March 10, 2022

Autistic and returning to the office

By rosieweldon

Prior to the pandemic I was phasing out my time in the office and working with my company to show I could work from home and perform just as well. Being autistic the office environment is incredibly difficult for me and Zodeq agreeing to let me work part time from home was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. For the first time in my career, I wasn’t holding down a job at the great expense to my health.

And then of course the pandemic happened – March 2020 myself and everyone in my office were told to work from home full time and indefinitely.

Summer 2020 I began a relationship with my incredible girlfriend who is based down south, over 200 miles away from my Chester based company – Zodeq. I am now based down south with her after Zodeq agreeing to let me work full time from home.

It has been two years since I have set foot in an office. In those two years I have worked hard to develop my role and have come so far with Zodeq. I work hard for my company – the company that gave me back my work-life balance, that gave me a quality of life.

I have worked from home, full time, for two years.

In 5 weeks, I will walk back into the office again. I am terrified.

This time it is not by necessity, not to keep my job, not to survive – but my own choice.

My partner and I are going up north for a holiday in Chester and I want to spend a little bit of time in the office. I want to see the team I work hard with every day.

When I was in the office, I was by far the outsider. I can’t do secret Santa. I can’t say Good morning and make small talk. I can’t go for lunch with my colleagues. I can’t talk in meetings. I was once called ‘weird’ and generally just kept my head down and did my job. I have no doubt the majority of them thought me ignorant and rude (they didn’t know I am autistic).

But, working from home has changed that. When the pandemic hit no one could make small talk while making their way into the office. Small talk moved to emails. Emails would start with talk of the weekend and a child being up all night. Emails would mention the damage a storm has done or the weather that day. For the first time in my career I was able to build relationships, real relationships with my colleagues.

From an office life of hiding in toilets to have meltdowns and overloads because I could not verbally communicate – to having a meltdown from the change at work and being able to email a colleague for help while I recovered. And to have that colleague step up and help me. Working from home has allowed me to be honest about my struggles and build a support network within Zodeq that means the world to me.

It is for that reason that I want to go into the office while we are on holiday up north. Zodeq aren’t making me. I don’t have to ever go to the office again. But, I want to.

I have the week booked off work so any time in the office is a bonus and I can leave at any point.

It will be one of the hardest things I have ever done. I am terrified.

My partner will be minutes away from the office and a phone call away, I know that. My colleagues are brilliant, I know that.

But I am not naïve. This isn’t a question of, ‘will I have sensory overload?’ or ‘will I have a panic attack?’, it is a question of how many times those things will happen and will I get to the toilets before they start showing to my colleagues.

I am determined to spend some time in that office, but I am also realistic in the challenges I will face to do that.

Working from home has changed my life. There are no words for the accessibility work from home gives disabled employees. My energy is spent working hard rather than surviving the office environment every day, just to crash onto my bed with no dinner and sleep every night.

I am going to struggle to spend a few hours in the office in a few weeks. When I think back to what I put myself through before work from home, it’s incredibly emotional. I was permanently exhausted and unwell.

As the world shifts back to office life, please work with your disabled employees and co-workers to find the balance that works for everyone.

Here’s hoping the few mornings I do in the office don’t go too badly!

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