The workplace has evolved to support new ways of working and accommodate individuals’ needs; it is no longer just somewhere people go to do work. Designing a workplace that provides the right balance of spaces is an integral part of a high-performing workplace. The office should give people the freedom to move around and interact with their surroundings in a way that’s best for them.
Designing an inclusive workplace that accommodates neurodiversity and supports a range of working styles has become a priority for businesses. While neurodiversity and inclusion have become increasingly common talking points in the workplace, there is still a disconnect between the physical environment and supporting employee mental health. A poll held by CIPD showed that only around 10% of employers would say neurodiversity is a consideration in their organisations’ people management practices.
The word “neurodiversity” is not new terminology but there is still a need to raise awareness of how to design spaces that support neurodivergent workers and make the workplace more inclusive overall. While some employers may not fully understand the complexities of the challenges their neurodivergent workers may face individually, the overarching view is that those that can create balanced, inclusive workplaces will see a positive impact on staff wellbeing and productivity.
“Neurodiversity” is an umbrella term for people who have a variety of conditions which causes them to think, act and create in a non-typical way. Someone who is neurodivergent may have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), ADHD, dyslexia and Tourette syndrome or other conditions.
Personality types, such as Introvert, Extrovert and Ambivert, do not qualify as neurodiverse. While these personality types will have their working preferences and traits, it is important to distinguish that neurodiversity goes beyond social behaviours.
It is estimated that around 15-20% of people are neurodivergent and designing for neurodiversity is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Having the ability to understand that people have a variety of needs will enable your workplace to be better equipped for all employees. When we talk about designing for neurodiversity, we are focusing on creating inclusive environments that provide spaces for people to complete their tasks in a way that suits them best. While this sounds like a similar premise to activity-based working, the environment is designed for people to work how they like, rather than their task dictating the type of space they need.
A space that accommodates neurodiversity has subtle differences between areas, offering unique settings that allow people to work in areas that are best suited to them. However, it is critical that these areas feel incorporated into the main design.
Designing a workplace which supports neurodiverse workers can be achieved by making considerate, intelligent changes as the types of spaces don’t necessarily need to be that different to accommodate neurodivergent staff. Including headphones in meeting rooms to help prevent sensory overload or manually adjustable light controls are two quite simple adjustments which can transform an environment.
Organisations and business leaders are realising their role in making workplaces more inclusive as more than just a moral decision. Harvard Business Review reports that neurodiversity has shown to be a competitive advantage for major companies who are running specific programs.
Creating an inclusive workspace requires you to consider more than just neurodivergent workers, you must also consider the different personality types and subsequent working preferences of your people. By analysing how people work, it is possible to attribute certain spaces to different working types. Having a selection of workspaces is a generic rule that applies to all workplaces but if you want to help people achieve their maximum productivity levels, the office must flex in different ways.
We all work in different ways and the design and layout of an office is responsible for making it easy for people to be productive by working in conditions that they respond to best. Working styles are more generic than the intricate needs of a neurodivergent employee, however, it does help to consider the four main groups to understand how different people respond to certain spaces.
With a wide range of working styles and preferences, there is a definite need to design a workplace that provides choices and accommodates diversity. If the environment doesn’t respond to people and how they like to work, it will be an uphill struggle for companies that want to attract more staff back into the office.
Data orientated workers are best suited to quiet spaces. Quiet workspaces are an essential part of a workplace but they are especially important when supporting a variety of working styles and individuals. There should be dedicated areas that allow people to escape the main working areas and concentrate on more challenging tasks.
There should be an option between an area to sit quietly and think between meetings, as well as a dedicated space for highly focused work.
Detail orientated workers are those that thrive in a traditional environment with a task chair and desk. These workers will tend to avoid the more casual environments unless when they are working with others as part of a group.
Having a wide range of meeting rooms which provide different tools, technology and commitment will enable detail orientated workers to work in spaces that benefit their productivity. The lighting, seating and fabrics used in these spaces play an important role for neurodiverse workers as they will allow them to move to the best location for the activity they are doing.
Workers that are more emotionally, or socially, driven require dedicated space for collaboration and interaction. Establishing a connection with the wider working community is a defining feature of an emotionally orientated worker as they typically benefit from other people and respond to the energy of the people around them.
These emotionally orientated workers will tend to move towards open, louder workspaces where they can speak with others and work as a team rather than be tucked away in a quiet setting.
Idea orientated workers need more agile and open spaces to embrace their creativity. Agile spaces are any type of space that allows employees to move away from their fixed desks; not only somewhere to go and work on a task.
Idea orientated workers need the freedom to move around and innovate. Multifunctional spaces like booths, height adjustable desks and informal workspaces allow for movement and a choice between settings which allows workers to select their workspace based on the task at hand.
Designing a workplace that supports neurodiversity is more than adding diverse spaces that will make people more productive by listening to their needs. Neurodiversity accounts for a broad range of conditions, all of which may manifest in different ways so there needs to be a dynamic solution. The office itself can be designed to give people what they need from an operational level but the individual nuances may require adapting to deliver a long-term solution.
Organisations can improve their input by becoming more aware of the challenges and approaching the subject with greater knowledge and sensitivity. These changes come down to improving the office experience for workers and this can be approached on many levels to ensure people are getting the most out of their time in the office.