The recent pandemic has brought attention to how important it is to treat each employee as an individual. But a shift in workplace attitudes had already begun before we ever learned about the Coronavirus.
Fortunately, the past 24 months have had a significant impact, and companies are now beginning to prioritise the emotional and physical health and welfare of their employees, as seen by new, more flexible working arrangements. But inclusion means much more than that, so how are we including the neurodivergent workforce in the conversation about diversity and inclusivity?
More than 15% of UK adults, according to recent studies, are neurodivergent, which means that their brains function, acquire knowledge, and process information differently from what is normally expected by society. This includes people who suffer from a variety of conditions, including dyslexia, autism, dyspraxia, and ADHD (attention deficit disorder).
Inclusivity for all
Direct action is being taken by certain organisations to address and embrace diversity. To better meet the demands of neurodivergent employees as they transition from the entirely remote life of the pandemic to a new hybrid work schedule, they are changing their workspaces to facilitate greater collaborative interaction.
Employers are increasingly aware of the significant benefits neurodivergent-friendly workplaces, which accommodate staff members’ different sensory responses to a shared environment, have on everyone’s health and wellbeing.
Thanks to more inclusive design, people do not need to change who they are in order to fit into the work environment. Instead, the space can be altered to benefit everyone, neurotypical and neurodivergent alike.
Making neurodiversity a priority
Numerous studies reveal that while neurodiverse workers can bring unique talents to the office, such as imaginative storytelling, coding, and empathy, they may not always thrive within the rules and routines of the conventional workplace.
Working in the modern office is challenging for many people. The hustle and bustle of an open-plan office may be disturbing for people who operate best in a quiet setting. However, for those who have neurodivergent conditions, this barrier may be considerably higher.
Lack of consideration for neurodiversity in office design can lead to frustration and, ultimately, disability. A work environment without enough acoustic shielding to muffle noise pollution can be crippling for someone with sensory sensitivity, and harsh overhead fluorescent lighting can be overpowering for someone with autism. Even overlooked aspects like texture, colour, sequencing, compartmentalisation, temperature, and odours can cause neurodivergent individuals to be over- or under-stimulated.
Depending on how severe the sensitivities are, biological stress levels might increase over time, which can reduce productivity and lead to sick days. Performance and confidence are affected, and in extreme conditions, this might lead to forced or voluntary unemployment. For instance, only 21% of individuals with autism and 50% of those with disabilities work. I really feel that one evident contributing factor to the issue is the way we design our workplaces.
Little changes for a big impact
Understanding that different people approach different tasks in various ways is essential when dealing with neurodiversity. In fact, including neurodiversity into design calls for a far more nuanced strategy.
As previously noted, neurodivergent workers may find it difficult to fit into a standard work environment, but with a few small changes that will help everyone, you’ll be able to benefit from their special skills and foster a more welcoming workplace.
Of course, expecting organisations to design for specific needs is unrealistic. However, by fusing a range of preferences with a variety of settings, we may still accomplish the desired outcome—a location where everyone may feel comfortable working effectively. This essentially lessens the appearance of difference.
Since everyone has various needs, it is imperative to provide a range of settings so that employees can select the one that is most appropriate for their mood or for doing particular tasks. This entails designing communal open spaces for mingling and working together, enclosed silent spaces for more high-concentration work, designated phone and meeting zones, resting rooms, and relaxation spaces.
In this regard, there are a few important design factors to consider when attempting to improve office users’ sensory experiences and conditions, making the workplace more inclusive and welcoming for everyone.
Considering acoustics and sounds
Even when separated by cubicles, a noisy, active open-plan office can cause a lot of distractions among employees. Additionally, it’s nearly impossible to stop a natural office culture from developing, which often entails chitchat in the background, unexpected laughs, and more often than not, virtual calls.
More and more designers are gravitating toward sound-controlling workplace solutions to combat noise. In addition to providing acoustic baffling and a private workspace, walls and partition systems can be placed to effectively absorb sound.
The beauty of biophilia
The concept of “biophilia” claims that humans have an inbuilt desire to interact with and understand other living things and their environment. It is a practical (and visually pleasing) method for reducing or getting rid of some of the distractions and triggers that are frequently present in offices.
Access to natural elements like plants and sunlight may help calm neurodiverse employees who are overstimulated and improve the air quality in the office.
Everyone, not just those with neurodivergent traits, benefits from biophilia. Being connected to nature at work has a significant positive impact on all employees, according to a recent survey, which found that there is a 15% increase in well-being and a reduction in stress and boredom. Additionally, employees report feeling more appreciated and supported by their employer when provided with the addition of internal green spaces, natural light, and even brighter colours on the walls.
One of the most effective methods for allowing natural light to enter the space is using glass walls and partitions. This straightforward design choice will maintain noise and privacy levels while giving occupants an instant sense of connection to the outside world.
One thing we must understand is that, in order to design for neurodiversity and create an immersive experience rather than a bland, functional workspace, all five senses must be considered. This encourages people to come back to work because they know they will enjoy a sensory experience or a workplace that will match their personality and work style. This way too, you’ll empathetically accommodate anyone who is neurodivergent or has a disability.