until recently, the flexibility to work from home was seen solely as an employee benefit or, post March 2020, a necessity. However, one year of lockdown later, businesses are coming to realise that there is genuine anxiety about a return to co-working spaces. Yet, with many businesses yet to implement any mental health response to the pandemic, the choices they make in terms of the physical environment are even more important and fundamental to the organisation’s employee value proposition.
A New Approach
There are a vanguard of companies who are heading towards 100% flexibility, with the likes of Spotify, SalesForce and Nationwide implementing a ‘Work Anywhere’ strategy, which will enable employees to choose where and how they work. The most common trend for most businesses is towards a structured hybrid model, with employees working from offices two-to-three days a week.
As workforces make the move back to offices, it’s key that businesses engage with their staff to understand their fears and concerns in terms of the practical requirements, safety and mental health impact.
Considering Neurodivergent Employees
In this already complex landscape, it’s vital employers also consider the needs of neurodivergent employees that, statistically, will represent 10 to 15 percent of their workforce, or one-in-seven people.
Whilst some people have thrived working remotely, others have struggled. Additionally, a significant number will be anxious about what the return to offices will mean for them. Remote working has necessitated individualised workspaces, and moving back into a homogeneous office environment will be challenging for many – so now is the time to ask everyone about what adaptations they need.
Caroline Turner at Creased Puddle, which empowers neurodiversity in the workplace, comments: “The return to shared physical work spaces is the perfect time to open dialogue with all employees about what they want and need, and will give businesses the opportunity to identify individual requirements and act on them positively. In turn, this will significantly benefit the overall welfare of employees giving back both a sense of control and connectivity.”
There are several ways in which employers can implement workplace adaptations which can have a genuine impact on neurodiverse team members, with little outlay or effort:
Create quiet zones in the office and allow headphones for noise cancelling and greater concentration.
Agree to flexibility around start and finish times, as some people may benefit from earlier or later working hours.
Where employees have been on-boarded remotely, remember to offer them the same orientation for the office as you would any other new starter. They may have been your colleague for a year but they may still not have seen their desk.
Ensure wellbeing initiatives and work events are inclusive by involving neurodivergent employees at the planning stage.
Vary the dress code and review your old guidelines. The world has changed significantly in the last 12 months, and outdated rules and regulations will only hamper productively and wellbeing.
Ask neurodivergent or neurotypical employees what a good work environment looks like, and work together to make improvements.
Workplaces have an obligation to prioritise the mental and physical wellbeing of their staff, but by making positive changes and acknowledging all team members’ specific needs, businesses can only benefit in terms of productivity, retention and engagement. So keep talking, continue to communicate and inform, ask questions and take action. It’s that simple.