Overcoming ADHD Challenges in Remote Work

Overcoming ADHD Challenges in Remote Work September 30, 2023

ADHD Challenges in Remote Work

Imagine stepping into a maze – winding paths, hidden pitfalls, and the tantalizing lure of success waiting just around the corner. That’s the corporate landscape for you. Now imagine navigating the same maze while riding a unicycle. The paths get trickier, the pitfalls become gaping chasms, and the goal seems miles further away. This, my friends, is the struggle workers with ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) face daily.

Skynova’s recent survey, which analyzed the challenges and triumphs of 1,008 workers with ADHD, throws light on this issue. The survey is akin to a high-powered flashlight, illuminating hidden corners and detailing how these workers are faring, particularly in the uncharted territories of remote work.

The Daunting Dial: Remote Work Dials Up Challenges for Workers with ADHD

Picture the daily work-life of an individual with ADHD as a boxing match. Every punch, every dodge, every round won or lost is a new challenge or victory. Now, introduce remote work into this picture. It’s like giving the adversary an extra glove. A study by Skynova shows that remote workers with ADHD find their daily tasks 17% more challenging than their on-site peers. The challenge is no longer a straightforward match; it’s morphed into a tag-team wrestling bout with hidden opponents and unforeseen tactics.

But the plot thickens further, like a detective novel with a surprise twist. Remote workers with ADHD are 54% more likely to struggle with impulse control than their on-site colleagues. The lure of distractions for these individuals is akin to a child let loose in a candy store, with all the goodies in the world at their fingertips. The challenge is a sticky one, holding on with the tenacity of bubble gum on a hot sidewalk.

So, what’s the secret ingredient to brewing a workplace that’s ADHD-friendly? The answer is as simple and delightful as adding whipped cream to your hot chocolate – flexible schedules. Picture a night owl, not confined by the traditional 9 to 5, but free to spread its wings when it’s most alert and productive. This is the allure of flexible schedules, which 64% of employees with ADHD have chosen as their top benefit for how workplaces can help those with ADHD.

Thus, ironically, remote work both correlates with more challenges in daily tasks for those with ADHD, and serves as a solution, by providing greater flexibility. Given that nearly two-thirds of those with ADHD choose flexibility as their most important benefit for addressing ADHD in the workplace, it seems the benefits of remote work outweigh the costs.

Indeed, that’s what surveys at my clients find when I help them in the return to office transition and flexible hybrid work policies: those with ADHD, fatigue, brain fog, and a set of other conditions express a stronger preference for more flexibility, in schedule and place of work, than those who don’t suffer from such conditions. However, Skynova’s survey highlights an issue I haven’t sufficiently considered, namely whether those with certain conditions, such as ADHD, might benefit from greater support to address impulse control challenges.

The Silver Lining: Career Growth and ADHD

ADHD might seem like an impediment, but Skynova’s survey highlights that it’s not a career-killer. Imagine yourself stuck in rush-hour traffic – congested, slow, but not stagnant. Progress is slow, but it’s progress nonetheless.

Many hybrid (74%) and on-site (68%) workers admit that they have grown in their careers despite their ADHD. It’s like watching a small sapling grow into a mighty tree despite the rocky soil. Meanwhile, 61% of their remote counterparts echo this sentiment, albeit at a slightly lesser frequency.

The numbers portray a powerful story, much like a riveting novel. A whopping 58% of employees with ADHD express satisfaction with their career choices. They are the content diners at a restaurant, satiated and pleased with the meal of career options served to them.

The Balancing Act: Nurturing a Supportive Environment for Workers with ADHD

It’s now time to shine a spotlight on the corporate maestros – the organizations. Here, the picture is a mixed bag of popcorn, with flavors ranging from the savory to the unsavory. On the bright side, four in ten workers with ADHD play a harmonious tune, stating that their company or manager strikes the right chord in providing a supportive environment.

Remarkably, two-thirds of these corporate tightrope walkers believe they have grown in their careers despite the juggling act. It’s a testament to their resilience and determination. However, 39% express that their ADHD has sometimes acted like an overly cautious GPS, restricting their journey by suggesting safer, albeit longer and less rewarding routes.

In some cases, ADHD is more than just a hurdle – it feels like a looming mountain. Over a quarter of workers with ADHD have tasted the bitter pill of layoffs, with 21% suspecting that their ADHD was a contributing factor. It’s akin to being penalized for a snowstorm when all you did was forget your snow boots.

Cognitive Biases: The Invisible Puppeteers of the ADHD Narrative

Just as a marionette is controlled by the invisible strings of its puppeteer, our perceptions and decisions about ADHD and remote work can often be manipulated by cognitive biases. These cognitive biases can distort our understanding and influence our decisions, like an autocorrect feature that sometimes corrects us in the wrong way.

