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Embracing Neurodiversity in the Workplace: Office Design for Inclusivity and Productivity
The significance of neurodiversity in office design is swiftly gaining recognition as an essential factor for employers to consider to foster inclusivity within the workplace and improve the overall wellbeing of employees.
With a notable rise in the identification of neurodivergent conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Dyslexia, among others, current reports indicate that around 1 in 7 people (more than 15% of people in the UK) are neurodivergent, meaning that the brain functions, learns and processes information differently. Embracing the concept of neurodiversity in office design has the potential to create a more supportive and efficient work environment for all staff members, regardless of their cognitive variations.
In this blog, we explore the importance of embracing neurodiversity in the workplace and how office design can play a crucial role in promoting inclusivity and productivity.
Challenges in Conventional Office Design
Traditional office spaces were often designed with a one-size-fits-all approach, focusing on an open-plan layout with uniform lighting and minimal acoustic considerations. While these designs might work well for some employees, in today’s society they can prove overwhelming and underproductive or in fact understimulating for individuals with neurodivergent conditions. For example, the constant background noise in large open-plan offices might hinder concentration for those with sensory sensitivities, along with bright lighting being distracting or uncomfortable for individuals.
Designing for Neurodiversity
At Calibro, our designers have specialist expertise in creating spaces that integrate and embrace neurodiversity in the workplace. From the outset of a project, we work with our clients to clearly understand and assess the needs of their employees, to design a space that supports the diversity of the workforce.
When designing for neurodiversity in the workplace here are a few factors for consideration:
Open-plan workspaces can be noisy and busy which can be overwhelming for some individuals with neurodivergent conditions. This environment can cause overstimulation, increasing the risk of distractions and stress, and resulting in reduced productivity.
Incorporating a mix of both open and closed spaces, allows employees to choose environments that suit their preferences and sensory needs, providing flexibility and variation for a diverse workforce. Quiet rooms and focus pods can provide neurodivergent individuals with spaces where they can work comfortably and efficiently enhancing productivity and overall employee wellbeing.
Lighting, temperature, and acoustics can each be highly triggering for individuals with conditions that cause hypersensitivity to elements such as flickering or artificial lights, strong-smelling foods, or loud noises.
Implementing measures to control lighting, temperature, and acoustics can include dimmable lights, adjustable air conditioning, and sound-absorbing materials which can significantly enhance the comfort of neurodivergent employees. Incorporating biodiversity into the workspace through the introduction of natural light and plants can also help to create a calming and more comforting environment that connects employees with the natural world.
Conversely, for those who are hyposensitive, visual interest and layering textures and forms within the workspace can provide the extra stimulation required for optimal working conditions.
Social Interactions and Diverse Workstations:
Offering a range of desk options, including standing desks, sitting desks, and those with privacy partitions. This variety allows employees to find the most comfortable and productive setup for their specific needs.
Social interactions can pose challenges for certain individuals with neurodiverse conditions and therefore during the design phase, it is recommended to incorporate spaces that support privacy and quiet time, along with sufficiently larger areas to ensure that unintentional social interactions don’t lead to stress or discomfort for these individuals.
Visual guidance and accessibility:
Visual guidance and accessibility hold paramount importance in office design when considering neurodiversity to ensure clear and intuitive visual cues are available throughout the office setting to aid individuals with various cognitive processing styles. Incorporating well-contrasted signage, color-coded pathways, use of focal points and organized layouts can enhance navigation and create a reassuring sense of order, reducing anxiety. Moreover, well-designed spaces improve focus and comfort for neurodiverse employees.
Use of Tactile Textures:
Incorporating diverse textures in office furniture can have significant positive effects on neurodiverse individuals. Different tactile sensations provide comfort and sensory engagement, catering to individuals with varying sensory sensitivities. Soft, smooth, or textured surfaces can offer a soothing effect for those with conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder or Sensory Processing Disorder. Fidget furniture such as rocking stools can help provide hypersensitive employees with a way to calm down and refocus. Blending a range of textures of furniture into the workspace design can help achieve an environment where individuals can find comfort and concentration and ultimately promote employee well-being.
By understanding and embracing neurodiversity in office design, employers can create an inclusive, diverse, and supportive environment where all employees can thrive. Understanding and accommodating the diverse needs of neurodivergent individuals not only promotes workplace satisfaction and productivity but also contributes to a culture of empathy and acceptance and enhances employee wellbeing.