The unexpected benefits of COVID-19 on the way we work

Woman looking at laptop with 6 face one it in a Zoom meeting

Guest post written by Aron Mercer & Georgie Chinchen from Xceptional

While the COVID-19 pandemic will eventually pass, our hope is the changes to ways of work will endure.

2020 was supposed to be a year of growth for Xceptional. Thanks to Google.Org, Westpac and AMP we had capital, a growing team, and diverse customers.

In March 2020, we were busy organising a neurodiversity at work breakfast in Sydney, a sold-out event that would be our key activation for the quarter

This changed on March 11, when the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

At the start of the pandemic, Australia followed many developed nations such as Canada, Japan, and the U.S in closing our international borders and placing restrictions on our own citizens returning home. This resulted in a 97% drop in skilled migrants compared with pre-COVID levels and exposed Australia’s reliance on overseas migration.

Closed international borders and restrictions on interstate movements within Australia contributed to record-low unemployment. At the time of writing, Australia’s unemployment rate is 3.5%, comparable with countries like the U.S, Japan and Canada.

It is not hyperbole to say the economic and health impacts of COVID-19 are without peer in our lifetime. Millions of lives lost, businesses destroyed, and minds scared.

Despite this, there are some positive impacts of COVID-19 on employment inclusion.

Progress in work flexibility years in the planning adopted in weeks

Stay-at-home orders, commonly called lockdowns, forced some employers to close their doors, with restaurants, cinemas, and gyms among the early casualties.

Other employers, such as government, technology and finance, made rapid shifts towards remote work. You quickly became acquainted if you were unfamiliar with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet before March 2020.

It must be recognised that the transition to remote working did not suit all and is only practical for some professions. This McKinsey survey found that 35% of employees can work from home full-time, with 23% part-time. Some research pointed to isolation, mental fatigue and burnout. Meanwhile, many employers reported gains in productivity.

For neurodivergent candidates, there is no one size fits all. In a May 2022 survey, Xceptional found:

  • 33% want to work in the office full time
  • 34% would prefer a blend of home and office
  • 33% never want to work in an office

Why do many neurodivergent employees prefer flexible work?

There are many reasons why 2 out of 3 neurodivergent people/candidates would prefer to work from home at least some of the time.

Some of these reasons include:

Flexible workers can wear comfortable clothes.

Many neurodivergent people experience sensory issues related to the ‘feel’ of materials on their skin (e.g., wearing a suit may feel like wearing sandpaper) or feeling too hot or cold. Clothes that fit in the ‘appropriate for work’ category may not fit these requirements.

By being able to wear comfortable clothes, there is less sensory overload. The chosen clothes may also have a soothing/calming effect making other stimulus challenges, or standard work challenges more manageable.

Middle aged man in blue button up shirt with beard smiling down at his laptop working from home

Many of our candidates appreciate not needing to travel.

Whether navigating public transport and crowds of people or navigating peak hour traffic and parking, travelling to work can be stressful and overwhelming.

Noises, bright lights, sudden changes in sound/volume/brightness, and needing to navigate social elements of travel such as where is appropriate to stand or sit, when to move to let others pass, where is appropriate or not appropriate to look etc.

If driving, there are social aspects to navigate in terms of letting in other cars or pedestrians, knowing when others are letting them in, and needing to concentrate and stay focused to ensure they stay safe and attentive on the road.

Flexible workers have no travel time, which means more personal/recovery time.

This allows less time during the day when someone is out and about around other people and needs to do their best to abide by societal expectations and/or masks, which is exhausting. This allows more time for them to recover from any sensory overload or fatigue from the workday.

Many neurodivergent people experience challenges related to eating.

Research suggests approximately 70% of autistic people experience eating-related challenges and/or atypical eating behaviours.

For people working from home, there is less need to pre-plan food. As long as the home fridge/pantry is sufficiently stocked, there will be food options that they are comfortable with.

Limits of traditional recruitment, onboarding, and management

Like many employers, Xceptional needed to adapt to the forced changes to our usual working methods. In-person meetings were replaced, the mental well-being of employees came into sharp focus, and multi-day assessment workshops had to be rethought.

One major hurdle was how to remotely assess the potential of neurodivergent people. In response, our neurodivergent team doubled its efforts to complete our custom skills assessment platform, which launched in mid-2021.

Our platform combines our online and offline assessments and allows job seekers to demonstrate their skills by completing tasks, puzzles and activities in a safe online environment.

Picture of a number puzzle used by Xceptional in their online and offline assessments for job seekers

The Xceptional platform has been developed by a talented neurodiverse team of designers, software engineers and QA testers. It is built for the neurodiverse community with the neurodiverse community.

For more information, visit

CVODI-19 is still with us and may linger for some time. While the pandemic will eventually pass, our hope is the changes to ways of work will endure.

About Xceptional

As experts in neurodivergent talent, Xceptional is uniquely placed to recognise your potential and to connect you with employers who will harness it.

Through our online puzzle-based skills assessment platform, specialised recruitment services, and post-placement coaching, we help you progress in your chosen career.

Visit for more information.

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