How to Support Neurodiversity Through Office Design

Companies are increasingly recognising the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The responsibility now falls on workspace decision makers to mirror these values through purposeful office design.

The term neurodiversity has gained momentum in the past few years. Neurodiversity is an umbrella term used for people who have a variety of conditions that causes them to think, act and create in a non-typical way. Such conditions include autism spectrum disorder (ASD), ADHD, Dyslexia and Tourette syndrome. It is estimated that 15-20% of the UK population are neurodivergent, that is 1 in 7 of all staff. Thus, it is important that businesses invest in an inclusive workplace that provides the spaces for people to complete their tasks in a way that bests suit them.

“15-20% of the UK population are neurodivergent.”

Offer a variety of workplaces:

The most important design feature when creating an inclusive workspace is to provide a variety of workplace settings. Many individuals with neurodiversity suffer with over sensory stimulation – so sounds, bright lights and strong smells can cause individuals with cognitive difference to suffer sensory overload. The best way to combat this is to design an office with a variety of workspaces. This can include quiet areas for focused work, higher-stimuli settings for group work and socialising areas. Regardless of the specific approach, it is important to incorporate clear design cues about the spaces, so people know what to expect in terms of acoustics, privacy, light and other sensory elements.

Consider the sensors:

Neurodiverse people, especially those with ADHD, are sensitive to bright, flickering lights. One way to combat this in office design is to incorporate more natural light – this can be achieved through open spaces and large windows. If it is not possible to have natural light in the workspace, design alterations like the incorporation of mirrors, shiny furniture, soft LED lighting and a lighter colour palette will help mitigate the sensory overload and support these individuals.

Neurodiverse people can also be sensitive to sounds and loud noises, so considerations should be made to the acoustics of the workspace. There are some easier design techniques that can be employed to soundproof the workspace like acoustic panels that absorb sound, high wall partition systems for large spaces and the incorporation of soundproofing materials.

Neurodivergent individuals can also be extremely sensitive to smells which can result in anxiety and even depression. Therefore, having clean, fresh air is a priority for the workplace. Consider investing in high-performance HVAC equipment and working with maintenance personnel to make sure air quality is good and the air circulates frequently. You could also incorporate plants, like Palm and English Ivy, which are natural air purifiers.

Wayfinding and zoning:

When designing an inclusive workspace which supports neurodiverse individuals, it is important to consider the layout and navigation between spaces. For instance, if the workspace has been designed to be open plan, consider smaller zones that feature acoustic buffers, areas of privacy and visual connections. This then provides staff with a variety of working zones.

Clear wayfinding is also crucial in helping neurodivergent people feel confident in an unfamiliar space. Individuals with dyslexia may rely on environmental cues rather than signage to find their way around. To make navigation easier, create unique spaces on each floor, with visual landmarks like plants, art and furniture to differentiate work areas and working zones.

Include adaptable environments:

The concept of ‘me’ spaces are becoming more popular in workplace design and is especially prevalent in designing an inclusive workspace that supports neurodiversity. The idea of the ‘me’ office is to design an environment that prioritises individual control and optimises individual performance.

Small scale design solutions can be implemented to allow all employees a greater sense of control over their working environment. Adaptable environments include the incorporation of adjustable chairs and desks, dimmable lighting and moveable partitions. The addition of these simple design elements can make a positive impact on workplace comfort.

Whilst organisations can’t design for all individual needs, by combining a spectrum of preferences with a range of spaces, employees can choose the environment they work in. Designing a workplace with neurodiversity in mind not only benefits underrepresented workers – the ability to control stimuli like temperature, lighting and noise levels will provide relief for all staff.

If you would like to lean more about neurodiversity in office design, get in touch with one of our workplace specialists today.