Let’s face it. Change is tough. Right now, we’re in a state of constant change where routines are disrupted and uncertainty looms. Stress levels are high, and juggling a new remote-work-life schedule (that may include roles of employee, parent, teacher, chef, caregiver, etc.) continues to be a big adjustment from the norm.
Now, imagine adding additional challenges. Challenges like interpreting social cues over virtual communication. Auditory challenges with relying exclusively on phone and audio for all interactions. Inability to stay focused for long periods of time. Constant anxiety that never lets up, or unrelenting physical discomfort from sitting at a makeshift workstation.
These are some of the challenges that may accompany neurodiversity. Neurodiversity refers to the concept that our brains are all wired differently and naturally vary regarding social ability, learning, information processing, attention, mood, and other functions. Neurodivergence is the social construct for those with an atypical neurological configuration, such as autism, dyslexia, epilepsy, ADD/ADHD, OCD, and more. Neurodiversity is a natural form of human diversity, one that should be celebrated and valued in the workplace.
This got me wondering about what the remote working experience has been like for our neurodiverse friends and co-workers, so I reached out to hear about their experiences. Read on to hear my summary of their take on the change to remote work and tips for success.
The distraction-free life has been either great or non-existent
For some, being able to focus on tasks uninterrupted has been very refreshing. Not having to mask the struggles faced on an average day in the office has been freeing and has resulted in increased productivity.
However, others have encountered new disruptions that can curb productivity, such as technology at your fingertips, pets, significant others, roommates, family, etc.
Tip: During the workday, turn off your TV and cell phone, or leave them in another room while you’re working. You wouldn’t watch TV in your office while you are at work, so don’t allow these to distract you while working from home.
Virtual Communication #FTW
Verbal or written communication can be challenging for neurodivergent people due to social pressures or ability to process spoken or written language. Communicating over the phone or through video conferencing has allowed more time for processing and more ways to communicate than in face-to-face dialogue. Just don’t forget, when your webcam is on, we can see you!
There’s no one-size-fits-all communication tactic that works for everyone but working remote creates more opportunities to get the information you need on-demand through instant messaging, email, phone, video chats, and even text messaging.
Tip: If you’re unsure of the strategy that works best for the person you’re communicating with, ask! For example, “Hey, I have a question for you. Can you buzz me when you have a minute – phone, IM, email, whichever you prefer.” This will allow the person to feel more comfortable and will likely provide you with what you need to be productive.
Social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation
Even for the most introverted people, staying in isolation at home has been difficult. After a while, talking to yourself, your pet, or your family gets boring or feels lonely.
One of my colleagues at SAS has been spending a lot of time online gaming, which has been fulfilling his desire to have some safe social interaction that also aligns with his hobby.
Tip: To keep in touch, schedule a video chat with your friends, coworkers, family, or other communities you may be engaged with. There are great online versions of some board game favorites for tabletop gamers that make virtual playing effective and fun.
Now more than ever, it’s important to be accountable. Trust is especially important when you’re not co-located with your team. Build trust with your team by letting them know when you won’t be available for an extended period or by updating your status that you’re away, out of office, or on do not disturb.
- Create a daily checklist of the tasks that you need to accomplish that day, such as personal hygiene (easy to miss while still in PJ pants), work tasks, or personal health and fitness goals.
- Set reminders or calendar appointments, alerting you to switch tasks and take breaks – just be careful not to hit snooze! This will also help build trust with your team, so they know when you are busy or if you are not online when you will return.
- Send a weekly email to your boss, recapping all you accomplished this week, not only to report on all the work you did, but to reflect on and stay on top of deadlines, milestones, etc.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for direction. Autonomy can be intimidating and challenging. Reach out to your manager, mentor, or colleague to get the guidance you need.
More alike than different
These experiences and tips aren’t one-size-fits-all – regardless of neurodiversity, we all experience the world differently, and the remote working experience is no exception. But one thing is for sure - the unprecedented events we’re experiencing serve as a clear reminder that we need all kinds of minds working together to innovate and solve problems.
To learn more about how SAS embraces all kinds of minds, check out our webpage. And let us know in the comments - what has your experience working from home been like?