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Authored by Natasha Hewlett, Senior Project Designer
I truly believe that the latest insights in Peldon Rose’s Powered by People report have highlighted what we have always known: the best design designs for people. In time gone by, successful workplace design would be measured by the number of desks you could pack into a space. Now, the opposite is true. Successful office interior design is achieving a space that caters for everyone, that works effectively and efficiently (yes, with a few desks scattered in there too).
It's clear that the workforce understands this, as 70% of the people surveyed in our report believe that employers need to do more to improve offices. A good way to do this is to create a workplace that’s inclusive for all.
The British Standards Institute defines inclusive design as ‘products and/or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible without the need for special adaptation or specialised design.’ In the workplace, this is creating a space where the user can fulfil the requirements of their role, without having to ask for help or specialist modifications.
Inclusive design must consider all the things that make each one of us different. This can include physical differences, neurological differences, age differences and even personality differences.
Have you ever considered whether the building you work in is physically accessible? If you’re considering inclusive workplace design for the first time, understanding whether any physical barriers exist is a good place to start.
This was a key consideration working with the MS Society. The charity asked us to design a workplace that would meet a higher standard of accessibility as per The Equality Act (2010), recognising that many of their employees or visitors could be suffering from MS themselves, and require a space tailored to their needs. Initially, we ensured that corridors and walkways were wide enough to allow wheelchairs to pass through and installed fully accessible tea points that could be accessed from either standing or seated positions. It was imperative that wayfinding and signage was easy to understand, and furniture was procured on the basis that anyone could use it, removing steps into booths or focus pods and choosing height adjustable seating or desks. Our role as workplace designers is to create an accessible office that users can move through seamlessly, without even noticing it.
Once the physical barriers have been removed, it’s important to consider how to create a workplace that is supportive of neurodiversity. For example, the ability to alter light and sound settings in the workplace can support those who are sensitive to bright lights and loud noises. Equally, offering a variety of environments such as quite zones and wellness rooms provide sanctuaries for people who value a moment of respite from busy surroundings.
Carefully considering the colour palette within the workplace has the power to support different types of sensibilities, too. GIB Asset Management is a proud member of the Valuable 500 Initiative, which promotes disability inclusion in the workplace. At its new home in Mayfair, private areas for focused work were designed with colours to support those susceptible to sensory overload. A palette of pastel lilacs, purples and greys create a calming, soothing atmosphere.
Sensory inclusivity is a technique that can also be applied to workplace design. Wellbeing rooms, like that at Sopra Steria, may contain reed diffusers with rosemary or lavender help to soothe, especially in high-pressured environments. Research from John Hopkins Medicine has shown that listening to music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure and even pain. Installing sound speakers in dedicated spaces in the workplace can assist with this, while textured walls offer an environment that can be touched, to soothe some types of sensitivities.
Describing these environments as wellbeing rooms is no coincidence, either. While these rooms may be used for feeding mothers, or for prayer, neutral language and structured booking systems can help wellbeing rooms feel available and welcome to all.
The most effective way to create an office with inclusive design in mind lies within the ‘everybody’ space. This is a space that caters for introverts, extroverts and ambiverts. High-energy breakout spaces are usually enjoyed by those who thrive working alongside others such as tea points and kitchen areas which bring people together to create a buzz. Colleagues can come together to connect, build social capital or draw energy from the hum of a vibrant ‘beating heart’ at the epicentre of the workplace. In fact, our Powered by People report revealed that 37% of workers surveyed missed socialising with colleagues most while working from home.
Of course, there were many people who thrived while working from home, citing improved productivity a key benefit. To create a workplace that offers these people the same ability to work effectively and efficiently in the office, companies must now provide a workplace that offers areas for focused tasks and individual work. For Helaba, Peldon Rose transformed the bank’s previous ways of working, installing a plethora of working environments, including focus pods dedicated to privacy and concentration. Most people display both introverted and extroverted tendencies depending on the situation, so creating an agile working environment helps to support people as their wants and needs evolve.
To create an inclusive workplace, business leaders or project teams must ensure that everyone’s voice is heard. Previously, a small number of individuals from the client team may have supplied our workplace brief, now everyone in the business is getting more of a say. For example, from 1,500 workers surveyed as part of our Powered by People report, employees cited a workplace that supports wellbeing containing high-quality technology are two of the most important features. What would your team prioritise?
In order to create an inclusive workplace that truly reflects your people’s needs, they should be taken on the entire project journey and our in-house Strategy team help to facilitate this. Throughout the process, change management plays an important role from inception through to the discovery of a workplace solution, then to delivery and finally adoption. For instance, at The Trade Desk, focus groups, pulse surveys and workshops helped to identify the beliefs and behaviours that would shape a workplace that supported the entire team.
The benefits of designing an inclusive workplace stretch deeper than enabling your people to do their job. Underpinned by human-centric design, a space that caters for everyone opens your business to a larger pool of talent, while empowering existing team members. It’s a way to demonstrate commitment to your people, and also to the future in order to attract and retain amazing people.
The challenges faced over the past two years have especially highlighted the need for an inclusive working environment which is now becoming a top priority for clients. As workplace designers, it’s critical to continue to learn about the latest products, techniques and innovations that can help to create inclusive designs, and we can do this via CPD seminars and online research. In turn, employers now need to respond, to create a space where everyone can thrive.