On March 20, my state issued a ‘shelter in place’ order to combat the spread of COVID-19.
While many of my human family are living with fear and anxiety, as well as bemoaning the interruption to their “normal” lives, I am thriving. I am happier, more well-rested and all around better for being able to live in ways that support and enhance my life and work. My intention is not to rub salt into my compatriots’ wounds; I say this because there may be people around the globe who feel as I do, and we shouldn’t be ashamed to celebrate our normal.
“I get to work remotely in the comfort and quiet of my home which is set up to help me regulate my ADHD and my introverted personality”
As the world pauses, I am blessed to still have a job. Additionally, I get to work remotely in the comfort and quiet of my home which is set up to help me regulate my ADHD and my introverted personality. I spend my work-at-home-days tending to email, phone calls and doing what is required of me in a comfortable chair, bathed in natural light with only the ambient sounds of birds, an occasional car or people outside my house. I can set work aside as needed to address over-stimulation, recover from bouts of hours-long hyperfocus and attention to detail, both of which escalate my internal hyperactivity and cause me to withdraw from the world entirely.
As a true introvert with ADHD, being around people for extended periods of time and excessive external stimuli exhausts me and exacerbates the many negative issues that accompany an ADHD diagnosis.
I have long been an advocate of remote work and results-only work environments. With the onslaught of the digital age, I often argue that traditional office hours and office spaces ultimately could be improved with planning and mindfulness. Admittedly, it takes leaders with compassion, vision and open minds to create these spaces.
For many startups, particularly tech companies, small headquarters with minimal staff and a slew of remote workers are now the norm. I recently interviewed for a marketing position with a start up that would allow me to work 100 percent remotely. All I need is a computer, internet connection, a phone and maybe a printer.
For the past 30 years, I have worked in various types of offices and in various office layouts: cubicles; in offices with doors; shared work spaces and had and didn’t have windows. Most recently, I moved into an open space with a counter. I do not have access to natural light and there is no window or door in my area. The ceilings in this new space are 15 feet high, and the floors are concrete. A beautiful modern building to be sure but a nightmare for someone like me. Light and sound bounce around, people chat, the public wanders through, everyone that walks by expects some kind of greeting.
By the end of the day, the external stimuli is so intense that my work has suffered, I become disorganized and highly agitated/angry and am emotionally and physically exhausted because of the number of interruptions and distractions.
This gets in the way of me doing daily life activities that I enjoy such as cooking, working out and simply enjoying time with my son.
Sadly my employers absolutely couldn’t care less about my discomfort in my work environment. They seem all too impressed with their building to notice how it may affect some of their workers. My coworker is similarly affected by the light and noise, but not so much by the people. So at 50 years old, I grin and bear it as I always have so I don’t stir the pot and lose my job. I am middle aged with no current prospects, and I have a teenage son to raise.
“Sadly my employers absolutely couldn’t care less about my discomfort in my work environment.”
Earlier in my career I had an office in an old dorm room on a college campus. I had two windows I could open and close at my discretion. I controlled the light and the amount of fresh air I needed. I had a desk lamp for rainy days, as I prefer low or natural light when working. I had a door I could close as needed for quiet and I was left to do my work as I pleased as long as I met deadlines and completed necessary tasks. Working remotely reminds me of this gorgeous little office and how, when left to my own devices, I was better able to regulate my surroundings and my conditions. My supervisors trusted me and I was a dedicated and loyal employee who worked to never let them down.
During this pandemic, business owners and leaders are being forced to reexamine how they can successfully conduct business. Prior to California issuing a ‘shelter in place’ order, a San Francisco company chose to make all their workers remote to keep them safe and to continue to do business. The company owner said that 30 percent of his workforce was already working remotely. He worked quickly with his team to devise a remote work plan for the other 60 percent of his employees. I gleefully applauded this decision and said to myself, “See, it is entirely possible.”
In addition to the work environment, acknowledging varying work styles is important. For example, when I am assigned projects and/or tasks, I get all my most interesting and easy work done as quickly as possible. If I find a task boring or tedious, I wait until the last minute to bang out my work – I need a challenge to be interested in what I’m doing and bumping up against a hard deadline makes that easier. My neurotypical colleagues and employees often approach work the opposite way.
“acknowledging varying work styles is important”
This workflow works for me. I reward myself with the free time I’ve created by finishing my work quickly. If I have a list of items to accomplish and don’t complete the list, my internal hyperactivity ramps up and I’m overwhelmed and agitated. I work hard to feel better. And whilst enjoying the free time I’ve created, I continue to respond to emails or phone calls as they come in. My email box never has more than 15 emails in it at a time, and I leave no voicemail unanswered as I hate when my voicemail notification light is on.
My work style has frustrated some of my supervisors. This is particularly noticeable if I’m overqualified for a job. They think I’m lazy, not working or that I’m unproductive even though I’ve finished my work and have nothing to do and especially when I’m chatting with coworkers, grabbing coffee, or going for a 10 minute walk.
“In my many years of leading both neurotypical and neurodivergent people, I made an effort to identify my team members’ strengths and the types of environments in which they work best. I never made accommodations for them, I simply met them where they were and worked with them to be successful.”
I was given that gift by a few superior leaders who also mentored me. I also believe this is a gift we should give to absolutely everyone, whether neurodiverse or neurotypical.
I urge leaders and employers to consider developing work environments that are dynamic and encourage productivity rather than relying on traditional/outdated standards. Consult with people who design inclusive and diverse office spaces, and seek input from your employees and identify needs. I’m not saying every individual should have a unique space, rather review ideas that work for most and tweak what you can.
Consider a results-only work environment in which employee performance is based solely on individual results. This type of environment can work for both neurotypicals and neurodiverse. By providing both office space and remote work opportunities, employees are encouraged to choose the work environment that allows them to do their best work in a timely and efficient manner.
When building environments and cultures, consider including employees. Coalition building doesn’t mean having everyone in the room, it means building bridges and allowing for joint compromise for the good of the greater whole. You’d be surprised how many people buy in. And, by offering opportunities for collaboration you build trust and trust results in loyalty and dedication.
And honestly, what better time than now for leaders to address how to move their companies forward than in the first quarter of this amazingly strange century. We are living what will be an extremely large chapter in our global history. This is our opportunity to change how we do everything we know in meaningful ways. Now is the time to break open and redefine workplace norms to encourage diversity, inclusion and healthy cultures.
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