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Hybrid work and neurodivergence

The last two years have been a bit of a rollercoaster. I say two years, but for me, it’s been nearly three, as I was on a research leave the year before Covid did a number on all of us. That means I was at home working a lot of the time, although I did travel to various places in Europe before February 2020. I wasn’t teaching when the pandemic hit us all so I didn’t have to rapidly switch to online teaching. I’d done a lot of it before in online or hybrid formats and I’ve done research into making tools and technologies for the virtual meeting world. So I’m pretty comfortable with the whole thing.


But there’s a problem now.


Let me see. In the past two years we’ve moved not just teaching but everything else online: meetings, concerts, conferences, family gatherings, you name it. Some of these things worked better than others, it must be said, but there is one thing that needs to be noted...


They worked.


We made the best of what we had, we actually came together in ways many of us would never have imagined, and I dare say in may ways, despite our distances, we became closer in many different ways too.


Now, things are getting back to a semblance of normality. Some teaching is moving back face to face, meetings are being arranged face to face, things like that.


But are we risking losing what we gained in the quest to be ‘normal’ again? Are you risking losing some of us?


There’s a meeting arranged for this afternoon in my calendar. It’s physical and there are no options available for virtual joining.


So I will miss it.


It’s not because I don’t want to go.


I’m just not sure I want to go back to where I was. Oh sure, I go to some face to face gatherings and I’m just not entirely comfortable. And that should be okay, not to be comfortable, because we are all different.


I wasn’t much comfortable before, to be honest. I have never really liked face to face things. I’m good at them and I do them very well, to the extent that people would never realize (except for the presence of my service dog to bolster my self). I know the rules and I know how I am expected to be. But I’m not comfortable. At the end of and often before most days at a conference, I hide wherever I can – hotel rooms mostly – and sit, usually catatonic, until I am ready to ‘people’ again.


It’s just not that much fun.


What has the pandemic given me? The ability to be my self with other people. I’m still exhausted at the end of most meetings or teaching sessions because I put a lot of myself into being my self, but I’m no longer as, what’s the best way to put it, ‘wound up’, ‘worried’, ‘stressed’, ‘uncomfortable’ as I was. It felt like I had been given permission to be comfortable as my self, and that is a wonderful feeling.


I don’t want to miss that, and I don’t want to have to be something I am not for the rest of my (at least working) life. I like being able to join things virtually, to hop over to the UK, or Japan, or wherever, without leaving my desk, to teach in a way that works for me, to meet people in a setting that is okay for me.


It’s better for me and it’s better for things I care about, like my mental health, my family, the environment, things like that.


If we have learned anything from the pandemic it is that we can do these things virtually, and we can do them well. I’m not saying they should be entirely virtual but perhaps there could be hybrid things from now on?


I mean, neurodivergent square pegs like me have been forced into rambunctious round holes like yours for such a long time, to our detriment. Sure, we’re often good at it, but stop for a second and remember something for me would you?


Remember what it felt like in lockdown when you couldn’t ‘see’ people? That’s how it feels for people like us a lot of the time when in a crowd, or a large meeting, or a conference, or a store…


Now you have had a taste of how it feels to be forced into holes that don’t fit you, do you get it?


Now that you have the chance to be more willing to bend so that we don’t have to continually break, would you?


Would you consider adding a hybrid option?


Would you consider accepting that virtual classes can be as entertaining and worthwhile as face to face ones?


Would you consider that many of us have been able to blossom in this different world, and help us to be us?


Hybrid meetings, events, whatever, are not hard to do and we have learned so much about how to do them properly over the past couple of years.


Spare us a thought, and keep it up…


June 1st, 2022


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