Graphic with portraits of podcast hosts Frances Gain and Grant Christofely

Neurodiversity at work: How to make your workplace more inclusive

Frances Gain and Grant Christofely discuss neurodiversity at work in a new podcast episode. Is your workplace environment designed to support all individuals?

Research suggests that between 15-20% of the population is neurodiverse. That means that on a team of 20 people, as many as four could have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Tourette syndrome, or another condition that causes them to behave, think, and respond differently than their neurotypical peers.

Many companies—particularly those in the technology space—have recognised the exceptional skills that neurodivergent workers bring to the workplace and made strides to develop more inclusive policies and internal environments. But there is still a need for better neurodivergent inclusivity across most organisations.

In a recent episode of our Place of Work podcast, Frances Gain, Senior Associate, Workplace Strategy and Transformation, discussed her personal experience as a neurodiverse person and shared recommendations to help organisations execute on neurodiversity efforts with integrity, passion, and inclusivity at the centre.

Understanding neurodiversity at work

It’s important to note that neurodivergent people are not a monolith. There are different ways of talking about what it means to be neurodiverse. Here’s how Frances sees it: “You can look at neurodiversity as a spectrum. We’re all on it—it’s just a matter of where we land on different ends of it.”

Frances appreciates the term neurodivergent because, she says, “It adds a sense of gravitas and science to it. We’re not only talking about whether someone speaks more loudly or softly or whether they’re comfortable in person-to-person interactions. We’re talking about brain wiring and cognitive differences inherent to who we are and our neurological makeup.”

While conditions like ADHD, ASD, Tourette syndrome, dyslexia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder all fall under the umbrella of neurodiversity, Frances explained that even extroversion and introversion are on the spectrum.

Recognising and celebrating the differences in how people’s brains are wired can transform organisations in significant ways. Neurodivergent employees bring many valuable skills to the table—creative problem-solving, empathy, hyperfocus, attention to detail—if they are given an environment where they can thrive.

“If everyone comes into the workplace and has the same wiring, cognitive understanding, and social and educational background, it just keeps reinforcing the same thinking,” said Frances. “But people are diverse. Clients are diverse. When you have a mix of individuals in the workplace, there’s such a business case for creativity, innovation, and empathy.”

Considerations for making a workplace more inclusive

When contemplating how to make a workplace more inclusive of neurodiverse employees, Frances suggests putting aside trying to identify specific individuals. Keep in mind the statistic that 15-20% of people are neurodiverse, and assume that figure applies in your organisation.

As you progress toward a more inclusive workplace, consider:

  • Culture of acceptance. People need to understand that it’s okay to be different. Send the message that neurodiversity at work will be accepted and celebrated because of—not despite— people’s differences.
  • Sensory stimulation. Sensory stimulation impacts workers in various ways—and it’s not only about an environment being too noisy. People have visual sensitivities as well. While brightly coloured workplaces have their benefits, for many, these environments are overwhelming and exhausting. Consider how colour can be turned up, and dialled back where focus is needed.
  • Exposure. More extroverted employees might crave a certain level of exposure when they’re at work. “They need to see and be seen. They need to engage in a way that provides stimulation and spontaneity,” explained Frances.
  • Psychological safety. Introverted employees may prefer safe spaces where they can retreat from sensory stimulation and exposure. Consider how to give them the physical boundaries they desire to feel secure. “Booths are a great example,” said Frances. “Everyone loves sitting in a booth at work. It gives a sense of permanence, place, and safety.”
  • Element of control. “Control is key,” said Frances. “We often talk about choice in these conversations, and that’s certainly an essential factor, but control is important to neurodiverse people. If you can start giving employees better control of their spaces, they’ll feel more comfortable.”

5 ways to design workplaces for neurodiversity

We recently created a practical guide to design for neurodiversity. Here are five actions businesses can take to support neurodiversity at work:

Accommodate different communication styles
In a typical business meeting, you enter the room, the agenda kicks off…and the most extroverted people often dominate the conversation. However, there are other effective ways to communicate. Some employees may need 1:1 conversations in an enclosed space to express themselves comfortably. Or they may want time to think and reflect before speaking. Accommodating different communication preferences empowers employees to join in.

Evaluate your landscaping
Determine how you can landscape for areas of expression and quiet. Do your workspaces cater to employees who prefer exposure and those who need physical boundaries and quiet to work?

Restructure social and rest environments
The social element of work is important. Employees need to know that they’re accepted. If your social outings consistently involve going to the bar, change things up by planning a fun outdoor event. There are many ways to connect with colleagues, and neurodiverse employees may want to engage differently than their neurotypical peers.

Encourage movement
Frequent and repetitive movements—known as stimming—can be comforting for neurodivergent people. Consider adding dynamic furniture to allow for this activity. Space is also an essential factor. Designing wider corridors makes it easy to see colleagues coming and provides space for people to pace. These are actionable ways to support neurodiversity at work.

Provide digital tools
Are there ways you can promote digital equity throughout the workplace? “It can be as simple as using Grammarly,” said Frances. “As someone with dyslexia, I like having a built-in system that checks my spelling before I send an email. But rather than making employees ask for a solution like that, why not just provide it for everyone?”


Building neurodiversity at work

When you’re ready to start—or continue—the conversation about neurodiversity efforts, here’s what Frances recommends:

“Begin by observing the natural rhythms and flows of your people. Is there a certain area where people naturally gravitate? Then start to ask, ‘why?’ Is it because there’s more natural light, is it because it’s quieter, is it because it’s louder? Use these observations to consider what small things you can do to make people feel more comfortable throughout the workplace.”

If you’d like to learn more about Inclusive Design and neurodiversity at work, the team at M Moser is here to support you. Contact us today to learn more about shaping a workplace environment that supports all individuals.

Frances Gain

Associate Director, Workplace Strategy and Transformation

Grant Christofely

Associate Director, Workplace Strategy

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