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How to manage staff meetings with neurodivergent employees

By Aron Mercer, Global Advisor for Billion Strong

Like them or loathe them, meetings are a fact of modern working life. When the first Covid lockdowns were imposed, it was meetings that many employers rushed to find solutions for, much to the benefit of companies like Zoom!

But for some neurodivergent staff, meetings can be extremely difficult for several reasons. They may find it hard to take in information verbally or struggle with the noise if many people are talking at once, if the meeting breaks into smaller groups, for example. They may work with the unwritten rules of engagements, come across as blunt, or find maintaining eye contact with whoever is speaking difficult. Or they may find being around other people and focusing on social skills that do not come naturally challenging and exhausting.

So, if you have one or more neurodivergent people on your team, how can you make your meetings work better for them?

Firstly, talk to them! All neurodivergent people are different, so while they may have one or more of the issues I have mentioned, their particular concerns may differ completely. Most neurodivergent people will greatly appreciate being asked what can help them, even if it is impossible to deliver it all. Knowing that you are aware of potential difficulties they may have can be a huge help.

Consider if a meeting is the best way to achieve your objective. What is the conference designed to achieve, and could all or some of it be done differently? Sessions are resource intensive, so only having them when they are the most efficient solution makes sense anyway.

If the meeting is the best solution, it may help neurodivergent team members know how the session will work and what will be discussed – a timed agenda issued ahead of time can make a huge difference. Let your team members understand what is expected of them and how you will support them. If you want a neurodivergent team member to lead on an agenda item, discuss this with them well in advance so they know what is required and can ask questions for clarification in private rather than in front of the whole group.

Sometimes, physical changes can make a meeting much easier for a neurodivergent team member. If they are sensitive to bright lights, can a room where the lighting can be reduced be used, or can the meeting be held virtually so they can control their environment? If they find noise difficult, can the meeting be in a room rather than an open plan space where there may be noise from other nearby areas?

Finally, be aware that meetings can be exhausting for some neurodivergent team members who may find that social skills do not come naturally and take a lot of energy to maintain. This could mean they need some recovery time after a meeting or can only perform well in a limited number of daily sessions.

Meetings are all about communication; a little contact with neurodivergent team members ahead of a meeting can make it work much better for everyone.

Learn more about Aron Mercer here.

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