Since the beginning of 2020, we’ve been living in a world altered by a pandemic, and, to navigate that world successfully, we’ve had to get creative. One of the most creative and innovative ways we’ve kept ourselves afloat is by offering remote work options.
Touch and Go
When corporations first considered this strategy, many weren’t sure if it would succeed. Would workers have access to the right equipment? Did they have a fast enough internet speed? Could they effectively manage their own time? How much was this all going to cost?
It was tough for a while, but we managed, and many autistic people thrived in a work-at-home environment. Finally, they could make their own schedule and set up their sensory environment in the way that worked best for them. Finally, they could concentrate fully on their work instead of being interrupted to socialize in the middle of a project that required deep focus. Finally, there was no pressure to attend after-work events, so autistic people were free to rest as needed or pursue preferred leisure activities off the clock.
Safe and Predictable
Another benefit of switching to remote work was that people who were more vulnerable to becoming extremely ill or dying from COVID were able to isolate safely while maintaining a regular paycheck.
For many autistic people, their work environment was safer and more predictable when working remotely than it ever had been in the office.
Remote Work Benefits Employees of All Neurotypes
Working remotely was not only beneficial to autistic employees; it was also good for those with chronic illness, parents with small children, people who were taking care of an ill or elderly relative, night owls, people with anxiety, introverts, and many more.
Furthermore, with remote work, there was no commute to worry about, so there was less wear and tear on a vehicle (or the expense of public transportation), hundreds of dollars could be saved on childcare or a private medical assistant, people were able to work the hours they felt most productive, and remote work offered them a unique opportunity to achieve a better work-life balance.
Doubling Back on Remote Work Opportunities Causes Distress
As the pandemic surge quieted down, more people were vaccinated, and mask mandates loosened, many employers demanded their employees return to the office immediately. This sudden change threw many for a loop, and they began resigning from their jobs en masse (something now known as ‘The Great Resignation’).
During the two years or so of remote work, employees realized that they had more control over the trajectory of their careers than they ever had before. Spurred on by the success and perks of remote work, many even started their own businesses!
As an incentive to keep workers on, employers, once again, began offering remote work, but as months went by, they changed their minds again, once more demanding that everybody return to the office for “business as usual”.
No matter their neurotype, this was a stressful experience for everyone!
With autistic workers, however, there was an added layer of stress because predictability and routine are at the core of our ability to function.
If we gear ourselves up emotionally and mentally to work from home only to find out we have to go back to the office in a week, we’re completely thrown off. Then, once we do finally settle back in, we are again told we have the option of returning to remote work, but with the unspoken caveat that choosing to do so may make us look antisocial (which could mean we are passed over for raises and promotions).
It’s no small wonder that the continued flip-flopping and unspoken social rules on this subject can cause meltdowns, shutdowns, and burnout in autistic employees.
Stay Flexible, Stay Open
Remote work and The Great Resignation have permanently altered the corporate environment, which means only companies who stay flexible will be able to thrive. As a company, allow yourself to grow around the changing wants and needs of both your employees and your customers, and you’ll position yourself as a competitive and forward-thinking business that people will be glad to work for and support.
When you are a true champion of diversity and inclusion, everyone gets a seat at the table, even if that seat is on a monitor screen at your next hybrid, company-wide Zoom conference.