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Neurodiverse Design – creating a neurodiversity inclusive workplace environment

A neurodivergent person's brain illustration

 The concept of designing for the wide spectrum of neurodiversity has emerged in recent years and is having a positive impact on workplace design. You may have heard of neurodiversity and people being described as either neurodivergent or neurotypical, but what do these terms mean and what does a neurodiverse workplace look like?

It is estimated that 20% of people can be described as neurodivergent and as a percentage of the workforce, their contribution to your organisation cannot be underestimated.

Creating an environment that caters to neurodiversity is a sound investment as it benefits your entire workforce.

What makes someone neurodivergent?

Different people have different ways of thinking. The term neurodivergent used to refer to those on the autistic spectrum but now also includes people with, ADHD, ADD, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia and Dyspraxia. Neurodivergent people may have trouble concentrating, may become easily distracted, have difficulty understanding others and getting along with people and they may also be more clumsy than neurotypical people. But their unique way of thinking often allows them to be more creative, see things in different ways and add value to your organisation accordingly.

Adapting the working environment to cater to neurodiversity is critical to helping everyone perform at their best.

What does a neurodiverse work environment look like?

an office interior with variety of seating

It has been understood for some time now that a one size fits all work environment does not offer employees what they need to succeed at work and offering variety and choice within the workplace benefits people with different working preferences.

Design for neurodiversity takes the variety and choice concept a step further, building in areas that offer a range of environment types that reflect the neurodiverse needs of people.

an office interior with desks and cork wall

To a neurodivergent person, the workplace can be a bombardment of conflicting stimuli. Distractions can come in many forms, whether it be from noises, food smells, lighting, colours or textures. Unwanted social interactions or the inability to avoid larger groups can also lead to social anxiety.

Varying spaces from loud to quiet and from public to private, for example, give people with varying neurodiverse needs the choice to work in an environment where they feel comfortable.

A diagram of office space planning

Varying spaces from public to private and most noisy to most quiet (above).

We can address these needs by offering a range of spaces that vary in scale, that are closer to or further from high traffic areas, that are more open or more enclosed and that have a variety of colour palette from intense to calm. For example, a variety of meeting room sizes can allow for small medium or large meetings. Integrating video conferencing to these rooms can give further choice as neurodivergent colleagues can dial-in rather than attend in person. Providing space for one-to-one meetings can also allow neurodivergent colleagues to express themselves to others without feeling like they are being overheard.

Focussed work versus collaboration

two people in a meeting room interior

office space planning diagram neurodiverse

Variety and choice - a range of different spaces with varying environments

It is important to recognise the need for separation between different types of workspace. Those that need a certain type of environment in which to do focussed work without distractions will require distance from spaces that are designed for social interaction and collaboration. Where differing types of spaces are located and how separation is achieved is important but if done right adds to the overall user experience.

Visual stimulation is a key factor as some may need a more visually stimulating environment to feel productive where others might prefer an environment that is calmer and less stimulating and therefore less distracting.

visually stimulating workplace interior design

Visually stimulating (above) versus visually calming (below).

visually calming workplace interior design

Neurodiverse design benefits the entire workforce as differing personality types also require a variety and choice of spaces. Extroverts that enjoy verbal collaboration are unlikely to need the same type of space as introverts who are quieter and need more time to think things through carefully without distractions. Similarly, different age groups have different expectations of the workplace with older employees perhaps preferring quieter spaces while younger ones prefer to collaborate openly.

workplace interior staff cafe

Creating a neurodiverse workplace is not difficult and just takes some careful thought but the benefits are many and the result will be a welcoming and inclusive space for all to be their whole authentic selves and do their best work. Which business would say no to that?

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