(By Aron Mercer and Georgie Chinchen)
2020 was supposed to be a year of growth for Xceptional. We had funding thanks to Google.Org, Westpac and AMP, a growing team and diverse customers. In March of 2020, we were busy organising a neurodiversity at work breakfast in Sydney, a sold out event which was to be our key activation for the quarter. This all changed on March 11, when the WHO declared Covid19 a pandemic.
At the start of the pandemic Australia followed many developed nations such as Canada, Japan and the U.S in closing our international borders and placing restrictions on our own citizens returning home. This resulted in a 97% drop in skilled migrants compared with pre-COVID levels and exposed Australia’s reliance on overseas migration.
Closed international borders and restrictions on interstate movements within Australia contributed to record low unemployment. At the time of writing Australia’s unemployment rate is 3.5%, comparable with countries like the U.S, Japan and Canada.
It is not hyperbole to say the economic and health impacts of Covid19 are without peer in our lifetime. Millions of lives lost, businesses destroyed and minds scared. In spite of this there are some positive impacts of Covid19 for employment inclusion in particular.
Progress in work flexibility years in the planning adopted in weeks.
Stay at home orders commonly referred to as lockdowns forced some employers to close their doors with restaurants, cinemas and gyms among the early casualties. Other employers such as government, technology and finance employers made rapid shifts towards remote work. If you were not familiar with Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Google Meet before March 2020 you quickly became acquainted.
It must be recognised that the transition to remote working did not suit all and is only practical for some professions. This McKinsey survey found that 35% of employees can work from home full time with a further 23% part time. Some research pointed to isolation, mental fatigue and burnout . Meanwhile many employers reported gains in productivity.
For neurodivergent candidates there is no one size fits all. In a May 2022 survey Xceptional found:
- 33% want to work in the office full time
- 34% would prefer a blend of home and office
- 33% never want to work in an office
Why do many neurodivergent employees prefer flexible work?
There are many reasons why 2 out of 3 neurodivergent people/candidates would prefer to work from home at least some of the time. Some of these reasons may include:
When working from home neurodivergent people can spend less time navigating ambiguous social expectations. Many neurodivergent people mask to try to fit in with the expectations other people have about how they should behave in given situations, which is exhausting. With less time during the work day around colleagues or clients there are fewer ambiguous social situations that need to be navigated.
Flexible workers can wear comfortable clothes. Many neurodivergent people experience sensory issues. This may include sensitivity related to the ‘feel’ of particular materials on their skin (e.g. wearing a suit may feel like wearing sandpaper), or related to feeling too hot or too cold, amongst many other things. Clothes that fit the ‘appropriate for work’ category may not fit these requirements. By being able to wear clothes that are comfortable there is less sensory overload. The chosen clothes may also have a soothing/calming effect making other stimulus challenges or standard work challenges more manageable.
Many of our candidates appreciate not needing to travel. Whether navigating public transport and crowds of people, or navigating peak hour traffic and parking, the process of travelling to work can be stressful and overwhelming. This may be due to particular noises, bright lights, sudden changes in sound/volume/brightness, as well as needing to navigate social elements of travel such as where is appropriate to stand or sit, when to move to let others pass, where is appropriate or not appropriate to look etc. If driving, then there are social aspects to navigate in terms of letting in other cars or pedestrians, or knowing when others are letting them in, and needing to concentrate and stay focused to ensure they stay safe and attentive on the road.
Flexible workers have no travel time which means more personal/recovery time. This allows less total time during the day that someone is out and about around other people and needing to do their best to abide by societal expectations and/or mask, which is exhausting. This allows more time for them to recover from any sensory overload or fatigue from the work day.
Many neurodivergent people experience challenges related to eating. Research suggests approximately 70% of autistic people experience eating related challenges and/or atypical eating behaviours. For people working from home there is less need to pre-plan food. As long as the home fridge/pantry is sufficiently stocked there will be food options that they are comfortable with.
Limits of traditional recruitment, onboarding and management.
Like many employers Xceptional needed to adapt to the forced changes to our usual ways of working. In person meetings were replaced, the mental wellbeing of employees came into sharp focus and multi day face-to-face assessment workshops had to be rethought.
One major hurdle was how to remotely assess the potential of neurodivergent people. In response our neurodivergent team doubled its efforts to complete our custom online skills assessment platform which launched mid 2021.
Our platform brings together our online and offline assessments and now allows job seekers to demonstrate their skills by completing tasks, puzzles and activities in a safe online environment.
The Xceptional platform has been developed by a talented neurodiverse team of designers, software engineers and QA testers. It is built for the neurodivergent community by the neurodivergent community.
For more information visit https://xceptional.io
Covid19 is still with us and may linger for some time. While the pandemic will eventually pass, our hope is that the changes to flexible ways of working will endure.