Here are seven tips for building that environment, developed with psychotherapist Ruth Millman, who teaches organisations to be autism aware, enabling the widest range of people to thrive at work.
While most companies are now including WFH options and some moving to four-day weeks, few have achieved a real “work anywhere, anytime” model that moulds to individuals’ preferences for both location and hours. To get there, it helps to take a step back and ask big-picture questions around what you’re trying to achieve as an organisation, as well as to trust people to make decisions around their own productivity. “Letting someone skip the Friday afternoon meeting because they will be exhausted by that point and getting home early and resting will help them to function better the next week,” says Ruth.
Have regular check-ins with members of your team specifically addressing their comfort at work but also consider using tools like surveys and personas to get a deeper understanding of what they really want and need. For people with autism, ADHD or other forms of neurodivergence, Ruth suggests finding out their sensory profile and considering environmental adaptations that will enable them to do their best work.
“An experience of many individuals who are from minority groups is that when they do highlight an issue or support they need, the other party becomes defensive, and they are shut down,” says Ruth. As well as practising your ability to accept feedback, be proactive in examining your unconscious biases, behaviours and communication style with an attitude of lifelong learning. “Having an open and responsive approach will benefit the whole workforce,” adds Ruth.
Every introvert will relate to the experience of leaving a party to spend a bit too long in the peace of a bathroom cubicle. For neurodivergent individuals, that sense of overwhelm in social scenarios can be amplified. As well as the usual quiet booths and rooms, consider making a designated calm space that anyone can retreat to. Openly communicating that such a space is available can help to make people feel seen and included.
“So much of neurotypical communication is done non-verbally, and often in an unclear or ambiguous way,” explains Ruth. “This can be problematic for everybody but particularly problematic for neurodivergent individuals.” Others can struggle with verbal memory and working memory. To check you’re all on the same page, make notes and share them even after short meetings.
It can be natural to assume that the hybrid work model means doing focused labour at home and coming into the office for meetings, but there’s more to our working lives than this binary. Studies have found some perhaps unexpected benefits to virtual meetings — they tend to allow more fair participation through the “hand raise” function, stopping certain people from dominating, while those who are less comfortable with public speaking can contribute through the chat window. Consider the goals of a gathering and individuals involved when choosing whether it should be in-person, virtual or hybrid.
Download your copy of The Great Gathering Zine to find out how you can lead, steer and inspire your teams when together and apart. Happy Gathering.