Confirmation bias is like a picky eater at a buffet, choosing only the foods it likes and ignoring the rest. This cognitive bias drives us to favor information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs, while discarding any data that challenges them.

In the context of ADHD and remote work, confirmation bias might lead us to focus exclusively on the challenges faced by individuals with ADHD. We might be more inclined to view ADHD as a barrier, only taking note of the 17% increase in daily challenges for remote workers with ADHD. We might overlook the part of the Skynova study that tells us that a significant percentage of workers with ADHD (65%) have managed to grow in their careers despite their challenges. Or that 64% prefer flexibility as the top way that companies can help address challenges for people with ADHD. It’s like ignoring the spectacular dessert section in the buffet because we are too fixated on the sushi counter.

In the workplace, managers and colleagues might also succumb to confirmation bias, interpreting the actions of employees with ADHD through a lens of preconceived notions. For example, an employee with ADHD who forgets a deadline might be viewed as “irresponsible,” reinforcing negative stereotypes about ADHD. In doing so, we overlook the unique strengths and potential that these individuals bring to the table.

The empathy gap is like standing at the edge of a wide canyon, unable to reach the other side because we cannot bridge the divide. This bias refers to our difficulty in understanding others’ experiences, particularly if they differ significantly from our own.

In the world of remote work, the empathy gap can lead to a lack of understanding and support for colleagues with ADHD. For instance, people without ADHD might struggle to grasp why a remote environment presents extra challenges for their ADHD colleagues. It’s like trying to understand why someone might be afraid of heights when you’ve never climbed higher than a step-stool.

They might not understand the heightened struggle with impulse control that their remote colleagues with ADHD experience. As a result, they might unintentionally make decisions or judgements that further exacerbate these challenges. For instance, a manager might schedule back-to-back virtual meetings, not realizing the difficulty this may pose for an employee with ADHD who may need short breaks between tasks for optimal focus and productivity. Indeed, the second most-named benefit after flexible schedules helpful for addressing problems for those with ADHD was employers encouraging breaks when needed, named by 44% of survey respondents.

In order to counteract these cognitive biases, it is crucial to foster an environment of open conversation and education about ADHD. Understanding these biases, like holding up a mirror to our thoughts, is the first step towards ensuring that our decisions and actions become more inclusive and supportive of all workers, whether they are navigating the corporate labyrinth from an office cubicle or a home desk.

Conclusion: A Call for Adaptation and Understanding

To sum it all up, navigating remote work with ADHD is like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube on a roller coaster – thrilling, challenging, and certainly not for the faint-hearted. Yet, with the right modifications, such as flexible schedules, the roller coaster can be transformed into a scenic train ride – still exciting, but now manageable and even enjoyable.

An office, whether physical or virtual, should not resemble a battleground where survival is the only goal. Instead, it should be a sandbox where everyone gets to play, build, and thrive. So, let’s remove the obstacles and fill the sandbox with tools and toys that enable everyone to create their best sandcastles. After all, a castle is most majestic when built by many hands.


Key Take-Away

Remote work presents unique challenges for individuals with ADHD, but flexible schedules and support can foster success and growth...>Click to tweet

Image credit: Kampus Production/Pexels

Originally published in Disaster Avoidance Experts on June 9, 2023

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky was lauded as “Office Whisperer” and “Hybrid Expert” by The New York Times for helping leaders use hybrid work to improve retention and productivity while cutting costs. He serves as the CEO of the boutique future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts. Dr. Gleb wrote the first book on returning to the office and leading hybrid teams after the pandemic, his best-seller Returning to the Office and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage (Intentional Insights, 2021). He authored seven books in total, and is best know for his global bestseller, Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters (Career Press, 2019). His cutting-edge thought leadership was featured in over 650 articles and 550 interviews in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, USA Today, CBS News, Fox News, Time, Business Insider, Fortune, and elsewhere. His writing was translated into Chinese, Korean, German, Russian, Polish, Spanish, French, and other languages. His expertise comes from over 20 years of consulting, coaching, and speaking and training for Fortune 500 companies from Aflac to Xerox. It also comes from over 15 years in academia as a behavioral scientist, with 8 years as a lecturer at UNC-Chapel Hill and 7 years as a professor at Ohio State. A proud Ukrainian American, Dr. Gleb lives in Columbus, Ohio. In his free time, he makes sure to spend abundant quality time with his wife to avoid his personal life turning into a disaster. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, follow him on LinkedIn @dr-gleb-tsipursky, Twitter @gleb_tsipursky, Instagram @dr_gleb_tsipursky, Facebook @DrGlebTsipursky, Medium @dr_gleb_tsipursky, YouTube, and RSS, and get a free copy of the Assessment on Dangerous Judgment Errors in the Workplace by signing up for the free Wise Decision Maker Course at https://disasteravoidanceexperts.com/newsletter/.

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