Five Tips for Creating a More Inclusive Office
There is a trend among businesses of all sizes to emerge from the challenge of COVID as better corporate citizens and with a greater focus on people and productivity as opposed to where the work is done. Putting Who, How and What ahead of Where.
Making the working environment more inclusive is a powerful tool to help achieve all the above. The problem for most decision-makers is that they simply don’t know where to start.
We’ve put together a checklist to consider, geared toward inclusivity and the creation of a more welcoming working environment for every colleague.
Few businesses can afford an expensive renovation, so the challenge is to work with the space available and minimize the cost.
Here are five tips for achieving that:
Color can have a powerful impact on mood and performance and can affect hypersensitive people (who may prefer softer pastels) and hyposensitive people (who thrive in bright and bold environments) differently – one color preference for an individual might be challenging for another.
A good way to overcome this is to keep the base pallet pastel and calming and to use splashes of accent color in limited areas where they can be useful as landmarks to make a space easier to navigate. Zonal lighting can also add color to a space in a way that can be personalized and easily changed to infuse a zone with a different power. Keep a good distinction between floors, door frames and walls. Signage and directions should make use of strong contrasts and use sans serif fonts.
Natural light from windows or skylights can be very beneficial. Ensure window space is clear and clean and available. A Cornell University study found that eyestrain and headaches in employees are greatly reduced when they have the right amount of natural light in the office. When the wellness of employees is given importance, they become more productive.
Ensure that the natural light levels can be controlled throughout the day with functioning blinds. For offices lacking natural light, look at ceiling light panels that mimic skylights and consider the use of personal lamps such as those for Seasonal Affective Disorder.
When it comes to physical space, get flexible. Having the option to move furniture around easily to create different zones of activity means that the office works around people rather than employees having to wedge into fixed work zones which may be entirely unsuitable. And make it clear that change and adaptation are encouraged.
A mix of flexible seating options is key – from sit-stand desks to quiet pods and a variety of seating – all allow the kind of choices that enhance inclusivity. Make sure there are options where people can work with their backs to a wall or are enclosed on five sides. These promote a feeling of safety and can make the open-plan workspace feel smaller, less intimidating and more intimate.
Noise is recognized as the number one disturbance factor – particularly for neurodivergent individuals. The acoustics of an office play a key role in staff wellbeing and productivity.
Acoustic paneling used on walls and ceilings can help to absorb sound and reduce distraction. Curtains, acoustic or otherwise, are another simple tool for dividing noisy and quiet areas. On the flipside, some spaces can be too silent for occupants, making them overly aware of every action and less willing to make phone calls or vocalize ideas. Promoting the balanced use of headphones can also be valuable, helping colleagues to focus and shut out surrounding distractions.
The quiet and calm of acoustic pods, like Nook Solo, can be a boost to productivity or an opportunity to simply unwind and settle the brain. Certainly, the increasing use of video conferencing will require such spaces, enabling employees to participate freely and openly in semi-private without disrupting colleagues or feeling self-conscious.
Managing with inclusivity in mind does not mean singling people out. Rather, decisions should be made that work for neurodivergent individuals AND also deliver clear benefits across the entire staff. Remember: Design For The Extreme Benefits The Mean.
Making a space more inclusivity is not a ‘one and done’ exercise. Employees should be encouraged to contribute ideas and opinions. Time and effort should be taken to regularly review changes and gather feedback.
Now is a good time to talk. Colleagues have been used to working in different ways at home – what did they like? What would they like to incorporate in the office? What simply no longer works in the post-COVID workspace?
Ultimately, making an office more inclusive does not necessitate sweeping change and expensive redesign. Relatively quick and simple adaptations can be made, over a period of time, that make the working environment work better for everybody.
If you have ambitions in this area and want to get things started, we’d be delighted to discuss your plans with you. One thing is clear – those businesses not thinking inclusively will quickly find themselves missing out on the top talent.