A couple of years ago, remote workers were few and far between. However, COVID-19 drastically changed that, with nearly half the U.S. labor force working home in the early days of the pandemic, according to government data cited by The New York Times. In fact, even after the pandemic, remote employment is expected to be more of a mainstay in the U.S. workforce, with about 20-30% expected to be remote compared to the 10% working from home in the pre-pandemic days.
With all these changes, employers have had to reexamine the way they engage with their employees in order to keep them happy and productive.
Remote employment offers many benefits, especially for employees who may appreciate working in a quieter workspace with fewer distractions, or in an environment that they find more familiar and comfortable.
However, it’s important to note that the workforce is diverse in communication and work styles. It is estimated that between 1 in 20 to 1 in 5 people are neurodistinct (Autism, ADHD, and Dyslexia, and others), so you are likely to have neurodivergent talent on your team already. Supporting different neurodistinct communications styles is crucial for both remote and office employees.
While one employee may find they work best at home where they can stay focused and plugged into their work, others may struggle with feelings of isolation and anxiety, or they may find it difficult to feel productive due to the more lax structure that typically comes with an at-home work environment.
As a result, it’s important for employers to identify the unique needs and communication styles of their employees and then provide the necessary support to help them succeed in a remote work setting. By providing the right level of support from the start, you’ll create wins for both your employees and your organization as a whole!
Here are a few tips that supervisors, managers, and HR management teams who are managing remote workers…
Flexible work schedules
Some of your employees will thrive on a traditional 8-5 or 9-6 schedule while others may be more comfortable with a more customized schedule. With the elimination of commute time, remote employment is the perfect opportunity to provide your employees with greater flexibilities in their work schedules.
For example, some employees may find that they are more productive when they start their day in the later morning hours and work into the evening. Meanwhile, others may prefer to split up their day with more breaks (while still putting in a full 8-hour day), or they may prefer to only schedule meetings in the afternoon so they can stay focused on their most urgent tasks during the first half of the day.
Try asking each of your employees what types of work schedules they prefer, including start and end times, and break times, as well as when they prefer to have virtual meetings. While there should be some level of consistency as well as compatibility with the needs of your company, giving the remote employee more of a say in the matter can help increase their productivity and employee satisfaction, ultimately leading to higher retention levels.
Provide consistent & structured communication
According to a 2017 study by the United Nations of employees in different countries (including the U.S.), 41% of “highly mobile employees” (or those more likely to work from home) felt highly stressed, compared to just 25% of onsite-only employees. The study found one potential contributing factor to be heavier reliance on mobile devices, which can add to feelings of social isolation and even cause insomnia.
Another study by VitalSmarts that polled more than 1,100 employees found that those who worked remotely at least some of the time had a higher likelihood than onsite-only employees to feel left out and mistreated by their coworkers. Some of their specific worries were that their teammates were saying bad things about them behind their backs, making changes to their projects without their knowledge, lobbying against them, etc.
To help prevent and combat this, managers can:
- Schedule regular check-in calls or meetings with remote employees (such as daily, weekly, or multiple days of the week) to see how they’re doing. According to the VitalSmarts study, nearly half (46%) of the polled employees said this was a practice carried out by their best managers.
- Ask employees about their specific communication channel preferences, and tailor their communication to match those preferences as much as possible.
- Remind remote employees that they’re not alone and encourage them to reach out to their teammates whenever they need support.
- Audit the communication channels used in the team, finding out from the various team members which are the preferred channels overall. It’s easy to end up with a proliferation of these, which can end up being highly confusing. Allows the team as a whole to choose the method of communication they’re most comfortable with for different scenarios.
- Clearly communicate with remote employees about what is expected of them and provide feedback often about their performance and progress. This can help combat the heightened feelings of paranoia about performance and job status that can come with remote employment. Keep in mind that certain neurodiverse individuals, such as those with autism, tend to appreciate having more direct instructions, such as clear-cut deadlines (“Friday by 5 p.m.” instead of “end of week”) and measurable goals.
Ensure clear, inclusive communication
The next thing to do is to be mindful of the different ways in which your employees process information. Some may be more visual learners while others prefer everything in writing. For certain employees, it could be more of a struggle to keep up with Zoom calls, especially with people talking over each other and the inability to see everyone attending the meeting at the same time.
Here are a few ways you can provide your employees with a greater level of support:
- Enable closed captioning for video-conference meetings.
- Offer meeting transcripts or notes following the meeting.
- Ensure each meeting has an agenda written out to let everyone know what it will be about ahead of time.
- Inform everyone of the guidelines for when people should mute and unmute themselves.
- Make printouts available for virtual training sessions, which participants can use to follow along.
- Advise meeting hosts to share their screens for more visual subject matter, such as when discussing information from a chart or spreadsheet.
- These are just a few simple strategies that can go a long way when managing autistic workers remotely, or other neurodivergent employees.
Mental health support
And finally, make sure all your employees have access to the mental health support they need to manage any stress they may be feeling. Encourage all employees to take regular breaks, and share articles and videos with tips for optimizing their workspace, better managing their time, and reducing stress (such as by meditating or getting regular exercise).
You should also advise managers to not only discuss work tasks during check-in meetings, but also to ask how the employee is doing overall to gauge their personal wellness. Creating a safe space for employees to share their stresses and concerns can help expose issues the manager might not have otherwise been aware of, allowing them to offer guidance, or at minimum, empathize with the employee and accommodate their needs.
For more tips on how to better support communication and neurodiversity to maximize employee engagement and wellbeing, Uptimize has a downloadable free eBook on building a neurodiversity program.