In this somewhat supernatural context of the coronavirus (Covid-19), many companies have switched to this new way of working, which is teleworking.
But did you know? This arrangement can actually be particularly autism-friendly.
Teleworking, if done effectively, has many advantages:
- It helps to reduce fatigue due to transport, social demands and sensory over-stimulation – factors that are particularly challenging for many people with autism on a daily basis.
- It offers the possibility to organise one’s environment according to one’s needs (noise, temperature, etc.) and not to be interrupted.
Because of some of these characteristics, telework appears to be a particularly autism-friendly way of working.
It has proved its worth with our autistic consultant colleagues. For most of them, the efficiency at work is improved by regular teleworking days: not only because of the long-term fatigue, which is less, but also because they are often faster and more concentrated when they work on a task in isolation..
Finally, many people on the autism spectrum are self-taught (many of our consultants would probably consider that they have acquired most of their skills self-taught), and the self-motivation, self-reliance and self-discipline that self-study requires are also essential for effective telework.
We hope today that by sharing our experience of teleworking we can be of help to those who find themselves confronted with it in these difficult times, whether they are autistic or non-autistic professionals. In this article you will find some of the implicit rules and norms of teleworking that are useful to keep in mind in order to facilitate communication and to work as effectively as possible as a team at a distance. We have also drawn on the experience of some consultants who are both experienced and accustomed to teleworking.
So here is a list of tips for successful teleworking, contributed by our consultants and written for autistic professionals (but applicable to everyone):
1. Communication via sms, chat and email
Be prepared and efficient when a conversation is needed (objective: to give/get all the answers to your or the other person’s questions so that both can move forward independently in their work).
- Spoken communication: If you need a discussion or feedback, call. If after the call you feel it would be helpful to clarify the decisions made in the discussion, make a written record of it by email. Finally, use the phone (or call through your voicemail) for any circumstances where you would have discussed the matter face-to-face with the person if you had been able to meet physically.
- Written communications: They should be about facts, not replace discussions, and chat can take much longer than a simple call. But if you don’t need immediate feedback and are uncomfortable talking on the phone, or are afraid of losing information verbally, don’t hesitate to try a chat, you can always try to reach the person by phone if they haven’t responded to your message.
2. Take the time to write lists of tasks and priorities
It is essential to be more specific about daily outputs and deadlines when working remotely. Draw up these priority lists with your teams and managers, or at least have them validate them and inform your most concerned colleagues.
In order to structure your work, to make it easier to get started in the morning, and to end your day in a more satisfying way, you can make a list of tasks every day at the end of your day, for the next day (these are the tasks to be accomplished the next day).
Working remotely may not allow you to carry out all aspects of your initial assignment (for example, if you do not have a computer with the necessary access to carry out your work). If this is the case, define with your manager the activities on which you can advance. Prioritise the tasks for which your experience and expertise are most essential or most valued (e.g. writing project-specific documentation).
To help you establish a teleworking routine, you can draw up a precise work plan for the week, you can also fix in advance the times when you have to log in to your email for example. Using an electronic diary with sound reminders could help you to stick to this routine.
3. Respect the agreed working hours / planning
It is vital to establish a routine that protects your personal space and time. It is also essential to be connected and available at the times your colleagues expect you to be.
In order to plan your working day at home, you can set yourself a fixed start and end time (e.g. 9am to 5pm). You can also time your working hours and breaks if you want to be more flexible (e.g. to go for a run in the late morning). Don’t forget to schedule breaks, for example 15 minutes every two hours of work.
When using chat or email tools to communicate on urgent matters because you cannot reach people on the phone (the first step to try systematically), write “URGENT” in the subject line (or at the beginning of the message in case of chat). Be careful to use this term wisely: reserve it for immediate priorities or for which you absolutely need a quick response. The risk, if you use it too much, is that it loses its exceptional character and is no longer treated as urgent. If possible, limit the number of “URGENT” messages to a maximum of one per day.
5. Use a separate thread for humour and gossip
Some people may feel the need to maintain informal contact with certain colleagues. It is important to maintain this informal contact, as it helps to feel connected and to deal with the stress and loneliness of working remotely. But it is essential to keep it separate from the main and professional threads, so as not to disturb people when they are concentrating on their work. For example, you can take time between formal exchanges to check in with your colleagues.
6. In case of controversy, difficult communication or criticism
Encourage communication by telephone or video in these cases. Written communication, in the event of disagreement, leaves less room for flexibility and may seem more violent to the receiver than the sender’s intention. Also, things written never go away, so we need to be careful about what we write, to whom we write it, and when we write it before we send it, as we may later regret our message (if we realise, for example, that we had not perceived all aspects of the situation, and that our reaction was inappropriate or exaggerated). It is often more sensible and productive to resolve a potential dispute verbally, in order to take into account more directly the other person’s perspective and the additional information they may have, and to communicate in writing only the solutions or compromises identified.
7. Dress for work // Prepare your work environment
To help you get into the right frame of mind to start a working day in an environment usually reserved for your personal time, you can set up a special teleworking framework:
- Respect the daily shower ritual and do not stay in your night clothes.
- Create a space that is conducive to work. If you do not have an office at home, you can use a coffee table or other office-like furniture.
- If possible, move to a quiet area to avoid possible interference.
8. Communicate more than you normally would
Working in isolation, any professional needs more guidance on the results to be achieved than when working in a shared space with their team. So don’t hesitate to ask questions about your short-term objectives, to communicate about your work…
That was our 8 tips for successful teleworking. We hope it helps you in this period of confinement.
Thanks to those who contributed to the drafting of these recommendations and happy teleworking!