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Embracing neurodiversity in the future of hybrid work

Hybrid work arrangements have become the norm, but do companies consider the impact on neurodiverse employees? This article explores the importance of fostering inclusive cultures that embrace different cognitive styles as strengths. By prioritising neurodivergent inclusion in return-to-office strategies, forward-thinking leaders can drive innovation and cultivate environments where every individual can thrive.

Many organisations have mandated a return to the traditional office structure in recent years, whilst others continue to encourage remote working. When formulating such policies, senior leaders generally consider factors such as promoting employee wellbeing, maintaining workforce productivity, and optimising approaches to collaboration. It is equally important that employers consider the impact of their decisions on disabled and neurodiverse colleagues. 

An estimated 15-20% of the UK population is neurodivergent. This represents a significant portion of the workforce whose unique strengths, perspectives and requirements must be properly understood and supported. It is essential that organisations promote an inclusive and productive working environment for everyone, including those who work in an office full-time and hybrid workers.

Hybrid working: An ever-evolving debate

The past few years have seen a seismic shift in how and where we work. While remote and hybrid setups were already gaining traction pre-pandemic, this period markedly accelerated their adoption out of necessity. Indeed, two-fifths (40%) of British organisations have seen an increase in requests for flexible working following the pandemic. This trend is likely to become even more prominent in months to come, now that all employees have the legal right to request flexible working from day one of a role.

Flexible working goes beyond offering employees the right to choose where they work, also encompassing when and how they work. This can include allowing them to set their own schedules or encouraging asynchronous working, therefore giving people the time to prioritise other commitments like family or sport. Not only can this support employees’ mental health and wellbeing, but 38% of organisations have experienced improved productivity as a result of offering flexible working. 

However, we’re now experiencing a new wave of return to office (RTO) policies across major companies. Many are clamping down by specifying set days or hours when hybrid staff must be on-site, likely driven by perceived concerns around engagement or productivity slumps. This rigid approach overlooks a fundamental truth – the most engaged, high-performing workforces are those that feel included, safe and able to bring their full, authentic selves. And for neurodivergent employees, that sense of inclusion and belonging is critical, perhaps even more so. 

Neuro-inclusive cultures are a business imperative

A recent Gallup report states that engagement influences employee stress 3.8 times more than an individual’s work location. Savvy employers are recognising that it is more important to build an inclusive and engaging culture than to focus on the physical location in which employees are working. Therefore, RTO policies should factor in communication, wellbeing, psychological safety, and flexibility for the unique needs of all individual employees. 

Equally, organisations should acknowledge and appreciate the diversity among their employees. While adhering to legal requirements for accommodating workers is essential, fostering an environment where individuals feel valued, motivated, and celebrated for their unique perspectives is pivotal for achieving true success. From providing quiet spaces and noise-cancelling headphones to training neurotypical staff on appropriate communication and accommodations, there are many potential adjustments that organisations can make to embrace neurodivergence. Perhaps most importantly, this means empowering neurodivergent employees themselves to share their lived experiences if they wish, helping to foster organisation-wide education.

This doesn’t mean abandoning the office entirely. The spontaneous collaboration, motivation and creative spark from in-person interactions remain invaluable. However, it does require rethinking the workplace through a more inclusive, accommodating lens. By taking these proactive steps, employers can nurture an innovative, forward-thinking culture of diversity. One where different cognitive styles and perspectives are embraced as competitive advantages rather than obstacles to be overcomed.

The business case is clear. Inclusive teams consistently outperform homogenous ones, while employees who feel they belong are more engaged, productive and invested in their organisation’s success. Organisations now have a unique opportunity to reimagine not just where but how we work. One way organisations can do this is through coaching, particularly those focused on understanding neurodiversity, and helping create that inclusive environment by providing support tailored to individuals’ needs. By centering neurodivergent inclusion in their return to office strategies, forward-thinking leaders can future-proof their organisations and workforces by cultivating psychologically safe environments where every individual can thrive and drive innovation. 

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    23 July 2024

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