Coexisting with COVID: Hybrid Work


July 14, 2022 | by Emma Olson

Hybrid Work Spaces Elevate Work/Life Balance for People with Disabilities


Tekki Lomnicki

Editor – Coexisting with COVID

As the world moved toward a hybrid approach to working, Neil Anderson, Director of Finance and Administration at Access Living, and his team were tasked with designing and implementing a hybrid workspace at Access Living’s headquarters in River North. Since most of their staff has a disability, Access Living was accustomed to providing accommodations; however, implementing the technology needed to go hybrid was a new challenge. In the interview below, Neil Anderson explains Access Living’s hybrid transformation.

Q. What did you have to consider when designing the space?

Answer: We had to address the technology needed for our staff, knowing that we have all transitioned to using Zoom and Teams and relying heavily on video instead of a phone. We were all issued laptops and needed headphones and microphones because everybody is going to be having conversations in their community cubical spaces. In certain instances that might mean eliminating a cord for someone who is a power chair user so it doesn’t get tangled. This individual would be assigned a Bluetooth station. It’s really about what works best for each staff person.

Answer: In order for our hybrid plan to be functional, we needed to be able to host meetings where some participants were located in the conference room itself and others were virtual. All of our conference rooms are now equipped with video conferencing systems that answer both needs based on the size of the space. In our smaller conference rooms that accommodate 10-12 people, we’ve provided carts that hold a TV and video conferencing system.

Q. How did you adapt your conference rooms?

Our larger second floor space required a fairly extensive installation that includes microphones hanging from the ceiling, a rotating camera and multiple monitors. We have been pleasantly surprised by the effectiveness of the space to host hybrid meetings.

The next challenge lies in how to adapt our large 4th floor space, which we use to host town halls and performances. We would love to a do livestream for folks in our community for whom a commute isn’t as functional. A livestream would make our events accessible for everyone including folks around the country.

Q. How was the new hybrid space received?

Answer: When we returned to the office after two years, there was a lot of positivity and hopeful energy. But tech is tech and there is room for things not to work. We’ve all had to become our own tech experts.

Q. What are your plans for the future of the hybrid space?

Answer: We have identified a real need for smaller private spaces for Zoom and Teams meetings so staff feels less self-conscious about speaking in the middle of an open floor plan. The space would hold one or two chairs and a table for a laptop. We’re also working on strengthening our WiFi coverage, since so many of us are now using video.

Q. What is the biggest thing you learned from this project?

Answer: I’ve learned just how productive we can be in a hybrid environment. By optimizing the best of both worlds, in-office and remote work, we are able to achieve higher levels of productivity and staff satisfaction. For example when we think about our staff that rely on paratransit or need personal assistant support to get ready in the morning, our hybrid model allows them to fully without getting up at four in the morning and relying on unpredictable transportation. I believe our hybrid environment provides a higher quality of life and a better way to manage work/life balance.