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Kelly Grainger

Perfectly Autistic


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Better supporting neurodiverse employees with remote working

On Neurodiversity Celebration Week (15-21 March 2021), consider how you can better support your neurodiverse employees.

Increased home working has fundamentally changed the way we work, with many having to adapt their usual working practices to get the job done. Even in the world of great wifi, accessible technology and instant messaging platforms, remote working has brought to light a whole new set of challenges. 

But how have those with a neurodiverse condition navigated this changing dynamic? And are employers doing enough to ensure they’re supporting their neurodiverse workforce?

It’s important for employers to realise how certain stresses are likely to be magnified for those with neurodiverse conditions.

Recent research from O2 would suggest there is work to do, as 81% of neurodiverse people surveyed felt they could be better supported by their employer. 

The key point to understand with neurodiversity is that people’s brains are different and are therefore going to respond differently when having to adapt to a completely different working style.

Whilst some may relish the opportunity to be away from the hustle and bustle of office life as they can find it overwhelming, others may find the growing reliance on written communication difficult to decipher.

O2’s research found that whilst on the one hand, over a third (34%) of neurodiverse employees believe that fewer distractions from having other people around has made them more productive, almost a quarter (23%) said working from home during lockdown has made them more aware of the challenges they face. 

This highlights that within the bracket of neurodiversity there is so much diversity. 

The diversity of neurodiversity

Neurodiversity can include autism, ADHD, dyslexia and Tourette’s. That’s why it’s essential that all employees – CEOs, managers, colleagues and peers – arm themselves with the knowledge and resources to ensure they’re supporting their team, no matter their way of thinking and working. 

Although we have technology to thank for the fact we can actually work productively from home, it’s also brought about specific challenges. O2’s research found that the most common challenges faced by neurodiverse colleagues included: maintaining focus during virtual meetings (45%), ‘Zoom’ fatigue (44%) and feeling overwhelmed by the reliance on instant messaging platforms (43%).

Now we’ve all felt many of those challenges no doubt, but it’s important for employers to realise how certain stresses are likely to be magnified for those with neurodiverse conditions.

A few examples of remote working stress factors

For people who are autistic, for example, the sheer speed and urgency of instant messaging platforms can be overwhelming, especially when considering how many of those conversations would have previously been a quick, digestible face-to-face conversation instead. Similarly, those with dyslexia are likely to feel stressed by the growing reliance on email and written communication.

There’s lots employers can do to let everyone know that neurodiversity is not only supported, but celebrated in the workplace.

Ensuring your workforce is supported no matter their neuro-disposition is essential during this time. Realistically, many of us will be working remotely for the foreseeable so now is the time to progress this conversation. As an employer, having a level of understanding and ensuring your whole workforce is aware of how neurodiversity can cause people to work in different ways is key to making those people feel respected, supported and valued.

This is evident in the research as 60% stated that an increased awareness of neurodiversity in the workplace was essential to making them feel supported. It’s great to hear a brand as large as O2 is putting the wheels in motion when it comes to training their workforce. Last year, 99% of their 6,500-strong employee base completed an ‘Instinctively Inclusive’ training course to help educate on characteristics such as neurodiversity in the workplace.

Whether through specific and tailored training delivered by a neurodiverse trainer themselves, increased distribution of resources or setting up internal processes such as mentor schemes, there’s lots employers can do to let everyone know that neurodiversity is not only supported, but celebrated in the workplace.

Top tips on supporting neurodiverse employees whilst working from home:

  1. Zoom fatigue is a very real issue. By letting your employees know that there is no pressure to have their camera on when taking part in a call, will give them the option to opt out if they require. It can be really hard work and exhausting to maintain eye contact. Alternatively, why not try a good old-fashioned phone call? 

  2. Encourage employees to take regular screen breaks, which ensures that all employees, not just those who are neurodiverse are more productive. Autistic people and those with ADHD can become very hyper-focused and time can literally fly by. By encouraging screen breaks, you will ensure they have some down time working on something offline. 

  3. Regular check-ins are now more important than ever. When asking if your employees are ok, always ask twice. The chances are the first time they’ll respond it will be with a generic ‘I’m fine.’ But by asking again you may get a different and more honest answer. 

Interested in this topic? Read ‘Workplace neurodiversity: the power of difference.

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Kelly Grainger


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