5 Top Tips for a More Inclusive Office
Featured on Nookpod's Blog
There is a strong appetite amongst 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 of the above. The problem for most decision-makers is that they simply do not know where to start. We’ve put together a 5-point checklist of changes to consider, all of which have a positive effect in terms of inclusivity and the creation of a more welcoming working environment for every colleague. A key aspect of inclusive design is to avoid segregating or stigmatizing individuals, enabling everyone to give their best without having to make specific requests or draw attention to themselves.
Few businesses can afford an expensive total re-fit so the challenge is to work with the space available and minimize cost. Here are some tips for achieving that:
Color choices can have a powerful effect on mood and performance and can affect hypersensitive (pastels better) and hypersensitive (bright and bold please) people differently – a color preference for one 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 ‘paint’ color onto a space in a way that is momentarily personalizable and easily changed to imbue a zone with a different power. Keep a good distinction between floors, door frames, and walls. Signage and wayfinding 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 Affected Disorders.
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 shoehorn into fixed work zones which may be entirely unsuitable. And make it clear that change and adaptation are encouraged. Decide how best to implement that. A mix of flexible seating options is key – from sit-stand desks to quiet pods and chairs that rock or vibrate – 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 5 sides. These promote a feeling of safety and make the big open intimidating workspace feel smaller 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 well-being and productivity.
Acoustic paneling used on walls and ceilings can help to absorb sound and reduce distraction.
Curtains – acoustic or otherwise – is another simple tool for dividing noisy and quiet areas. On the flip side, 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. In this instance, sound generation using directional speakers can help to make colleagues more relaxed. The type of sound – e.g. white noise, ambient, nature scape, café style hustle, etc – can be selected to suit the task, team, or individual, and can be adjusted over time. 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 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. Take control of your soundscape. You can do much to improve it.
Managing with inclusivity in mind does not mean singling people out. Rather, decisions should be taken that work for neurodivergent individuals, but also deliver clear benefits across the entire staff. Remember: Design for The Extreme Benefits the Mean. Making a space more inclusive is not a once-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 into 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.