Supporting Neurodivergent Employees in a Remote Workspace

Last Updated: 
March 1, 2023

Remote work accommodates limited social skills and people who think differently. Unfortunately, the neurodivergent community has historically had lower employment rates than the neurotypical population, typically owing to a lack of understanding about the strengths they bring to an employer. 

For example, neurodivergent individuals, such as those with ADHD, autism, or dyslexia, can add tremendous value to their roles and your company, including

  • Attention to detail: Many neurodivergent individuals have a keen eye for detail and can pick up on things that others may miss.
  • Creativity: Many neurodivergent individuals have unique ways of thinking and problem-solving, which can lead to creative and innovative solutions.
  • Focus: Some neurodivergent individuals can focus intensely on a specific task for extended periods.
  • Dedication: Neurodivergent individuals often have a strong sense of commitment and are dedicated to their work.
  • Outside-the-box thinking: Many neurodivergent individuals naturally think outside the box, leading to new and creative ideas.

Of course, these are generalized strengths, not universal. And certain weaknesses, such as limited social skills or discomfort with busy places, can counterbalance the benefits. 

For example, remote work helps equalize employment opportunities by relieving the stress of being in a people-centric environment like an office. The potential isolation of remote work, lack of supportive communities, and fewer mentors increase challenges for neurodivergent employees.

Additionally, many workplaces are still not equipped to accommodate the needs of neurodivergent employees, such as providing accommodations or access to mental health resources. Savvy, market-leading employers need to deliberately and thoughtfully support neurodiversity in the workplace.

What is neurodivergence?

Neurodivergent describes people whose brains process information differently than their neurotypical peers. This alternative processing is often highly creative and detail-oriented. Conversely, these individuals often struggle with social situations or processing information quickly.

Although the term "neurodivergent" was coined in the autistic community, it now describes a wide range of people who perceive and respond to their surroundings differently than their neurotypical counterparts.

Challenges neurodivergent workers face in a neurotypical world

Neurodivergent individuals may find it difficult to cope with the expectations of a typical office setting. They may struggle with the noise, the lack of flexibility, and the expectations to conform to the norms of the office environment. For example, deadlines, face-to-face meetings, and fixed seating assignments might be stressful or reduce productivity. Transitioning to a neurotypical work environment might cause serious problems. Here are four ways to ease this transition and/or create a supportive neurodivergent office setting.

Accept the fact your employees process tasks and situations differently

Build a culture of respect, recognition, and flexibility for all your employees. This is especially true regarding neurodivergent or physically challenged workers. For example, prohibit colleagues from shaming someone with mobility issues, Tourette's Syndrome, or ADHD. 

Instead, upgrade the business culture with new tools or training modules about establishing and maintaining an inclusive atmosphere. Unlocking the potential of neurodivergent employees is more than understanding their needs - it's also about fostering a work environment that supports acceptance. It’s about encouraging honest conversations relating to onsite and remote work demands. And clarifying what support systems are and are not available.

Understand the value of neurodivergence for your team

Employees should be aware of how neurodivergence affects their team and their work. For example, proofreading and editing are simple tasks for typical readers and spellers; these are notably challenging for anyone with dyslexia. 

Matching job assignments to people's strengths is a basic hiring tenet and is especially important in managing neurodivergent employees. Also, consider engaging employees in these conversations. For example, your dyslexic employee might have an exceptionally useful workaround and thus edit very well!

A strength-based performance and review system helps everyone develop their skills, reach their full professional potential, and optimize business goals.

Provide technology that supports different ways of working

Employees with specific work challenges, like ADHD, for example, might struggle with certain job duties. However, assistive technology can help them perform their tasks more effectively. So, it's important to have open and individualized discussions with each employee to understand their specific needs and preferences. Then you know which affordable technology is most likely to increase their productivity and potentially revenues along with their accelerated performance.

Support various communication techniques

Neurodivergent employees have various communication needs and preferences. Some might prefer audio and video calls over written communication. A different person with Asperger's Syndrome, on the other hand, may find the social interaction of video calls difficult and prefer text chats. Providing alternatives helps individuals, departments, and the company hit performance goals.

Structure vs. flexibility

Neurodivergent individuals, like those with ADHD, autism, or dyslexia, want flexibility and structure to varying degrees. Some might prefer a structured environment with clear routines and guidelines while others want more flexibility and the ability to move freely between tasks.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, have an open and honest conversation with each individual to understand their needs and preferences. Then implement accommodations that encourage each person’s workplace success.

Practice being concise and progressive

Messages are interpreted differently by neurodivergent people depending on the medium used. Relying on text messaging to communicate means risking a neurodivergent co-worker might miss critical context, like urgency. An audio chat, however, might convey 100% of the information in 10 seconds. 

Also, modifying established plans might confuse neurodivergent staff, reduce productivity, and derail the strategy for making the change in the first place. Why? 

Because they’ve positioned themselves to complete the original plans as confirmed, sudden change might reduce their productivity as they struggle to mentally reorganize new expectations. A more stable work environment allows neurodivergent individuals ample time to finish their jobs.

What’s happening outside of work impacts what’s happening at work

From social awkwardness to struggling with the overwhelming influx of new information, life can be tough for the neurodivergent. Navigating unfamiliar and often intense situations can negatively affect work performance. Think about what factors might affect employees’ abilities to work during times of rapid change, unsettling world events, or general stress. Without this awareness, it could be difficult for many individuals on the autism spectrum to ask for help, especially at work. 

Workplaces that ignore the needs of neurodivergent employees are hurting their workers, productivity, and potential revenue. There's a good chance you have neurodivergent employees already on payroll who could be performing better with appropriate support. Or, you might fail to hire your ideal software engineer if you cannot accommodate a particular need.

Elevate your recruiting and HR services with Worca, the talent strategy consultants who recruit, onboard, manage, and pay whoever you hire anywhere in the world. 

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