How Remote Work Can Assist in Increasing Neurodiversity

When remote work became more common, it opened up new opportunities for a wide range of people, from working parents to employees who live far from employment hubs. Workers who are neurodivergent — those with dyslexia, ADHD, Tourette Syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or other atypical neurological conditions — have benefited the most.

In-person office culture has traditionally been difficult for people who are neurodivergent. Some people may experience sensory overload as a result of the sounds, bright lights, and even strong odors. Team meetings can be difficult for workers with cognitive differences because they may struggle to interpret social cues and subtle communication styles. Furthermore, commutes are frequently fraught with unpredictability and change, which can be taxing for people with ASD.


For years, employees who are neurodivergent and people with a range of disabilities have asked for remote work as an accommodation — and even when their cases went to court, they were often denied. Unfortunately, that meant many were left out of the workforce. Studies estimate that a staggering 50% to 75% of the 5.6 million adults in the U.S. with ASD are unemployed or underemployed. Meanwhile, in the U.S. 32% of people with ASD work, but only 16% are employed full time.


Employers have a real opportunity here. People with cognitive differences have traits and strengths that can make them excellent employees, such as creativity, inventiveness, strong attention to detail, and sustained focus.

How can you promote neurodiversity in the workplace while also supporting neurodivergent remote workers? Continue reading to find out more.


Discover the advantages of working from home


People with cognitive differences thrive as remote workers because they have more control over their surroundings. If harsh lighting or noises bother them, they can designate quiet, softly lit work areas. If they are bothered by constricting clothing, they can wear sweatpants (which, to be honest, many of us are already wearing). They can also avoid perplexing social interactions by simply not having them.


Remote meetings are also much better at leveling the playing field for neurodivergent workers who may find in-person meetings agonizing. They may struggle to speak up in meetings, have difficulty reading social cues or understanding jokes, or miss what is left unsaid.

When meetings are held online, however, everyone loses access to nonverbal cues, which can be liberating for neurodivergent workers. Employees who are neurodivergent and have difficulty with video meetings can benefit from captions, a transcript, or even a recording of the meeting.


Bring some of the advantages of working from home to the office


During the pandemic, the consulting firm EY (Ernst & Young) more than tripled its global number of neurodivergent employees, from 80 in 2020 to nearly 300 now, with many of these employees working in cybersecurity, intelligent automation, or data analytics.


EY collaborated with employees to ensure they had everything they needed to be successful. Many people chose to be completely remote. EY provided a quiet space, noise-canceling headphones, and softer lighting to those who chose to work in the office or in a hybrid arrangement. Hiren Shukla, the founder of EY’s Neuro-Diverse Centers of Excellence, stated in a recent Wall Street Journal article: “When you reduce the stress of the commute and the environmental stimuli, lighting, temperature, texture, sound… they are thriving.”


This is particularly true in the cybersecurity field, where hyperfocus, precision, persistence, and the ability to identify patterns are highly valued. Currently, there are 2.7 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs. Hiring more candidates who are neurodivergent could help address that shortage.


Keep in mind that one size does not fit all


Valerie Paradiz, former vice president of services and support at Autism Speaks, cautions against the misconception that people with ASD are only good at IT or finance. “We, autistics, are as broad a spectrum as the rest of the population,” she said in a Forbes article published in 2021. We’re not all coders or accountants. It is critical to emphasize that we must scale across all industries.”

To assist in scaling across multiple industries, Autism Speaks launched the Workplace Inclusion Now Initiative, which provides workers with ASD with the tools they need to succeed as well as employers with the tools they need to create welcoming workplaces.


Because everyone is unique, each neurodivergent person has had a unique reaction to remote work. According to O2, a British telecommunications company, 34% of workers with neurological conditions said that working from home helped them focus — but 23% said it made them more aware of their difficulties. While video meetings were generally regarded as beneficial, 45% reported difficulty maintaining focus during these meetings, 44% reported “Zoom fatigue,” and 43% reported feeling overwhelmed by instant messaging platforms.

Furthermore, some employees prefer the structure and consistency of in-office work and require social interaction. So, to help neurodivergent employees thrive, ask them what works for them and what accommodations they require, and then develop a personalized plan from there.


Finally, consider the following: Diverse organizations outperform their rivals


According to research, companies that embrace disability inclusion have 28% higher revenues and twice the net income than their peers. They are also twice as likely to have shareholder returns that outperform the competition.

People with neurological disabilities provide a unique perspective and frequently represent untapped consumer markets. But, more importantly, the nature of their challenges has required them to be resilient and demonstrate a high level of problem-solving and adaptability. Those are desirable characteristics in any employee.






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