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Remote Work, Mental Health and Neurodiversity

erikaheidi profile image Erika Heidi ・Updated on ・2 min read

We often talk about remote work as a perk to make working more comfortable and convenient, but there are important aspects that are often ignored in this conversation. Accessibility and inclusion are, to me, the most relevant ones.

Sometimes, I might require more mental space to navigate the world. It happens when my mental footprint in that particular day is higher than usual, with accumulating thoughts or too many things to do. It's like walking around with a big backpack: totally doable and sometimes necessary, but it kinda sucks in packed places and when you have to take something out of it in a hurry. It also makes you more tired than usual.

the backpack illustration

We're all different and wired in different ways; there's a bunch of brilliant people out there who will never be able to perform at their best capacity unless they're given access to the tools and space to effectively harvest what's on their hearts and minds.

Remote work, when well supported, allows introverts and all sorts of neurodivergent folks to feel safe for expressing themselves better and at their own pace, thanks to asynchronous communication. Good processes and documentation are an essential part of all this. And although I recognize going remote might not be the best option for everyone, in my case it has really improved my mental health, productivity and overall enjoyment of life / work balance.

In the context of team work, it should only matter that if this is how someone performs better, and if you want their best work, you should make the effort to provide them with the mental space they need.

Meetings are still a pain point that can be greatly softened out by giving people enough time to prepare. That means no last-minute meetings, and no meetings without a previous shared agenda, for instance. Surprise "everyone will each share something" moments are a no-no to me personally, I understand the motivation behind it, but it can be anxiety inducing for some folks.

As an introvert, I think nothing changed my career the same way as going remote did, and that's why I am so eager to support the idea of making remote the new normal. There will come a day when we look back and we can't understand why people in IT jobs were required to go to an office to type letters there, when they could be typing letters at home.

Have you got any thoughts about remote work as a tool for accessibility and for supporting neurodiversity? Please share in the comments :)

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dabit_coder profile image
David Oliva Tirado

Great post! Those last months have been really helpful to push the remote work at my company, and I will keep in mind all the things you pointed in you article to keep pushing for a more open to WFH company.

Thank you!

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Ryan Smith

Great post, I can definitely relate to this. Seemingly innocuous situations like someone dropping by with a non-trivial question can be a challenge at times. If I haven't had a few minutes to think about it, I think my responses are lackluster. The added pressure of the other person staring at me and waiting for my reply doesn't help and causes anxiety. There is this feeling of needing to give a complete and correct answer. Deferring the conversation is difficult when the person is standing there and you feel the need to help that person.

If I receive a message with some background information, have time to skim over it and jot down some notes, then talking about it goes much smoother. I'm more confident in the information I'm providing and the other person gets a better response.

It can be difficult in the workplace because others may enjoy having casual, impromptu meetings. I'm more into getting my thoughts organized and being prepared for a meeting. I think everyone could benefit from preparing for meetings, even if they are extroverted and like to talk things out.

I have used work from home days to get a mental break from these types of situations. For me, it is more productive overall. It takes a little time to think and formulate my thoughts, but I think the outcome saves a lot of everyone's time. It also reduces the mental strain of having to jump between conversations, meetings, emails, and anything else that comes up. I'm able to understand and think about the problem before offering my thoughts. Since I'm more confident in my answer, I'm able to close the book on it in my head and not worry that I did not provide the right information.

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Erika Heidi Author

You nailed it, that's exactly how I feel! Having just a bit of time to prepare can make such a huge difference to me. Otherwise, it's really a shot in the dark, I usually go "listen-only" mode in these situations.

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Erika Heidi Author

There's also an element of privacy that is super relevant for many folks. You don't often think about it, but being free to not worry about "how they're seeing you" can definitely free up more mental space and make you more productive.

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Manuele J Sarfatti

I love your take on this article, and I must say I have a very similar experience, being introverted and needing time and space to perform properly. I feel like my brain absorbs and processes an excessively incredible amount of inputs from the world, to the point of being literally overwhelmed in certain situations (I find your backpack comparison very fitting). Being able to work remote, on my time, with a space I can control, benefits myself and my output immensely.

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Erika Heidi Author

Yesss I also feel overwhelmed by world inputs sometimes, I remember that since I was a kid. I also believe that working from home lifts off a weight of how you present yourself to others, which for some people might be heavier than for other people. This is not purely appearance, but also face-to-face interactions with everyone in the office space.

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πŸ‘©πŸ»β€πŸ’» Dali

I really liked your text and I identify with some parts, especially the giant backpack analogy. I worked totally remotely for two years and had a positive experience in the early months, but over time things changed and I got to the point that if they didn't allocate me a shared workspace, I'd probably have to quit my job. The feeling of not really being part of the teams was horrible, I always knew things later, didn't share decisions directly, and often felt inferior in recognition and performance compared to my colleagues. Over time, being alone daily in my room was also horrible. I had bouts of depression and panic syndrome, and in therapy I found that loneliness became a very serious trigger for me. I had horrible crises until I realized that my lifestyle and working relationship needed to change dramatically. Maybe I will be working remotely at some quieter time in my life, I still see many positive points in this working model.