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Carpe Diem: Rise in Remote Connecting a Boon for those Living with RA

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

PREFACE

The Imagine RA program aims to strengthen relationships between Canadian rheumatoid arthritis (RA) advocates and raise their voices to inspire others in the community to seek a better condition experience. Sharing insights and personal strategies for thriving with RA, advocates – collectively known as the Imagine RA Network – fuel meaningful conversation among peers and work to generate awareness of RA among the general public.

Advocate and Imagine RA Network member Sharon Hunter shares her story on finding ways to succeed in her professional field while accommodating her condition, and her journey to becoming and RA advocate.

Carpe Diem: Rise in Remote Connecting a Boon for those Living with RA

Written by: Sharon Hunter, SCMP

 

As a corporate communications professional living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), I’ve experienced the challenge of creating more inclusive company culture for persons with disabilities from both sides of the issue.

Diversity and inclusion are a hot topic in corporate affairs today. Companies are proud of their commitment to equal opportunity employment, implementing a range of policies and accommodations for persons with disabilities. Despite progress toward more flexible work environments, many companies have been stuck in the mindset that productivity requires daily on-site presence within a specific timeframe. For persons living with RA, this can be the biggest obstacle to maintaining full-time employment.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an invisible disability but is largely unrecognized as such and remains misunderstood. The unpredictable nature of painful chronic symptoms can make the traditional 9-to-5 workday and a daily commute both physically and mentally intolerable.

If there is a silver lining to the impact of this pandemic, it is the large-scale adoption of remote work arrangements. Companies who would never have considered it before are surprised to see it works, despite some challenges to maintaining team culture.

For some, the widespread switch to remote working and uncertainty about the future has been a stressful and uncomfortable change. In many ways, this reflects the challenge to adjusting to life with RA. Both require a new mindset, an adjustment of routine and an acceptance to focus on the things that you can control. This can be hugely improved by maintaining strong, positive connections with others both personally and professionally.

I feel lucky. I moved into self-employment over 20 years ago as a lifestyle choice when I started my family. I’ve lived the evolution of platforms that make virtual collaboration possible. It’s not about the tools. It is and always has been about people connecting with people to co-create new things.

Since receiving an official RA diagnosis seven years ago, I continued my professional activities while adapting to living as an immunocompromised person. It did not stop me from travelling the world to speak at conferences, deliver workshops and develop a global network of trusted colleagues. It did require a mindful approach to pacing myself, asking for help sometimes and saying “no” gracefully yet firmly when needed. Today, I feel resilient and uniquely prepared to face the uncertainty of what lies ahead.

In the past, I kept my condition fairly private. As a self-employed professional, I was afraid misconceptions about RA would negatively impact my career opportunities. This year, I’m starting to share my RA story in the hope that my experience may inspire others in these challenging times. I joined the Imagine RA Network*, a group of individuals who come together to share experiences and support the broader RA community. I look forward to playing a part in fostering a vibrant RA community in Canada.  

Reports suggest some companies will continue to offer remote work alternatives post-pandemic. For people living with RA, this shift levels the playing field of opportunity to excel and do their best work. When given the space and support to adapt and connect, individuals with RA will be prepared to succeed – personally and professionally.

It is truly time to seize the day.

*Disclosure: The Imagine RA workshop was organized by Pfizer Canada and participants were compensated for their time spent participating in the workshop.