Disability Management Employer Coalition: Leveraging Remote Work to Support Workers During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic
Employer Case Study: Learn how DMEC's remote work policies support disability inclusion.
The Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) is a professional membership association that provides education, networking and other professional development activities to absence management and disability professionals. Founded in 1992 in response to potential changes to employer health care requirements in California, today DMEC assists more than 14,000 members from across the U.S. and Canada to improve workforce productivity through integrated absence and disability programs.
As an employer itself, DMEC was an early adopter of telework. In fact, it has operated entirely virtually since its inception, which pre-dated widespread internet connectivity and the common teleworking platforms used by many companies today. It was an unconventional yet intentional approach to building an organization that emphasized attracting and retaining the best candidates—one that its leadership feels has paid off by eliminating often overlooked barriers to talent acquisition.
According to Chief Executive Officer Terri Rhodes, one such barrier is geographical location. While many traditional workplaces may take steps to attract the widest talent pool possible, if workers need to be onsite, that pool is limited by geography. Of course, such limitations may be unavoidable for some essential positions, but for many employers, telework, whether full or part time, significantly expands the number of qualified job candidates they can attract. For an organization with stakeholders nationwide, like DMEC, this expanded pool can also lead to greater diversity in staff knowledge about topics like state and local laws and regional industry trends that impact its membership.
However, this is not the only type of diversity DMEC’s telework program helps bring to the organization. Over the years, the option to telework has helped DMEC attract qualified employees with disabilities who may need or prefer to telework, and to retain the talents of existing employees who may acquire a disability due to injury, illness or aging. In fact, telework is a best practice for talent retention commonly used by DMEC members to support employees in staying at or returning to work after injury or illness.
DMEC has adapted its policies over the years in response to its growth and changing workforce needs, and as with most organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic presented a new set of challenges. Given DMEC’s long history with telework, DMEC is well-versed at providing workplace accommodations remotely and ensuring remote work platforms are accessible for employees with disabilities. During the pandemic, however, DMEC did have to revise some of its policies around childcare and working hours. Lack of childcare options resulted in many requests from employees to modify their work schedule, so Rhodes held a meeting to address concerns and discuss solutions. She says, “It goes back to providing employees with tools and resources that they need to do their jobs, and my experience has been nine and a half times out of ten when you do that, they’re going to make it work.”
Staff also had to adjust as they could no longer hold face-to-face meetings a few times a year, as they had previously done during DMEC’s conferences. These gatherings were important to strategic planning as well as staff camaraderie, says Rhodes. To help, DMEC continued its one-on-one meetings between managers and their team members.
While telework has been a successful approach for DMEC, there are important considerations that have made it work that likely translate to any organization. One important consideration is ensuring the right person is in the right job. The essence of this, said Rhodes, is DMEC’s core values, which are:
- Passion about the organization’s mission
- An understanding that reputation matters and thus integrity and honesty are essential in all member interactions
- Being forward thinking in how to advance DMEC’s mission in the years to come
- Being collaborative in order to create a connected community
- Being member-focused in order to empower members to be better employers themselves
“We have these core values, and that’s what we hire to, and that’s what we work toward every day,” says Rhodes. “We recognize that we’re at an advantage because we’re hiring people to work remotely.” Reflecting this, DMEC takes care to explain expectations during interviews in order to achieve the best fit. This includes clearly articulating performance measurements and accountability structures, a practice important in hiring for any job, but especially so in a remote environment.
Another important consideration is style of supervision. According to Rhodes, the key, especially during the pandemic, is empathy. The need for empathy is something DMEC has also been hearing a lot about from its members since the start of the pandemic. As it did prior to the pandemic, DMEC advises its members to communicate clearly and often about resources to assist employees related to both their physical and mental wellbeing. These include, if available, employee assistance programs (EAPs), which can help with a range of issues, including mental health concerns. Another simple yet effective strategy, says Rhodes, is having senior leaders talk openly about mental health.
The telework environment is a natural extension of DMEC’s organizational culture of flexibility, says Rhodes, helping all employees perform their best by eliminating some of the stress that comes with commuting. For DMEC, the key to attracting and retaining the right talent is a culture of flexibility, support and empathy, before and during the pandemic, and well after it has subsided.