How to Support Autistic Workers in Remote Work

Drew Sansing  |  24/06/2023

In light of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic at the end of 2019, many employers moved to a remote work model to ensure employee safety. Even though the pandemic is no longer regarded by many governments to be a public health emergency, many employers are continuing to permit their workforce to work from home for at least part of the time. This raises the question of whether autistic workers can be successful working remotely and what support systems might be needed to help them succeed.

A study titled "Remote Work Support Needs of Employees with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Poland: Perspectives of Individuals with Autism and Their Coworkers" was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health that aimed to explore the remote work support needs of autistic employees in Poland, from the perspectives of individuals with autism themselves and their coworkers.

The study employed a qualitative research design, utilizing semi-structured interviews to gather data from 13 participants, including 4 autistic individuals who were employed in remote work positions and 9 of their coworkers. The participants were selected through a purposive sampling method, ensuring a diverse representation of age, gender, and job roles.

Several key themes emerged from the analysis of the interviews. Firstly, both autistic employees and their coworkers recognized the advantages of remote work, such as increased flexibility, reduced sensory overload and interpersonal contacts, flexible hours and eliminating the need to commute to and from work. However, they also highlighted various challenges faced by individuals with autism in remote work settings, including difficulties with communication through electronic means, fewer chances to learn from peers, reducing helpful social interaction, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

The study found that autistic employees require specific support strategies to effectively navigate these challenges. Participants expressed a need for clear and structured communication, including written instructions, visual aids, and digital tools to enhance understanding and reduce misunderstandings. They also emphasized the importance of maintaining consistent routines and schedules, which provide a sense of stability and minimize anxiety. Furthermore, participants highlighted the significance of social support in the remote work environment. They expressed a desire for frequent check-ins with supervisors or job coaches and coworkers. Participants also suggested permitting ample time for asking questions as well as providing written summaries of verbal instructions and meeting notes.

This study revealed that the coworkers of autistic individuals play a crucial role in supporting their successful remote work experience. Coworkers need to have increased awareness and understanding of autism, as well as training on how to effectively communicate and collaborate with employees on the spectrum. They need to be willing to adapt their communication styles, be patient, and provide necessary accommodations to create an inclusive and supportive work environment.

The findings of this study have important implications for employers and organizations in Poland and beyond. It highlights the necessity for tailored support measures to facilitate the remote work experience for individuals with autism. Employers should prioritize the provision of clear communication channels, visual aids, and tools to enhance comprehension and reduce potential misunderstandings. It is crucial to establish consistent routines and schedules, while also providing opportunities for social connection and team-building activities to foster a sense of belonging.

Moreover, the study emphasizes the significance of creating a supportive workplace culture that promotes empathy, understanding, and patience among coworkers. Employers should invest in awareness training programs that educate employees about autism and equip them with the necessary skills to effectively engage and collaborate with their coworkers on the spectrum.

In conclusion, this study sheds important light on the remote work support needs of autistic employees. By considering the perspectives of individuals with autism and their coworkers, the research provides valuable insights for employers and organizations seeking to create inclusive and supportive remote work environments. By implementing the recommended strategies and accommodations, employers can enhance the well-being, productivity, and job satisfaction of autistic employees working remotely, contributing to a more inclusive and diverse workforce.

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