Hey there, I’m Alix and I’m a project and analysis consultant at The Social Deck. I’m also autistic.
There’s a saying I quite like that says if you’ve met one person with autism, then you’ve met one person with autism. Autism presents differently in different people – one person might be unable to speak but be very socially aware. Another may be verbal but may have high support needs throughout their education. Another might have thrived academically but struggle with social cues and sensory processing.
Look, that’s a very simplistic overview, but there are all kinds of articles out there that explain it better, and I highly recommend checking them out. For now, suffice it to say that we all have our own particular needs and preferences.
Which brings us to why I have invited you here today. Embracing flexibility in the workplace was trending up even before Covid. Since lockdowns have forced organisations to find creative ways for employees to continue their work from a physical distance and in an environment not designed for the purpose, it has forced a shift in perspective about what is necessary and what is possible for a modern, accessible Australian workplace, and we’re seeing the benefits of that.
The Social Deck has always found that when you make space to better fit one person’s need, it benefits everyone.
For me, I love working collaboratively and enjoy a good amount of office banter. However, being in an open-space office can be a bit much – there’s noise and other distractions and even food smells – and you have limited control over your space.
So usually I work from home in Brisbane. Here, I can control my work environment and minimise distractions, and thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I never feel any less part of the team. In fact, at the moment there’s about 7 of us working remotely from Victoria, Canberra, New South Wales and Queensland. Through apps, we have online meetings, send messages, touch base over video chat and share files on the cloud. Personally, I find exchanging GIFs in the morning makes me feel much more in tune with my colleagues than small talk about what we did over the weekend.
And I still regularly spend time in the Noosa office. Our new, purpose-built office space has accessibility at front of mind. As well as features that ensure physical accessibility for people with limited mobility, the workspace takes into account little things that can help us be more comfortable at work.
Space is a big factor for sensory accessibility. I have my trusty noise-cancelling headphones, that are an absolute treasure to many an autistic person, but they can only help so much in a tight office when there are conversations happening all around you and there’s a squealing coffee maker a couple of metres away.
That’s one reason why we were keen for our office to allow us to spread out a bit, including a separate kitchen area and extra indoor and outdoor spaces where people can go to have a conversation or make a call without causing disruption, or to get away for some quiet and solitude.
There are other things that make the space more hospitable too. For a lot of people with sensory issues, something like fluorescent lights can be quite aggravating. I tend to avoid using artificial lights when I can. When this office was constructed, plenty of natural light was a priority, so harsh light is less of an issue. Having indoor and outdoor space also means that I’m less likely to be put off by something like the smell from someone’s food, and I can take a breather if I am.
Being in a work environment that is supportive of the way I work best and takes into account my needs makes a serious difference. When we make the effort to become more aware of something like autism, we’re able to go further together and achieve more and have a better time while we’re doing it.