Tips for managing neurodiverse homeworkers

Last updated: 06 Jul 2021

Just like everyone else, neurodivergent workers may be coping well with a new working environment from home. However, others may be struggling to adjust, for example:

  • home would be a new environment for work and therefore that change alone may cause anxieties
  • without the structure of physically attending and leaving a workplace, there may be a tendency to overwork which is a common characteristic of neurodivergent workers
  • new and emerging forms of communication, particularly “instant messaging” and online meetings may cause anxieties
  • neurodivergent workers may also be more susceptible to feelings of isolation, and anxiousness about the possibilities of returning to the workplace.

Whilst many people will also be struggling with these issues, they are likely to be magnified for those who are neurodivergent.

According to the O2 research, neurodivergent workers would feel more supported if there was a better understanding or awareness of neurodiversity in their workplace, together with more flexibility to accommodate their needs and more options to try out different working styles.

As some of the restrictions during the pandemic are lifted, so might anxieties grow about returning to the workplace. Different levels of anxiety will impact on different individuals but remember that these are likely to be heightened for those who are neurodivergent. New routines and structures may need to be developed and neurodivergent workers may need additional support. Consider offering support from a buddy, mentor or coach during this period.

Don’t forget that there is no “one size fits all” solution, so starting the conversation with your neurodivergent workers, as well as others in the team, will be crucial. Often, when things go wrong, this tends to be because of misunderstandings rather than incapability – so ensuring good communication is key.

There may be some challenges if you are managing neurodivergent workers who are working from home. It is important for line managers to consider the impact of working from home on neurodivergent workers and what additional support they may need.

Here are some things to consider which are pretty straightforward and would likely help everyone in your team:

  • Reasonable adjustments: Where employees have reasonable adjustments in the workplace, check whether they need additional support in a homeworking environment.
  • Zoom fatigue: Zoom (or any other video call/meeting platforms) meetings can be overwhelming for those who are neurodivergent, so let your team members know that they are not required to have their camera on during the meeting or allow them to call in instead. It may also be a good idea to set out some ground rules with participants ahead of the meeting.

Don’t assume that if someone has their camera off during the meeting that they are disinterested or not listening. It can be very distracting for neurodivergent workers to see lots of faces on the screen. Equally, if they do have their cameras on and you can see them fiddling with something or doodling, this may help them to focus better so, again, don’t assume that they are disinterested.

  • Regular breaks: Make sure you encourage your team members to take regular screen breaks. This is especially important for those who are neurodivergent as some people can be hyper- focused and they have no idea of how quickly time passes. Perhaps a calendar reminder at the end of the working day to “stop working” might be helpful.
  • Communications: There is likely to be much more reliance on written communications, so make sure that these are clear and understandable for everyone. Be careful not to overload your staff with lots of emails, or instant messaging for example.

Don’t forget that emails should be as short as possible – bulleted points will help, especially following meetings or conversations where you have agreed work tasks etc. And indicate the most important/priority points.

  • Regularly check in: Make sure you regularly check in with your employees – this is now more important than ever. Starting and continuing conversations about how they are coping will help to overcome challenges and help them feel supported.

Remember to check with individuals how they prefer to be contacted, i.e. by phone, web chat or video call. One-to-one calls with employees should be used to support them, and not to chase them on work related issues. Avoid spontaneous calls and meetings as this can cause the person to feel unprepared and raise anxiety levels. Perhaps text or email first to see if it’s convenient to talk.

  • Support your neurodivergent employees by helping with timelines and planning. This may be particularly important if other members of the team are reliant on their work. Ask whether they would welcome regular check-ins to keep them on track. Or perhaps they would welcome a short call with a colleague or mentor at either end of the working day.
  • Maintain contact: Check whether your staff may be having difficulties maintaining contact with colleagues. Maintaining regular contacts and conversations with colleagues may also help in regard to feelings of isolation.
  • Value neurodiversity: Ensure that everyone knows the value of neurodiversity and the different ways in which people prefer to work.
  • Use support and information to keep yourself informed: You may need some additional support and advice about managing neurodiverse employees. Check what resources and training your organisation provides. There is also some excellent support provided by external organisations.

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