Supporting neurodivergent team members both remotely and in the office

When we think of "diversity", "neurodiversity" tends to be overlooked. At Flexa, we are proud to have a neurodiverse team and we think that neurodiversity as a whole needs more attention and discussion! Shannen, Flexa's marketing manager, was recently diagnosed with ADHD. She talks us through how to support neurodivergent individuals in your workforce.

2nd Apr 2021

Every workforce is neurodiverse, but roughly 1 in 7 people in the UK are neurodivergent and live with Dyslexia, Autism, ADHD, Dyspraxia and other neurological conditions.

Neurodivergent individuals might have different communication forms, strengths and characteristics to others in your workforce. It is becoming increasingly accepted, however, that having a neurodiverse workforce provides increased scope for productivity, innovation, and overall employee wellbeing.

So, how can your organisation maximise the benefits of remote neurodiverse employees?

Think about the benefits of offering flexible working for neurodivergent individuals

Working from home for neurodivergent individuals can be advantageous for many reasons. It often provides the opportunity for your employees to choose the best environment for them to work in. 

For some neurodivergent people, this might mean working with music or a television in the background, while for others it might mean having no sound at all and noise-cancelling headphones on. Perhaps they prefer being able to get up and walk around during a virtual meeting, or maybe they’re not a fan of always having the camera on. They might need to use text-to-speech tools or assistive technology. 

Giving someone the choice about where they work on a given day can help them to create an environment that is perfect for them to be able to work effectively each day.

Don't be afraid to ask questions

A supportive, neurodiverse environment is one that is inclusive. Neurodiversity is not simply an add-on but rather built into the fabric of your organisation.

You know you are moving in the right direction once you’re able to ask questions like “how can I support you?” and “are there any barriers to you being successful?”. In turn, you also want your employees to be able to come to you with any questions or concerns they might have around their development or success. 

There should be an element of trust and mutual respect established, and you should strive to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all.

Avoid making assumptions

We all hate stereotypes, so never assume that a neurodivergent person will display certain characteristics.

One important thing to avoid is making assumptions based on a person’s “label”. For example, assuming that people who are autistic are good at IT and dislike socialising, or that all people who are ADHD are very creative and hyperactive. You are only limiting your understanding of individual employees and it can lead to incorrect biases.

Assumptions can be avoided by being person-centred. Take the time to understand your team members both as individuals and as a whole. Embrace the diversity within your team, you will naturally increase productivity and employee wellbeing.

Be open to changing your communication style, and encourage managers to do the same

Nowadays, we’re lucky that we have so many ways to keep in touch, from emails and phone calls, to video chat to instant messaging. If someone has a preferred way of communicating then embrace it. 

It could make all the difference to a person’s anxiety levels and productivity. For instance, someone with Asperger’s may find video chats stressful, but someone with Dyslexia, who finds written communication more time consuming, might prefer it. Give your employees a choice and develop a method that works for you both.

Provide the tools to support diverse ways of working

So, we’ve mentioned communication methods but what about tools that help them to actually carry out their work at home?

There are so many amazing tools and products out there, and everyone has their own preferences. Whether an employee requires literacy support or are looking for ways to increase their productivity, assistive technology can bring benefits to everyone.

Ask your neurodivergent employees whether or not they have a tool in mind that they’d like to use. If not, give them the opportunity to do some research and explore their options. As someone with ADHD, I’ve tried out numerous productivity and project management tools to try and boost my performance. As of late, my preferred platform is AirTable but I also enjoy using Notion, Monday and Google Sheets. I was very fortunate that my team gave me the opportunity to select a platform that worked for me.

Be direct, clear and concise 

Sometimes when we send an online message, our thoughts can get lost in translation. As we work remotely and are not in direct contact with one another, it’s important to communicate as clearly as possible. 

Outline expectations concisely and clarify that you’ve been understood as intended. This is a great way of communicating that is ideal for literal thinkers, such as people with Aspergers, but it definitely goes a long way for everyone in the virtual environment and can avoid misunderstandings and unnecessary anxiety.

Maintain a degree of structure and routine

A lot has already changed in a very short space of time since the pandemic began, and for employees with ADHD or Autism for example, this is something that can cause stress and anxiety. Configuring a routine, even if only a basic one, and maintaining that structure is key. 

Set up a conversation to ascertain their preferred working style and figure out a working day, or week. Be flexible to their needs, you want to ensure that you’re supporting them in the right way and maintaining a healthy work-life balance that’s organised and harmonious.

Make time for regular check-ins

As we continue to venture through this time of uncertainty together, it’s never been more important to check in on the emotional wellbeing of your employees.

Some employees may be open with their feelings of being overwhelmed, anxious and isolated, but for others expressing emotion can be a challenge. 

Whilst it’s good to catch up with your team and maintain a healthy relationship, regularly checking in to ask how they are feeling opens the door for more emotive conversation, and for someone on the Autistic Spectrum, for example, being direct is helpful. 

Plan work in advance and thoroughly explain things

With remote working comes the need to structure your own day and be as organised as possible. Technology is our primary means of communication, and even though it opens up some amazing opportunities, it can also be the cause of frustration for some. 

We’re only an instant message away and whilst that’s great, for people with ADHD for example, that availability can affect our ability to focus. 

It’s important to give your employees time to complete tasks, and that could also mean practicing forward-thinking, to remove any impromptu tasks or distractions.

It’s also a good idea to provide as much detail as possible when assigning an initial task instruction, so that your employees have everything they need to work away, without needing to repeatedly stop and ask questions or seek advice.

Get creative and have fun

For many people, the social aspect of the workplace is their favourite thing about going to the office and adjusting to the loss of daily contact with colleagues has taken some getting used to. But what about those who aren’t a fan of the social aspects or those who struggle socially? 

For some, it can be tough to strike up conversation with someone and doing this in a virtual setting hasn’t made it any easier. 

So, why not bring your employees together and encourage some organic and friendly conversation. Conferencing applications like Google Hangouts are a great way to get your colleagues together in groups. 

Have a virtual break together, or end the day with a few drinks to provide a time and space for a bit of banter and conversation. In a group setting, there’s no pressure on one individual to initiate or carry a conversation. It’s a way to boost interaction in a way that’s comfortable for each individual. It’ll lift morale and help ensure your inclusion practices remain top of the agenda.

Final takeaways

Ultimately, neurodiversity comes in many forms (hence the term diversity). Whilst the tips above are helpful, it’s important to remember that everyone is different, even those with the same condition will experience it differently and often men and women will have a range of completely different symptoms from one another. 

It’s vital that you treat each employee as an individual and handle your method of support on a case-by-case basis. 

We recommend doing some research into different neurological conditions and how they vary. It might sound like a lot, but with 1 in 7 of us being neurodivergent, it’s most definitely worth doing. 

There are many resources out there, including Podcasts, Videos, Ted Talks, LinkedIn articles, Facebook Groups and SubReddits. Even Instagram, TikTok and Pinterest are full of informative videos, infographics and illustrations. Heck, even your own employees might be open to sharing their experiences with you. 

There’s a multitude of materials available and all at your fingertips.

By creating a more inclusive environment, you’re taking positive steps towards attracting new and diverse talent, each uniquely skilled, and with their own ideas and abilities. On top of that, you’ll see an increase in employee retention and be able to hold onto your existing team members who are just as valuable.

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