When remote work became widespread, it created new opportunities for a variety of people, from working parents to employees living far from employment hubs. But one group that has particularly benefited is workers who are neurodivergent — those with dyslexia, ADHD, Tourette Syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or other atypical neurological conditions.
For people who are neurodivergent, in-person office culture has traditionally been a tough fit. The sounds, bright lights, and even strong smells can cause some to experience sensory overload. Team meetings pose challenges, as workers with cognitive differences can struggle to interpret social cues and subtle communication styles. And commutes are often 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.K. 32% of people with ASD work, but only 16% are employed full time.
This presents a real opportunity for employers. People with cognitive differences have traits and strengths, such as creativity, inventiveness, strong attention to detail, and sustained focus, that can make them excellent employees.
How can you increase neurodiversity in your workplace and support neurodivergent remote workers? To learn more, read on.
Understand the benefits of a remote workplace
One of the main reasons people with cognitive differences thrive as remote workers is because they have more control over their environment. If harsh lighting or noises bothers them, they can create work areas that are quiet and softly lit. If they are irritated by confining clothing, they can wear sweatpants (which, if we’re honest, many of us are wearing now anyway). They can also eliminate confusing social interactions by, well, not having them.
Remote meetings are also much better at leveling the playing field for workers who are neurodivergent and who may find in-person meeting agonizing. They may struggle to speak up in meetings, have trouble following social cues or understanding jokes, or miss out on what’s left unsaid.
But when meetings are held online, everyone loses access to nonverbal cues, which can be liberating for workers who are neurodivergent. And even employees who are neurodivergent and struggle with video meetings can benefit from captions or a transcript of a Zoom call or even a recording of the meeting.
Bring some of the benefits of a remote workplace to the office
During the pandemic, the consulting firm EY (Ernst & Young) more than tripled globally its number of employees who are neurodivergent, from 80 in 2020 to nearly 300 workers now, with many of these employees in the cybersecurity, intelligent automation, or data analytics sectors. They did this by creating a number of Neuro-Diverse Centers of Excellence, including ones in Boston and London.
EY worked with employees to make sure they had everything they needed to succeed. Many chose to be fully remote.
Research has shown that companies that embrace disability inclusion have 28% higher revenues than their peers and twice the net income, They are also twice as likely to have shareholder returns that outperformed the competition.
People who have neurologicall disabilities also offer a fresh point of view and often represent still-to-be tapped consumer markets. But even more, by the very nature of their challenges, they’ve had to be resilient and demonstrate a high level of problem-solving and adaptability. And those are desirable qualities in any employee.