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Supporting a Neurodiverse Workforce – Remotely

By | Education, Future of Work, HR, Human Centered Design, Remote Working, Talent, Team Culture

Every workforce is neurodiverse; in fact, about 1 in 5 people in your workplace live with Dyslexia, Autism, ADHD, Dyspraxia and other neurological conditions. This means they might have different communication forms, strengths and characteristics to everyone else. However, it is increasingly accepted that having a neurodiverse workforce provides increased capacity for innovation, productivity and overall employee wellbeing.

How can your organisation capitalise on the benefits of remote neurodiverse employees? To find out, DY/DX has partnered with Dr Amanda Kirby, CEO of Do-IT Solutions; a tech-for-good company, who have developed tools and apps to support neurodiverse children and adults. Recently retired as a professor at the University of South Wales, Dr Amanda Kirby has lectured to more than 100,000 individuals worldwide, written over 100 research papers and 9 books which have been translated into more than 5 languages.

 

What does working remotely mean for a neurodiverse individual?

Working remotely for neurodiverse individuals can be advantageous because it often provides the opportunity for the neurodiverse employee to choose the best environment for them to work in. For some neurodiverse people, this might mean working with music in the background, while for others it might mean having sound off and headphones on. It may be that in a virtual meeting one can walk around, or use text-to-speech tools and technology if needed. It allows the neurodiverse employee to have the environment that is best conducive for them to work optimally.

 

What are the characteristics of a supportive neurodiverse work environment?

A supportive neurodiverse environment is one that is inclusive – the hiring, onboarding and line management is done in an inclusive manner and one which optimises the performance of the whole team. It means that the workplace is also accessible; that neurodiversity is not an add-on but rather built into the fabric of the organisation.

You know you are moving toward a supportive environment once you are able to ask the questions: “how can I support you?”, “are there any barriers to you being successful?”, “what are your needs and skills gaps?” to all your team members – but you’d do it in a way that uses effective communication methods learned through awareness training. Then you’re actually being truly inclusive and it isn’t a mere tick-box or once-off exercise.

 

Is there anything remote teams or remote team managers should avoid doing?

One key thing for remote team managers to avoid is making assumptions based on an individual’s label. For instance, assuming that people who are autistic are good at IT, or people who are ADHD are very creative. This means you limit your understanding of that individual and it can lead to incorrect biases. The second key point is for managers to measure and check on their own conscious and unconscious biases.

Assumptions can be avoided by being person-centred. Understanding your team as a whole and embracing diversity within your team, means you will naturally have better productivity and employee wellbeing.

It’s also important for organisations to be wary of one-off exercises such as “this year we’re doing inclusion, next year we’re doing LGBTQ+ and the year after that we’re doing diversity.” Neurodiversity is everyone and should be ingrained in your whole processes because that’s when improved productivity and wellbeing take place.

 

What should be included in a working agreement to support neurodiverse employees?

Nothing that shouldn’t be included in a comprehensive working agreement for all employees. However, the way the agreement is formed, the way information is gathered and the way the questions are asked will make all the difference.

We often communicate in the way that we prefer because that’s our style. If you have become a successful manager, you might continue to use your set style of communication, unaware that some people find that method difficult to understand, comprehend or engage with. So, we need to question our own communication style in order to lead better.

By crafting a working agreement in an inclusive manner and understanding the different forms of communication, you can create a supportive environment for everyone, including those neurodiverse employees. Reviewing this regularly is also important.

 

What is the biggest barrier to support for neurodiverse employees?

The biggest barrier is understanding and awareness. I think there is still the idea in some camps that neurodiversity means autism – which it doesn’t. There is sometimes an oversimplsitc approach to awareness; and organisations believe if they understand what autism is and what ADHD is that they understand the strategy or approach to neurodiversity. However, this isn’t the case and often means organisations move away from the fundamental goal of understanding the person in the context of their work and home life.

Another barrier is the term ‘disclosure’. Sometimes employers say “why didn’t they tell me?”. First of all, many adults don’t have a diagnosis. They may have grown up recognising that they have differences in the way they communicate, be it written or oral forms, or they find certain tasks more challenging; but they may not have the words or the confidence to say “I am dyslexic” or “I am autistic”.

