Working from home (WFH) during COVID-19 has both advantages and disadvantages for autistic professionals. And someone who has thrived during the new normal is Sydney-based Maria, a quality assurance (QA) tester at Mable, the digital portal that links carers and supports people with those who need them.
Maria’s background is all too common. Although she was highly qualified, with substantial experience in project management, she had struggled to find an employer who would accommodate her challenges with verbal communication.
Earlier this year, Maria filled out a form on Xceptional’s website. She said she was looking for a company that was helping to place people like her in jobs. She also wanted help with workplace skills such as communication, building relationships, team meetings, managing change and self-advocating for her needs at work.
Through Xceptional, Maria landed her job at Mable at the beginning of March 2020, just as COVID-19 was starting to spread in Australia. This meant Maria had to work from home and never had a chance to ease into her new environment.
But Maria rose to the challenge and has made a difference since the start. The company had no formal QA process when she started. Within weeks, Maria had best-practice systems in place.
“She proactively created test plans, talked to various people to ensure she understood what was being tested and provided clear test results to make sure that all bugs were properly managed,” says her manager, Eric Bae, engineering director at Mable.
Thanks to Maria’s input with testing, Mable were able to launch a new product in just five weeks to help support their customers through the early days of the pandemic in April.
As a result of her early successes, Eric is encouraging Maria to expand her role beyond QA testing to become fully involved across the product development life cycle. Maria now works more closely with product teams during the early development of features to get a better understanding of how they work.
Eric is also happy to let Maria learn programming on the job so that she can manage a new automated testing process at Mable.
“For me, the most important thing is to support her in that goal by giving her time and space. That means Maria can take study time and I can provide her with online courses, so she can achieve her goal.”
Maria’s COVID-19 Story
Working at her own pace is key to Maria’s success at Mable. At first, she was working at home two days a week with the rest of the time spent at the office getting to know her new colleagues. But then Mable’s engineering team was forced to work from home full-time.
Moving to full-time communication with colleagues over Slack and video was an unexpected change that would jar most people. It was especially tricky for Maria, as she had the additional challenge of communicating with people she did not know well.
Her job coach, Nicole Done, who also works at Xceptional as the Head of Training, has worked with her throughout the pandemic. Thanks to her coaching, Maria is able to set clear routines and create clear expectations to manage her work demands. Nicole has helped Maria to develop her ability to self-advocate at work and has taught her to create a healthy work-life balance and not overwork herself.
“Nicole helps me to discover my potential, as well as things that I am not sure I am capable of, like pushing back and [not] always saying ‘yes’ to people,” says Maria.
The positives of working full-time from home have far outweighed the negatives. Maria is able to manage her time better and limit interruptions. Sensory concerns linked to the office almost disappeared overnight. Without the presence of in-person communication, her anxiety at work also decreased.
Her manager, Eric, has noticed the difference. The shift to full-time WFH was a smooth transition in his eyes. He believes Maria is far more comfortable at home, and he appreciates her clear written updates about her work.
“One key lesson for me has been that remote learning highlights communication as a key skill set. It’s now even more important than ever to know how to clearly communicate in writing and in speaking.
“This isn’t just focused on Maria or myself, but probably for the entire company.”
Eric is full of praise for Maria’s contribution to Mable. “She is super easygoing and very polite. More importantly, she is an extremely high quality QA tester, if not the best QA tester I worked with.”
As for Maria, she feels that her future at Mable is bright. “Mable makes me feel that I am contributing, and that I am making an impact on what the company is doing.”