Aug 9, 2023

Meet me in the Work pod: Creating Office Environments for Neurodiverse Employees

Working in a hybrid workplace

The modern workplace revolves around aspects ranging from flexible schedules to well-designed spaces. One particular group that could derive more significant benefits than others from a comfortable and serene office environment is neurodivergent employees. These individuals face challenges related to sensory processing and exhibit sensitivity to specific textures and poor acoustics. Companies that fail to address their concerns seriously run the risk of losing out on talented employees. Continue reading to discover ways to enhance the mental well-being of your neurodiverse staff.

Designing for neurodiversity

Designing a workplace for the modern workforce is no simple task, particularly given the diverse range of tastes and needs. Conventional offices often exhibit a uniform appearance, potentially leading to a labyrinth of glass partitions and desks. However, by implementing a few changes, both productivity and motivation can experience a boost.

When contemplating office redesign, the usual focus tends to be on visual aesthetics, encompassing factors like office furniture, elaborate screens, or curtain colors. Nevertheless, there's more to this than meets the eye. Other senses, including smell, touch, and hearing, also warrant consideration. This is especially crucial because some employees grapple with challenges in the modern workplace due to noisy environments, cramped cubicles, and bustling lunchrooms.

Neurodiversity is an asset

Neurodiversity serves as an overarching term encompassing various conditions, including autism, ADD, ADHD, dyspraxia, Tourette's syndrome, and dyslexia. Neurodivergent individuals exhibit heightened sensitivity to sensory input, leading to distinct brain functioning.

They encounter difficulties when processing multiple stimuli simultaneously and following verbal instructions. For individuals with OCD, untidy and unhygienic spaces can pose challenges. Approximately 15-20% of the population is considered neurodivergent, and in addition, the human brain operates diversely.

Individuals on the spectrum can become valuable assets to companies when placed in suitable environments. They possess the capacity for deep work, excel at error detection, think innovatively, and tend to be enthusiastic learners. Some might even refer to these talents as "superpowers," especially evident in coding and design thinking. Talent should never be squandered, regardless of neurodivergent status.

Neurodiverse employees who find themselves in unsuitable environments will grapple with motivation and concentration, potentially facing burnout. The following triggers contribute to such challenges:

  • Heightened sensitivity to odors and sounds
  • Onset of migraines due to inadequate lighting
  • Insufficient clarity and feelings of insecurity
  • Overwhelming and disorderly surroundings

Workplace design in the post pandemic era

Amidst the pandemic, neurodiverse employees had the opportunity to work remotely. However, upon the mandate to return to the office, numerous individuals experienced heightened stress, including instances of panic attacks and elevated anxiety levels. It is imperative to treat their symptoms with due seriousness.

How do I make my office neurodivergent-friendly?

If you are seeking to renovate the office space and create an inclusive work environment, there are various pathways to achieve success. This form of inclusive office layout is founded on the principles of universal design. Let's explore some options that are friendly to neurodivergent individuals.

A smorgasbord of quiet and flexible spaces

As previously mentioned, we all have distinct preferences. The most effective approach to designing an office for enhanced productivity involves crafting distinct settings. Here are a few examples of inclusive design:

  • Quiet areas for focused work
  • Collaboration spaces
  • Private rooms for group work and presentations
  • Small focus rooms, often referred to as hubs

These represent only a handful of examples. Additionally, the creation of recharging stations can cater to individuals with sensory sensitivities, providing them with a space to retreat and unwind. Employees can recline on comfortable couches, listen to soothing music, or even utilize yoga mats for brief meditation sessions.

Seize the opportunity to design rooms with gentle colors and lighting. By being deliberate in your interior design choices, individuals will have a clear understanding of the various options available among the array of different spaces.

Visual clues

Designing spaces with diverse layouts simplifies navigation for individuals with dyslexia and ADD by employing visual cues instead of relying solely on signage and linear office aisles. This can be accomplished through the use of distinct wall colors, captivating artworks, or distinctive furniture pieces.

Different spaces

Rooms with glass walls may be suitable for certain employees, but others might feel confined. The office layout should strike a balance between open and enclosed spaces. Ensure the presence of private rooms where individuals can shut the door to shield themselves from unforeseen sounds or loud conversations.

Intentional spaces and flexibility

The flexible office setup is not only advantageous for neurodiverse employees but also benefits all staff members in terms of productivity and collaboration. At Flowscape, our focus lies in ensuring the experience is as streamlined as possible, offering a user-friendly app for desk and meeting room bookings.

With our solution, employees need not concern themselves about securing their preferred desk for the day and can effortlessly connect with their preferred colleagues for collaborative work.

Room lighting ideas

Are we not all familiar with the flickering of fluorescent lamps and the harsh, yellow light that seemingly ages people by 10 years? Fluorescent lights have become commonplace in most offices due to their easy on-off functionality and cost-effectiveness. However, intense lighting can contribute to an unpleasant working environment and even trigger migraines.

In a neurodivergent-friendly office, lighting needs to be both effective and gentle. Lighting should not be limited to ceiling fixtures; it should also encompass wall-mounted fixtures and desk lamps. LED lamps can provide more natural lighting and should feature dimming capabilities.