Secondly, the term disclosure has the connotation of ‘revealing’, like revealing secrets. Some people may feel shame; and when they have revealed this information before they have not had positive experiences. If someone has to tick a box to reveal themselves, they might be reticent or apprehensive to give this information.

At the heart of neurodiversity is everyone; so if you’re asking everyone “how can we best support you” then you are more likely to get the appropriate answer without those biases.

 

Specifically regarding remote communication, what are some of the considerations employers and teams should have for neurodiverse colleagues?

We have to have the same recommendations for someone who is neurodivergent that we do for the team as a whole. Because actually, the most important thing is that the whole team communicates effectively together. It requires an understanding of how each member communicates and this may differ from task to task or project to project to project.

High performing teams take into consideration the neurodiversity of the whole team. Offering a range of ways of communicating, without saying “this way is right or wrong” means the whole team works and communicates in an effective manner. And it’s when teams don’t do this that problems and misunderstandings arise.

 

How does neurodiversity give organisations an edge?

There are a number of ways neurodiversity can benefit an organisation. First of all, you have neurodiverse people in your organisation already; and you may be losing talent because their wellbeing and productivity are not supported appropriately. They may feel misunderstood or not heard or listened to.

By embracing neurodiversity, you’ll be seen as a ‘good’ organisation and enviable place to work, and you are going to attract new talent that you wouldn’t otherwise attract without inclusive processes and procedures. You will also likely see an uptick in productivity. We know that people who are neurodivergent take less sick days, that they are often very reliable employees.

You also don’t know who isn’t applying for your jobs. By having your hiring, recruitment and management approaches be inclusive, you might attract new and innovative talent.

Where does one start to become inclusive?

Some basic awareness which needs to be driven from the top down. There also needs to be buy-in from all levels of the business that this is worth it, something which is good for business, employees and customers.

Once you have that, you can put in a D and I policy that becomes ingrained in everything you do. And then you need to look at your recruitment, retention policies and provide line managers with training not to become experts in Dyslexia, ADHD and Autism because otherwise they need to be experts in epilepsy, Diabetes, Rheumatoid arthritis, too. Sometimes this is a barrier because a manager can feel like they’re not expert enough to handle a sensitive situation.

It’s important your employees know where to go for this supporting information. In large businesses it means having someone in your business that is a little more informed and that person might be in HR or in Diversity and Inclusion. 

Retrospective Meeting Formula For Remote Teams

By | Education, HR, Productivity, Remote Working, Team Culture | No Comments

Short for retrospective, a “retro” is an opportunity to reflect on the recent past and optimise for the future. Commonly used by Fortune 500 companies and Silicon Valley tech startups, retrospectives are a powerful way to optimise a remote team’s effectiveness.

Without the casual water cooler chats or gripe sessions that happen organically in an office environment, issues affecting a team’s performance and morale might go unnoticed until it’s too late. The best way to prevent that kind of pain is by making an effort to uncover problem areas while they’re still easy to address. 

It’s important to note that a retro should be a constructive session and a positive learning experience. To avoid retros becoming blaming sessions or monotonous, this retro meeting formula can help your team express their views with more safety and engagement. Promoting psychological safety in your remote team will help to ensure people feel comfortable to share their honest thoughts and opinions; leading to a higher functioning and more effective team. 

What is the goal of this meeting?

Evaluate the past working cycle – with the entire team – with the aim of generating insights to help optimise how the team works together.

What tools will I need for this meeting?

Web conferencing tool and a collaboration platform that supports stickies.

How much time should I set aside?

You will need about 1–1.5 hours to complete this session. Note that the length of your retro meetings will be determined by the number of team members and how new the team is.

When should I host a retro?

Retros are a great way for a project lead to assess the effectiveness of their teams. Retros can happen at the end of a work sprint, the end of a product iteration or at regular intervals throughout a project. If your team is losing momentum and not meeting deadlines, if sub-tasks did not go as planned, or if there is misalignment between project leads, a retro can help get you back on track. 

