One thing the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us, is that many jobs can be done remotely, and this has shifted everyone’s focus on what the future of the workplace will look like. There is an opportunity for organisations to re-evaluate their cultures as employees begin to transition back to working from the office so that so that individuals, teams and organisations can function at their best. The future of modern workplaces is set to focus on hybrid working.
What is hybrid working?
Hybrid working (or blended working, a term used interchangeably) is where employees work both onsite (in the office) and off-site (at home). It has been argued that hybrid working promotes diversity and can bring about positive outcomes, such as: increased productivity, higher work satisfaction, collaboration, and can reduce absenteeism. Employers need to ensure that the culture in the workplace is inclusive, and every employee should feel that they are returning to a supportive and caring environment. Hybrid working brings many positives to the future of workplaces, however, neurodiverse individuals may require support in adjusting to a hybrid working lifestyle. So, what does this look like? We share our top tips for employers and neurodiverse individuals to make this transition a success.
5 top tips for employers to ensure their neurodiverse workforce can thrive
It is recommended that organisations communicate clearly what they mean by hybrid working and the expectations for staff. As organisations are restructuring workplaces, it means new rules need to be learned and understood, such as how many days are expected to be working from the office, one-way systems being constructed, socially distanced workstations and shared kitchen usage. Individuals with ASC (Autism Spectrum Condition) may find this sudden change difficult to understand and manage, therefore would benefit from advance notice of these changes.
A report on hybrid working by EY (2021) found 54% of employees are prepared to quit if they are not offered the flexibility they want. Organisations have the opportunity to co-create working practices with staff, and it is recommended that management discuss hybrid working patterns with their neurodiverse talent to decide what is suitable. This can include:
- Allocating fixed desks
- Access to quiet rooms/ quiet zones to allow neurodiverse individuals the ability to ‘hyperfocus’ and really concentrate at certain tasks
- Flexible working hours, to reduce the anxiety that some people with neurodiversity may face when commuting to the office during busy times.
- Involve neurodiverse voices
If organisations are designing workplaces that are neurodiversity friendly (e.g., sensory sensitivity minimising work areas), ensure that you include feedback from your neurodiverse staff to measure whether your planned activity is suitable to meet neurodivergent needs, or reach out to neurodiversity experts. This will allow organisations to challenge their own preference or unconscious bias and allow neuro-inclusive practices to be embedded.
- PPE in the workplace
Some workplaces (e.g., customer services, hospitality) require staff to wear PPE equipment at work, such as masks and gloves. Neurodiverse individuals can have sensitivity issues, such as being over-sensitive to sound and touch. Some may find wearing a mask to be uncomfortable, and others may find it difficult to communicate as they may not be able to hear clearly or see a person’s mouth moving if they rely on lip reading.
Reasonable adjustments need to be considered to factor this in, such as offering those who are unable to wear a mask with a pass, so others can understand that there is a reason for this, to avoid any misunderstandings in following office rules. Adaptive PPE equipment could be considered, such as inserting mask brackets into face masks, to provide more room for breathing, and reducing the mask from touching the face.
- Social etiquette in the workplace
Social interaction could be limited, with some workers wanting to maintain social distancing levels, while others may be a little bit more flexible. Some neurodiverse individuals, such as those with ADHD and dyslexia, may find this to be socially isolating. Setting up team meetings and events can help to drive engagement. Some neurodiverse individuals may be worried and apprehensive about returning to the workplace. Providing a safe environment for individuals can help ensure that everyone is comfortable with the different levels of social distancing. Arranging return to the office conversations with line managers can help to identify work priorities and allow for an open dialogue to raise any concerns which would help neurodiverse individuals to plan and prepare for a hybrid working pattern.
Many employees working from home have been unable to do their substantive role and some may need to undergo workplace training to adjust to completing tasks in a hybrid environment. Neurodiverse individuals may struggle to read under timed conditions, however the use of assistive technology, such as text to speech, which can be used on many devices, could support individuals to understand written text effectively and support them when reading training documents at home or at work.
Flexible working will also need to account for how training and learning is delivered in the future, and some neurodiverse individuals would find it beneficial to know what support can be put in place for them, and what further resources they can access.
5 top tips for neurodiverse individuals to adjust to hybrid working
The constant change in working from home and then traveling to the office during the week could be difficult for some people with a neurodiverse condition, such as those with ASC (Autism Spectrum Condition). It can lead to feelings of stress or anxiety if a structure is not put into place. Some ASC individuals even report having sleepless nights when they think about their travel to work.
Preparation is key. Speak to your employer and set up a fixed schedule to help manage feelings of anxiety. Look ahead and plan your travel time to the office. Keep basic structures in place, such as waking up at the same time every day and having a set time for going to bed, which may also ease feelings of overwhelm.
- Prepare your environment
Going back into the office, means there could be background noise and co-workers around you. Request to sit at a desk that is away from distractions in a quiet area of the office, or wear noise-cancelling headphones to help block out background noise and minimise distractions when you need high levels of concentration.
Checklists and to-do lists are helpful, as they can assist with time management and act as a reminder of tasks and appointments. Keeping organised professionally and personally can help to feel prepared, such as preparing lunches the night before, laying out work clothes, and packing a bag the night before with laptop, phone and safety equipment, such as hand sanitisers, gloves and masks. Looking ahead to see what important deadlines and meetings are approaching will also keep you organised.
- Managing distractions
Shared workplaces can also result in the chance of more interruptions while working, something that has not been experienced while working from home (unless your home environment was busy). Plan in advance the type of work that would be more suitable to do while working from home (e.g., reading tasks) and those that are more suitable to complete while working from the office.
- Mental Health
Research shows that neurodiversity has increased risks of co-occurring mental health challenges, such as depression and anxiety. These challenges may be exacerbated when returning to the office. Have an open conversation with your Line Manager about any worries on returning to the office. If you have any concerns, raise these to access wellbeing support that your organisation provides. These can be great resources to develop coping strategies.
Remember, achieving a work-life blend is to also allow time to switch off and relax when not at work, especially when working from home.
Hybrid work is the future. And having the adjustments and support in place can ensure that there is a smooth transition for neurodiverse talent.