Why now is the time to hire autistic employees

With employers turning their focus to enabling their workforce to work from home, hiring managers are faced with a new challenge of mobilising their teams, implementing new processes and managing workloads remotely. Employers may find this time of heightened change difficult to navigate, particularly the recruitment process. At Xceptional we believe there has never been a better time to hire autistic employees.

There is no one size fits all for recruiting and working with an autistic person, accordingly this guide is general in nature. We ask you to consider the following three factors:

  1. When you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person.
  2. Management needs for autistic employees are different, not greater.
  3. Management practices that work for an autistic employee often benefit everyone.

What is the advantage of hiring an Autistic person during a period of change?

In a time when innovation, unique thinking and problem solving is important to meet current challenges, having diversity on your team will be an asset.  Now is the perfect time to hire individuals who thrive when working from home. Most autistic individuals prefer working independently without distractions as it allows them to deep dive into projects, being highly productive without distractions commonly seen in most offices where social conventions and face to face meetings take up valuable time to work, innovate and be productive.

The unique advantages an autistic individual can bring to a role include:

  • sustained concentration
  • attention to detail and pattern recognition
  • faster problem solving
  • superior memory and recall skills
  • high integrity and productivity

Employees are a company’s greatest asset, in fact they are their competitive advantage.  Therefore, it is easy to realise why companies in the technology, banking, government and law enforcement sectors are seeing their hiring of autistic people as a strategic advantage to help them tap into skills sets highly sort after. You can read more about strengths of autistic people here.

How can I hire remotely?

Hiring remotely is a new concept for many and a strategy that will make you rethink your recruitment processes. It is possible to successfully assess, interview and onboard remotely and these are all practises Xceptional currently use both internally and when recruiting for clients.

Firstly, we encourage companies to have a clear understanding of what skills they are looking for rather than a comprehensive job description. This will allow you to align your assessment processes and enable candidates to demonstrate their skills by completing online work samples, role relevant tasks and questionnaires.  By completing tasks in the comfort of their homes you will get a true picture of each individual. Timed assessments should be avoided as they negatively impact many autistic individual’s ability to demonstrate their skills.

The interview can be conducted via video link and the questions should relate to the work samples completed prior to the interview. Questions need to be clear and specific; avoid jargon or figurative language and motivational or general questions such as “Tell me about your greatest strength.”

Remember, the purpose of the interview is to gain an understanding of a person’s abilities, not how well they can describe their abilities.  It is useful to provide them via email a list of the interview questions 1 hour prior to the video link meeting. Some autistic people find auditory processing challenging and this can be compounded by the stress of an interview, however by doing this you provide greater opportunity to gain an understanding of the candidates thinking, reasoning and knowledge.

In addition, consider the size of your interview panel. Minimising it to 2 people and ensuring when on the video call you are seated in a quiet area with minimal distractions and an appropriate background to prevent negatively impacting the candidate’s attention and focus.

An alternative to the video link interview is to use an instant messenger application. Work samples can still be done prior and instead of asking questions verbally the candidate can answer the questions in real time via text.  This process was used by Geoff Osborn, Director of GeoSynergy when he hired Aiden. You can read about this successful hire here.

What about onboarding?

Onboarding a new employee remotely is a simple process as very few modifications need to be made to your current process.

New employees can be introduced to teams remotely and via email. Appointing a mentor or buddy will ensure the new recruit has a clear point of contact to ask all those little questions along the way.

Over the first days and weeks it will be very important to spend time with the new employee on a video link call using the shared screen option to discuss tasks, projects and teach new systems and procedures. Many autistic people report written instruction to be very helpful, so ensure verbal conversations are followed up with written material the individual can refer back to. (As an aside if you don’t have graphically notated procedures and manuals, our experience has showed that our autistic staff excel in this area of work.)

As with any face to face onboarding it is important to provide company policy materials, resources on staff benefits, leave procedures and clear guidelines about working from home, hours and OH&S, technology resources, instructions and etiquette of the main online channels used by the team.

Xceptional provide a unique and in-depth onboarding assessment and report for all new recruits placed with clients. This report provides detailed information on the person’s learning preferences, communication styles, short and long term goals, strengths, challenges, recommended adjustments and background to ensure the placement is successful and any supports are in place. Many employers comment on how useful this report would be for all new employees as it speeds up much of the “getting to know you stage.”

Will an autistic person be ok working remotely?

Autistic people can thrive in remote teams in fact most individuals prefer to work from home in normal circumstances.  At Xceptional, 92% of autistic people looking for employment prefer to work from home at least some of the time.  Many find highly sensory environments including public transport and offices stressful, plus face to face interactions can be exhausting. Working remotely in the comfort of their own home where they can control the environment and have less distractions is hugely beneficial.

“I’m finding it [working from home] great, to be honest. I’m much less stressed and anxious without dealing with everything in the city and the office. I’m better able to focus and with communication being asynchronous I can ask for help more easily and understand the help I’m given more clearly.” (candidate recently placed by Xceptional with the new working from home arrangements)

How do I manage my autistic employee remotely?

In most cases you would manage an autistic employee the same way you would any other neurotypical employee. The most important thing is communication. Have regular connections and ask the individual if you are unsure.

Here are some essential tips:

  1. Have clear and specific expectations. As their manager, set out what is expected when working from home including communication, hours of work, participation in remote meetings, project timelines, work quality and regular check ins. Many people like to have clear directions for specific tasks.
  2. Regular communication. Make sure you know, what the individual’s preferred methods of communication are. Consider using the following for remote communication; email, instant messages systems like Skype message or Slack; video conference meetings like Zoom or Google Hangouts, audio meetings or phone calls. Ask for communication methods to be ranked in order of preference so you understand preferences in both a one on one situation and a team meeting. Adjust your communication to get the best out of the individual and your team.
  3. Make yourself available and visual to your team. Ensure autistic individuals have opportunities to communicate with you (written or verbal) and ask questions in both a one on one situation (weekly) and team meetings. Actively listen and provide time for an individual to formulate a response without feeling time pressured.
  4. Provide written instructions so an individual can refer back if needed. Ensue you use clear language, no jargon, provide context and check understanding. Again, encourage questions and clarification. Remember many autistic people prefer space and time to achieve goals.
  5. Support group collaboration. Use online collaboration tools like Trello to manage team projects and ensure each member of the team understands their role. Be aware some individuals may find asking questions and advocating for themselves difficult.
  6. Teach video link etiquette including mute default and minimising distractions. Team meetings can be a challenge for autistic individuals, and they can feel uncomfortable speaking up in group settings. Keep meeting numbers smaller where possible. Establish meeting rules and provide a clear purpose with an agenda. Encourage all team members to use their video camera as this helps support communication, understanding and process information. If individuals find it hard to speak up or ask questions encourage them to use the message/ chat option in the video conferencing program.
  7. Provide feedback. Many autistic people prefer specific and direct feedback both positive and constructive. For example: Your attention to detail in this project was very impressive. Next time I would appreciate if you could include a list of benefits for the key stakeholders in both categories.
  8. Encourage healthy work habits, even when working from home. Discuss with individual’s the importance of routines, breaks, time outside and regular hours.

In a time of rapid change within business and society, Xceptional is paying close attention to the wellbeing of our autistic candidates, our own staff and employees. It is anticipated that the changes COVID-19 force on work and social lives will cause some additional stress for our community.

As we navigate these challenging and uncertain times our team is well placed to support your autistic staff and managers through remote job coaching. As an additional measure our coaching team has adopted the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10) questionnaire and will engage anyone struggling to seek appropriate personal or professional support.


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