations have shifted, and previous perks have now become a given, employers may have to shift their perspective. Because we’ve learned that not everyone loved the way work was conducted pre-pandemic. Employers who don’t offer the more flexible, inclusive environment that employees now expect will see an increase in turnover.

Consider remote work. It can be a reasonable accommodation, but people with disabilities who’ve asked for it in the past have often been denied. Pre-COVID, many employers saw working from home as a reward provided on a limited basis, for top performers.

One year later, their employees no longer see it that way. Though the need to work remotely was created by the global pandemic, they’ve enjoyed the flexibility it has provided — for example, the absence of a commute. Surveys are showing that about 70 percent of people would like to be in the office two or three times a week, max.

This is an opportunity that employers can’t afford to miss. Flexibility isn’t just about employee satisfaction. It’s about creating a more productive, high-performing environment. The data points show that remote work has been a success. Productivity is higher than it was in the office setting.

Employees expect other changes, too. Diversity and inclusion are top of mind. The era of “we worked really hard to identify diverse talent, but we couldn’t find anyone” has run its course. And inclusion also extends to learning and thinking differences.

Another outcome of our remote work experience has been employees increasingly disclosing mental health conditions and other invisible disabilities. After more than a year of a global pandemic, employees have become more comfortable with these conversations. They expect support for mental health to be a consideration as employers create plans to return to the workplace.

The need for flexibility will extend to the physical space. Many people who’ve been working from home have had the option of changing positions throughout the day. Adding that kind of flexibility in an office design can be simple — building in the freedom to sit or stand, or to work from a common area, for example.

Employers don’t need to wait for employees to ask for these types of changes. They should always be thinking of ways to build in accommodations.

They should also ask what people need and remind employees about the company’s accommodation policies as a standard part of the return to workplace conversation. Many employees don’t realize the requests they’re making are covered as an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Over the next few months, we will all gather more data points on how we feel about returning to the workplace. Employees will decide if their current employer offers an environment that is consistent with their new expectations — and they will make choices about how and where they want to work.

2020 caused many people to reflect on their life choices, their career paths, and their feelings about their employers. So is disability inclusion finally taking hold?

The next few months will be about choices. Employers will either seize the opportunity to adapt or be left behind. Companies should use this time to think about what the future could and should look like. A more inclusive and accommodating workplace is a great place to start.

Yvonne Cowser Yancy leads the people, finance, legal, and administration teams at Understood. She has more than 20 years of supporting diverse professionals across multiple industries.

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