As more employers become aware of neurodiversity, the importance of inclusive meeting practices has come to the forefront. Inclusivity can be the difference between a meeting where everyone walks away bored or confused and one where the team leaves motivated and with more trust. Luckily, most neurodivergent employees need only minor accommodations to improve their outcomes significantly, and these changes will benefit neurotypical employees just as much. Neurodiversity in the workplace brings it own host of benefit, and requires only slight adjustments to create an inclusive environment.
5 Tips for Holding Neurodivergent-Friendly Meetings
1. Set a Regular Meeting Schedule
Disruptions to a neurodivergent employee’s schedule can quickly tank productivity and momentum. This includes even small events, like short, impromptu meetings. While you’ll inevitably need to schedule last-minute meetings occasionally, it’s important to keep your team’s meeting schedule as regular as possible.
When employees know they have a regularly scheduled meeting to attend, they can prepare for it ahead of time and preserve their motivation and focus for the day’s work. But when meeting schedules are irregular or unpredictable, your neurodivergent employees may find it difficult to move on from the interruptions. If possible, stick to no more than a couple of meetings per week with any given team. Meetings toward the beginning or the end of the day are typically less disruptive and may lead to better productivity.
2. Spur Engagement With Questions
When meetings become monotonous or one-sided, it’s easy for employees to lose focus and zone out, even those who aren’t neurodivergent. In this type of meeting, it’s harder for everyone to absorb and internalize important information. You can make your meetings more inclusive and effective by making them more interactive and including everyone’s thoughts and opinions throughout the event. Take time during the meeting to ask an individual employee impacted by the topic at hand how they feel about it, how they would address an issue, or what they need to successfully implement potential changes.
When spurring engagement this way, it’s important to avoid making employees feel singled out and targeted. Instead, you want them to feel naturally included in the conversation. If someone seems uncomfortable being put on the spot, encourage them to think the topic over and follow up with you later.
This strategy helps keep neurodivergent employees actively engaged by making the meeting feel more like a conversation than a lecture. This can be particularly helpful for hybrid and remote meetings where employees may feel physically disengaged and need more prodding to keep their mental focus.
3. Don’t Sweat Fidgeting
At in-person meetings especially, you may catch sight of employees fidgeting, doodling, or averting their gaze from the speaker. While this was considered poor meeting etiquette in the past, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s plenty of evidence that doodling can help with creativity and memory retention. And for many neurodivergent employees, fidgeting–also referred to as stimming–helps improve focus. Managing neurodivergent employees means trusting them to know what actions they need to take to focus better and carry out duties.
4. Send Meeting Summaries
Sending a written debrief after meetings is always essential, but when managing neurodivergent employees, it can make all the difference. Post-meeting notes give employees a summary to refer to while working, and they also help neurodivergent employees remember the meeting contents better and implement any necessary changes with fewer interruptions.
These notes are also helpful for employees with auditory processing issues or other trouble listening and absorbing information. Additionally, when there’s a technical hiccup during remote meetings, summaries help fill in the gaps after the fact.
5. Avoid Unnecessary Meetings
Because meetings can be so disruptive to neurodivergent employees, managers should always carefully consider whether each meeting is indeed necessary. Can the contents of a potential meeting be summed up in an email or instant message? Is the meeting more relevant to some employees than others? If the answer is yes, the meeting may be unnecessary, and you should evaluate the best way to deliver that information.