MEETING AGENDA

  • 5 min | Check-in – The meeting facilitator sets the scene for what will be done in the session. 
  • 5 min | GLAD – Reflecting back on the project so far, the team writes down what made them feel Glad. 
  • 10 min | Discuss – The team elaborates on their contributions in a discussion. 
  • 10 min | SAD + MAD – The team writes down their frustrations of the project so far.
  • 10 min | Discuss – Ask the team if they see a pattern emerging and if there anything they wish to discuss in greater detail. 
  • 5 min | KUDOS – The team reflects on moments, teammates or skills which contributed to the project’s success. 
  • 5 min | Discuss – This is discussed in greater detail and champion team members are celebrated. 
  • 15 min | Actions – Key take-outs are discussed, process and Culture Canvas is adjusted, and steps going forward are agreed. 
  • 5 min | Closing 

It’s a good idea to prepare your retro document ahead of time and then share the document link in the meeting agenda. For this example, we have used Google Slides as our collaboration tool.

SET THE SCENE | 5 minutes

As the meeting facilitator, remind participants of the meeting purpose and then explain the process of filling in the GLAD, SAD, MAD, KUDOS stickies. Explain that participants can copy and paste their sticky notes into the relevant sections or slides.

Some people are very outspoken, while others are quiet and observe more. Keep mental notes as to who hasn’t contributed much and make a point to draw them into the conversation to the extent they’re comfortable.

GLAD | 5 minutes (silence)

You could start with any of the Glad, Sad or Mad slides but in our experience, it can be helpful to start off with some positive thoughts about the project. Allow participants 5 minutes of silence to reflect back on the project and type a word/phrase or sentence to describe something positive or something that made them glad.

DISCUSS GLAD | 10 minutes

Once your team has filled in a satisfactory number of GLAD stickies in the allotted time, it’s important to discuss and unpack what the team has put down. If anything written down is unclear, this gives your teammates a chance to elaborate and clarify on what they have to say. 

SAD + MAD | 10 minutes (silence)

Now your team has an idea of what to do, it can save some time to do both SAD and MAD sections at once. Allow your team 10 minutes of silence to reflect back and fill in their frustrations and project pain points.

DISCUSS SAD + MAD | 10 minutes

At this point, it would be a good idea to ask them if they notice any pattern emerging from the stickies. Often, a pain-point experienced by one team member is also experienced by another; so it is likely that your teammate’s stickies will be repetitive. These patterns or repetitions can help you identify next-actions or ways to optimise your process. Starting with SAD, identify as a team where the patterns are and then get one or two team members to sort the stickies into groups.

KUDOS | 5 minutes (silence)

To ensure the session doesn’t end on a sour note, it’s important to give time for kudos. This is where your team will call out a champion team member and celebrate a particular effort on the project.

DISCUSS KUDOS | 5 minutes

Allow your teammates 5 minutes to share their celebrations and props with each other and to elaborate on the ways this contributed positively to their project experience. A little peer-to-peer recognition is a great way to end your retro on a positive note.

ACTIONS | 15 minutes

This is an opportunity for the team to discuss solutions and to make necessary adjustments to project processes and your Culture Canvas (an essential tool for remote teams). As the team solves a challenge or agrees on a way forward, this is recorded as an action. These actions should ensure elimination of the frustration and pain-points experienced in the project so far.


CLOSING | 5 minutes

Spend the final 5 minutes of the meeting ensuring that everyone has had their say, that everyone is aligned with the next steps, and that any changes to processes or ways of working have been clearly communicated. Ask if anyone has final questions or comments. And finally, acknowledge your team’s participation and express gratitude for special contributions.

Video: DYDX Partner Nevo Hadas on – Design Thinking for Business

By | Courses, Design Thinking, Education | No Comments

What is Design Thinking?

DYDX partner Nevo Hadas breaks down what Design Thinking is and isn’t, how it works and how it could help organisations solve complex problems.

This talk was hosted at Red & Yellow’s Breakfast Session initiative, and designed to help educate businesses on design thinking approaches and help them figure out ways they can innovate and grow.

Nevo discusses what creativity actually is, the processes surrounding success (and failure), and shares a number of lessons around Design Thinking.

 

Nevo Hadas led the development of “The Culture Canvas”, an open-source framework that makes work culture actionable for businesses to shape their team’s behaviours. The latest ebook on managing remote teams, “me.we.us” is available as a free download and a 10-minute “Remote Team Maturity” assessment, designed to help companies measure the effectiveness of their remote teams.