Consider a few of the challenges of managing any workforce and workplace:
- Miscommunication between and among colleagues can lead to lack of productivity and a feeling of disconnection
- Miscommunication between teams and supervisors can lead to challenges with project completion and meeting client specifications
- Lighting, ambient sound, proximity of workstations can lead to stress among your workforce
- Stress and anxiety can build to a breaking point leading to sick leave, resignations, and hard feelings among staff
- Workflow may ebb and crest depending upon client engagement, time of year, etc. needing a flexible and nimble workforce
- The world is constantly changing and evolving, meaning you need lifelong learners among your staff who can adapt and grow in their roles and functions.
When your workforce includes those with ASD, all of these factors are important considerations to optimize both their performance and those of their colleagues. While many “neurotypical” employees may just pick up and adapt to the communication needs and styles of those around them, those with ASD often find this particularly difficult. This means that guarding against miscommunication is very important
Tip # 1: Establish clear ground rules for communication
Define proper etiquette for using real-time collaboration tools like Slack, Teams, Skype, Zoom, etc. and set clear expectations for all team members in terms of their roles and responsibilities. If needed, you could also work with staff to develop expectations in terms of how and when they respond to questions, comments and concerns and set strict criteria for off-hour work-related communication. You may need to set guidelines for acceptable response times on Slack or through email.
Tip # 2: Learn and understand their work habits and help them to learn and understand those of their colleagues and supervisory staff
Work with your staff to determine how they work best – in a quiet environment versus a busy one, alone or in a small group, at a standing desk versus sitting, with frequent, shorter breaks versus two or three longer breaks per workday. Learn their preferred communication medium – oral, written, graphic, in person or online/through text or email. Incorporate these as much as possible into the work you do with them.
Tip # 3: Establish regular “check-ins”
All staff benefit from knowing their supervisors are monitoring their wellbeing, and when your staff includes those with ASD, this is particularly important. Many with ASD have a flat affect, they don’t show emotion or stress in typical ways. By checking in with them using their preferred communication strategy you can get ahead of emerging challenges and work together to strategize ways around stressors. Ask for feedback on workload, role and responsibilities as well as how internal processes and policies are being implemented and used.
Tip # 4: Encourage team interaction both inside and outside of a given project
Help all of your staff learn about and appreciate their colleagues, supervisors, and other staff through various formal and informal activities. Showcase skills and accomplishments and encourage staff to staff help and praise for each other.
Tip # 5 Ask for help if and when needed
There are many services and supports available to you and to your staff to help you learn more about the intricacies of autism spectrum disorder and its potential impact. You may find the information you glean helps, not just with your new employee, but also with your established workforce. We all benefit from clear communication, access to a variety of tools and resources to get our jobs done, and learning more about each other. As we tell our staff, “when in doubt, ask.” The same holds true for ourselves as we grow and diversify our workforces.