Neurodiversity and office design
What does Neurodiversity mean, and why does it matter?

Neurodiversity is a concept where neurological differences are recognized and respected as any other human variation. These differences can include those labelled with Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyscalculia, Autistic Spectrum, Tourette Syndrome, and others.

In the current day, it’s easy to get swept away by the latest ‘trends’ and neglect to consider employee needs, specifically how individual works best as part of the overall business. Most workplaces ensure physical accessibility is considered, but cognitive accessibility is usually forgotten.

The neurodivergent community makes up 10% of the world’s population; yet due to the lack of understanding, recognition, and acceptance in the workforce, people with neurodiversity are often left unemployed or underutilised in today’s corporate environments.

To create a more inclusive workplace, neurodivergent people need to be understood by both the employer and team members alike, and that comes from education, acceptance and understanding. For the majority of people with a neurodivergent syndrome, background noise, bright lights, and human habits can create stress and anxiety, overwhelming them in the working environment.

Did you know that 4 in 10 people with dyslexia and 75-85% of people with Asperger’s are unemployed? Neurodivergent people can offer a unique set of skills and are an asset to any company well suited to their needs, but they can have a hard time maintaining regular jobs due to their differences and a lack of support and understanding in the workforce.

We need to understand that one ‘trend’ or style of workplace doesn’t necessarily work for everyone (neurodivergent or not) and if we expect our team to just ‘deal’ with their environment, we risk losing productivity, engagement, passion, community, and good team members. For someone facing neurodiversity, it’s important to consider multiple aspects when deciding their new workplace, whether the team are welcoming, the employers are considerate to the various everyday challenges someone with a neurodivergent syndrome faces. If we don’t accommodate and adapt, we could potentially lose great talents in the industry.

So, here are our top 5 ways to design an office to support team members who may struggle on a daily basis with their neurodiversity in the workplace; bearing in mind, no two people are the same even if they have a neurodivergent syndrome.

1) Quiet nooks
Open spaces can be overwhelming due to the many distractions. Creating quiet nooks, from an enclosed phone booth, to soundproof small meeting rooms, or office areas, can provide a sanctuary to erase distractions and offer a space to work productively. Creating clear pathways or zones in the office can also help improve focus because it maintains routine and structure.

2) Lighting
Swap bright lights for ones that mimic and produce natural light or add a desk lamp for people with light sensitivity. Some office lights naturally reflect a glare, and flickers, that won’t affect “normal” people, but can really affect those facing neurodivergent syndromes.

3) Acoustics
Acoustics are elements you can add to help absorb and block out sound waves in an office. They are beneficial to help those that struggle to think optimally with noise, concentration and people around them. Acoustics can come in a variety of forms, from high back sofas, workstation screens, wall tiles and plants, adding sound barriers and bonus aesthetic appeal to the workplace.

4) Colour
To keep an office calm and neutral, it is best to use low stimulant colours; and avoid patterns and mixing colours on walls or furnishings. Colour has known psychological and emotional impacts even for a ‘normal’ person, for example a mix of complimentary colours can create a sense of comfort, but for neurodivergent people it could affect their concentration, make them more stressed, and trigger anxiety.

5) Storage Space
An often under-valued part of office design, storage often means so much to employees. neurodivergent people need to feel secure, safe, and in control, and in order to do that they need one less thing to worry about, being their personal belongings. Having a secure storage space close by lowers anxiety and stress, as they know their personal belongings are safe at all times.

So, there you have it, five simple design changes that can make the world of difference to employees that struggle with neurodiversity syndromes. Implementing one or more in your workplace can go a long way to making everyone feel more comfortable.

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