Incorporating natural light is equally vital to ensure people remain invigorated throughout the day. On scorching summer days, the ability to close blinds and shield against strong sunlight adds to the delight of the workspace.

Color choices

In addition to lighting, the selection of colors is also a significant consideration. Neurodiverse employees tend to favor soft, muted colors that transform the room into a tranquil space. Busy patterns on floors and furniture can result in sensory overload for some individuals. Conversely, others find themselves more invigorated by vibrant and lively colors, particularly in meeting rooms where collaboration and idea-sharing take place. Given the diversity in preferences, a combination of different colors across various rooms becomes crucial.

A comfortable physical environment

Where do you feel most comfortable? Probably at home. So why not infuse the comfort of a home office into the physical workplace? By offering cozy chairs, sofas, and armchairs, you can encourage employees to come to work and remain productive. This approach will particularly benefit neurodivergent employees, who often possess sensitivities to diverse textures and surfaces.

Recognize that not all individuals are content with sitting at a desk throughout the day. Those with ADHD might grapple with attention and motivation issues, appreciating spaces that allow for pacing and movement.

A standing desk serves as an excellent solution for times when restlessness sets in and a change in sitting position is sought. This option is also advantageous for employees experiencing back pain and joint discomfort. Remember, the human body is designed for movement – incorporating movement is essential.

The right equipment

Individuals on the autism spectrum would likely find a work desk positioned by a window or facing away from others more appealing. Furnish these desks with diverse sensory items such as fidget spinners, stress balls, or rocking stools.

Providing outlets to release pent-up energy can aid problem-solving and boost productivity. Another strategy is to offer dual screens, facilitating improved focus. Additionally, consider playing soothing music at specific frequencies in designated areas.

Regularly gathering feedback from employees about what makes them feel comfortable in the office should become a habitual practice.

Facilitate healthy air quality

The brain requires oxygen to function, and subpar indoor air quality can adversely impact productivity. Since employees spend a significant amount of time indoors, poor air quality can lead to feelings of exhaustion. Moreover, it can exacerbate allergies and facilitate the easier spread of germs. For individuals with sensory sensitivities, stuffy rooms can be highly bothersome.

Those with hyperosmia are vulnerable to migraines triggered by unusual or unpleasant odors, making it essential to minimize intrusive smells. Neurodivergent individuals are more susceptible to experiencing migraines, nausea, and general discomfort, which can significantly affect their physical and mental well-being. To prevent the occurrence of malodorous and stifling environments, proper ventilation is crucial.

Decorate with plants

Green plants serve as excellent odor eliminators and also add aesthetic appeal. It's advisable to limit the use of potent cleaning products and opt for natural alternatives such as vinegar, which can effectively absorb unpleasant odors.

Sound of silence

The office experiences a constant influx of people each day, and as a natural consequence, noise levels can escalate, particularly during peak hours. For those with sensory sensitivities, sounds become amplified, and specific noises can become nearly unbearable – such as the scraping of chairs, the clacking of high heels, or even the sound of laughter.

To mitigate noise, one effective approach is to install acoustic panels on the walls, which absorb sound and reduce echoes. These panels often come in attractive colors that add warmth to the room. In addition to the panels, consider incorporating sound-absorbing furniture, drapes, and rugs.

Another solution involves creating designated work pods where individuals can work in solitude. Work pods offer a flexible alternative, as an entire room need not be allocated for this purpose.

How can companies create a culture of inclusivity and understanding for neurodiverse employees?

Designing the appropriate office environment for neurodiverse employees holds significant importance. Another effective strategy to attract and retain talent is by establishing an inclusive workplace that celebrates diversity.

Team leaders and managers seeking to comprehend the distinct requirements of neurodivergent employees can greatly benefit from training. When employees are embraced and accepted for their individuality, neurodiversity in the workplace becomes a competitive advantage.

Office spaces reflect that state of your company

A neurodivergent-friendly office environment proves beneficial for all. Office design that centers around ergonomics, structure, diversity, and private spaces functions as a haven for neurodivergent employees. This approach not only aids sensory issues but also contributes to the overall well-being of all employees.

Enhanced lighting can reduce eye strain, while ergonomic furniture prevents poor postures. Recent research indicates that open office spaces can lead to increased burnout, emphasizing the importance of providing tranquil areas.

Reduced distractions and noise not only enhance the mental well-being of neurodivergent individuals but also aid neurotypical employees in maintaining focus. When individuals with dyslexia or hearing impairments receive consideration, it also translates to improved navigability for other employees within the office.

A thoughtfully designed office surpasses the status of mere architecture; it transforms into an inspiring environment where people can thrive. Why not go the extra mile and establish an inviting, inclusive office that leaves visitors in awe and propels sales to new heights!

Seeking guidance on how to set up your hybrid office for success?

Don't hesitate to schedule a meeting with one of our product experts. They can provide valuable insights into our solutions and how technology can help streamline your office processes without disrupting employees' daily work.

Read more from our blog