The impact of home working on neurodiverse employees
May 1, 2020 - Adjust
Have you considered the impact of home working on your neurodiverse employees?
In recent weeks the landscape of work has changed dramatically, leaving businesses to adjust quickly to a complex and extraordinary set of circumstances. The sudden and unexpected change from office to homeworking in a short space of time has been a huge adjustment for everyone, even affecting those of us who are used to regular homeworking. Employers are figuring out on how to respond effectively to the profound emotional and practical impact of the changes on their workforce, including identifying the impact on their neurodiverse employees. There are many resources available to support employees during this period, for example, the CIPD offer great advice on homeworking, which can also be applied to your neurodiverse employees.
Now that we are several weeks into the lockdown period, some employers may have found their stride with supporting homeworking arrangements, with some employees experiencing a ‘settling’ of initial anxieties, as they adjust to their new routine. Whilst this is positive news, bear in mind that your neurodiverse employees may have felt the impact in different ways to your neurotypical employees. Have you considered how they are coping during this turbulent period, and how they might be feeling about the prospect of returning to the office as restrictions ease? These are two key considerations which should be on employers’ radars at the current time.
“your neurodiverse employees may have felt the impact in different ways to your neurotypical employees”
The first step to assess the impact of home working on your neurodiverse employees, is for managers to speak to their employees. This sounds obvious, but reaching out with compassion and empathy is a great way to start the conversation and show commitment to providing care and support which can be tailored according to individual need. For some neurodiverse employees, the relief of simply being able to have a conversation may in itself be enough comfort, whereas others may want to explore more practical ways to resolve some of the challenges they have encountered through homeworking. Whatever the employee response, employers need to be prepared to flex, to ensure that they provide proper support where it is needed. Its also vital to remember that many neurodiverse employees will already have some adjustments in place to hep them achieve their potential. Make sure you discuss the impact of homeworking on existing adjustments. Adjust is available to deliver workplace assessments virtually to advise on existing adjustments and recommend new ones.
“Make sure you discuss the impact of homeworking on existing adjustments”
There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to the impact of home working on your neurodiverse employees. Some individuals may feel little adverse impact from the experience, some may prefer it to office working, whereas for others, the challenges may be significant. It is important for employers to understand that, just as the spectrum of neurodiverse conditions is wide ranging, so too are the likely responses.
Potential challenges include:
- Adjusting to a lack of structure (or new structure) in the working day;
- A tendency to overwork without the guidance of formal office hours;
- Difficulty maintaining effective communication with colleagues;
- Anxiety over the ongoing sense of isolation;
- Anxiety about returning to work.
Equally, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to finding the solutions. Some neurodiverse employees may be flourishing working from home and may require little in the way of practical support, whereas others may need a greater level of help.
1. Creating structure
Managers can help their neurodiverse employees to create a sense of structure through simple things like additional check-in calls. For example, a neurodiverse employee may find it helpful to have a regular call with their manager (or perhaps another colleague, a buddy or a mentor) at the beginning and end of the working day. This might be a short call, practical in nature, to go through a daily to-do list at either end of the day, or it may be an informal friendly chat, to create a sense of regular connection. In some cases, additional structure may be required. Whether this takes the form of more check-in conversations, or a different approach, is something which can be agreed between a manager and their employee. Either way, it is important for the manager to reach out to their neurodiverse employees and send a positive signal of support to the employee which says ‘I acknowledge your need for greater structure, and I will work with you to find a way to provide it’.
“In some cases, additional structure may be required”
2. Working hours
One further aspect of structure is working hours. A gentle reminder of core office hours is a good way to offset the tendency of some neurodiverse people to continue working on into the evening, without the parameters of actually physically entering and leaving the office each day. Managers should ask their neurodiverse employees whether they need support when it comes to working hours and, if so, what would be helpful. Perhaps a calendar reminder to ‘stop working’ at a particular time would be effective, or a quick phone or Skype call from a manager with the employee at the end of the working day, just to remind them to stop work.
“Perhaps a calendar reminder to ‘stop working’ at a particular time would be effective”
3. Effective communications
Remote communications are fast becoming the norm, but we can all relate to feeling uncomfortable on a video Zoom or Skype call. We have to work harder to recognise non-verbal communication and conversation cues on virtual calls. Have you thought about how your neurodiverse employees may be feeling about remote communications? Hopefully, many neurodiverse employees have embraced the use of technology, finding the positive aspects of communicating in this way, but this may not be the case for everyone. Now is a good time to find out whether your neurodiverse employees have experienced any challenges and, if so, find out what you can do to help.
“Now is a good time to find out whether your neurodiverse employees have experienced any challenges and, if so, find out what you can do to help”
Simply providing a safe space to share feelings and experiences may be enough to alleviate any anxiety around remote communications. Where the person’s reaction is more complicated, managers may need to find practical solutions, such as offering some additional training to build skill and confidence, or perhaps finding alternative ways for a neurodiverse person to communicate, reducing the need for video conferencing. Have you considered live chat or other forms of virtual communication? Be open-minded and explore possible options.
Just by reaching out, a manager can demonstrate empathy and compassion towards a neurodiverse employee who may be struggling with continued isolation, providing them with a safe space to speak out about how they are feeling. A regular conversation with a manager may be enough to support the person affected, but what if they need further help?
One possibility is to suggest connecting the person regularly with another employee, forming a sort of buddy relationship. Or, perhaps a regular connection with a small group of colleagues from across the business may be helpful. Are there virtual social activities, groups or other ways to help them? Some neurodiverse employees may find remote connections difficult to build. It is also important to establish whether more connection is actually wanted. Listen with kindness and empathy to establish what works for them, rather than enforcing a solution.
“Listen with kindness and empathy to establish what works rather than enforcing a solution”
5. Preparing for return to work
The prospect of the post lockdown world of work is unsettling for all of us. Looking through the lens now, there are a multitude of unanswered questions: Will our jobs be secure? How will be feel about commuting? How will social distancing be managed in the office? How much will the world of work change? No-one is immune from the anxiety this period is certain to bring, but it could be particularly unsettling for neurodiverse employees. They may be feeling heightened anxiety about reconnecting with the workplace and re-establishing old routines. One way forward is for managers to start the conversation now, in order to understand what support may be helpful in the future. Some neurodiverse employees may welcome support from an external coach during this period. Coaches can help on many levels, with practical and emotional support, including:
- managing anxiety around reintegration and re-establishing routines (this can be particularly important where the individual is dependent on a routine to help them get through the day – they may need the routine to be reinforced or perhaps restructured to take account of any changes to the working day or work environment);
- organisational skills (helpful where systems may not have been used for a while and need to be re-embedded – this could be things like reminders about how to create and manage a to-do list, managing emails and paper filing).
- managing communications (helpful where the person may struggle with some aspects of face-to-face communications).
- building confidence and resilience (which may have diminished as a result of being in a period of significant change).
Online Neurodiversity training or webinars may be helpful tools for managers and colleagues, to raise awareness of a neurodiverse employee’s condition, and perhaps to shed some light on how this could impact their experience of being in a period of intense change.
“Online Neurodiversity training or webinars may be helpful tools for managers and colleagues”
The conclusion is straightforward. This is about investing in your people with care and compassion. Start your conversations with genuine interest, sensitivity and a positive outlook. The impact of home working on your neurodiverse employees will be varied and fluctuating.
Some neurodiverse employees may be in crisis, whereas others may prefer remote working to office working. Listen deeply and seek to understand the other person’s perspective, so that you know how best to support them. Above all, ensure that you act accordingly, to provide appropriate support where it is needed.