The Surprise Downsides of Remote Work for Neurodivergent People

Rachel Worsley  |  17/09/2023

Remote work has been championed by neurodivergent people as a way to provide flexible working and control their home environment conditions. However, new research suggests that that it comes with downsides. Here are some of those examples:

“I like to doodle in meetings…people look at me as if I’m not paying attention…but it helps with keeping attention and focus and getting hyperactivity out,” said one woman with ADHD.

One autistic person said they struggled with eye contact online. Another wrote down every single detail in virtual meetings to avoid a possibility of misunderstanding, “I write with far too much detail because I can’t bear to miss anything out…a possibility of misunderstanding.”

Group calls also posed unique challenges. “With all blank screen and microphones on mute…it an be difficult for autistic people to read between the lines where you do not see people’s faces,” one person wrote.

Some participants found it harder to receive one on one feedback from their managers. One autistic man wrote, “I need immediate and personal feedback which I cannot always get on group calls.”

Neurodivergent people in particular struggle to enforce work-life balances, often working past normal working hours. Enforcing boundaries becomes difficult for neurotypical managers to manage this tendency. It raises the concern of overworking and burnout. As one woman with ADHD wrote:

“Late at night I’d often be there after everyone else had gone home, sometimes because it’s that consciousness that I’ve got to do this, we’ve been given a deadline and you’re taking it literally.”

However, the downsides are usually balanced out by several positives. The biggest positive is that the move to remote working provided “less sensory distractions” and increased neurodivergent people’s ability to “control heating, lighting and noise.”

The ability to create their own space to feel comfortable was one benefit championed by a dyspraxic employee, who wrote: “Working from home has been great because it has allowed me to do rituals that otherwise I wouldn’t do in an office…I am very lucky I have a great space with lots of screens and a nice big wall planner.

Since one’s home context is easier to customise than one’s office, it may play a fundamental role in helping neurominorities with attention deficits to maintain focus.  

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