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8 Design Tips for Improving Neurodiversity in Your Office Space

22 November 2022

We've come a long way in ensuring that workplaces are openly accessible to everyone. Organizations are doing their best to ensure that their premises can be easily navigated by everyone, regardless of physical ability or other factors. This focus on diversity has led to offices becoming celebrated spaces where people of all backgrounds, cultures, beliefs, and political orientations can feel welcome and respected.

However, it is important to remember that while many aspects of an office may be accommodating for those with disabilities or other impairments, there is one group that is often overlooked: individuals on the spectrum. From a design and layout perspective, many offices do not adequately embrace the potential of neurodiverse individuals. This lack of inclusion effectively shuts out some of the most intelligent and creative people from fully participating in the workplace.

Neurodiversity is a complex and multifaceted concept, encompassing a range of cognitive conditions like ADHD, OCD, and Asperger's, as well as the unique ways in which people with these conditions interact with the world around them. Despite this complexity, ensuring your workspace promotes neurodiversity is actually easier than you might think. By making a few simple changes to your work environment, you can create an inclusive space that supports your current staff and future recruits on the spectrum.

Let's explore some of the changes you may need to make.

What is Neurodiversity?

Neuro-cognition is the nature of how we interact with space, light, other people, information, and other internal or external stimuli. Other factors like personality, cultural background, or even where you were raised can also influence this sense.

Therefore, neurodiversity is understanding that we think differently because our brains are unique. Up to 20% of the world is on the spectrum of some diagnosed or undiagnosed psychological divergence. They constitute what we refer to as the "neuro-minorities."

Unfortunately, we've excluded this group from our diversity and inclusivity drive, and that needs to change! Neurodiverse people may be more susceptible to the stress of their physical environment, sound, crowds, and invasions of personal space. But their personal quirks make them more talented and dedicated to their jobs.



1. Be More Conscious of the Effect of Light

People living with conditions like ADHD are sensitive to changes in lighting. This includes screen glare, overexposure, flickering lights, and unnatural lighting. Any sudden movements are enough to set them off.

You can get ahead of this issue merely by letting in as much natural light to your office as possible. We're not only talking about common spaces like the break room or conference hall but everywhere! Including offices and other small private rooms can improve everybody's mental well-being.

What if you don't have windows or other access points for natural light? You can add the following items to make your space more neuro-inclusive:

Potted plants and flower vases

Warmly colored carpets, tilling, or flooring

Glossier counters, tables, and other surfaces

LED desk lamps with dimmers

These tips can also help you condition an open office and other collaborative spaces. But don't go too wild with the lights and bright colors. A little goes a long way. After all, they might be too distracting for some other workers – Offer a fair mix for everyone's sake!



2. Use Calming Colors And Patterns

Bright, bold colors can be stimulating and overwhelming for people with neurodiverse conditions. Soft, muted colors can help to create a more calming and relaxing environment.

When designing spaces for people with neurodiverse conditions, it is important to think about the way different colors and patterns might affect their moods and behavior. As many people with these conditions know all too well, bright, intense colors can be stimulating and overwhelming, causing problems with concentration, focus, and emotions.

To create a calming environment that will help to mitigate these issues, then, it is best to use soft, muted colors and patterns. Soft shades of blue or green are often particularly effective due to their association with nature and serenity.

Patterns can also play an important role in providing relief from sensory overload by breaking up large expanses of one solid color. Common examples of comforting patterns include texture patterns like stripes, checks, or watercolor brushstrokes; organic designs like florals and leaf shapes; and abstract geometric shapes like diamonds or circles.

Color and patterns are however a tricky subject and may vary based on an individual's preferences, so be sure to discuss them with your employees beforehand.



3. Workstation Placement

When it comes to employee workstation placement, one thing is clear: neurodiverse employees prefer environments that offer sensory comfort and flexibility. At the workplace, these individuals often feel overwhelmed by the noise, pollution, and visual stimuli that are commonly found in open office settings. To best support these employees, employers should provide private personal spaces within the office that allow for both collaboration and quiet reflection.

This can be accomplished through the careful creation of different workstations within the office. For example, high-octane areas with lots of social interaction can be complemented by quieter areas where employees can focus on deep work or simply meditate and find some respite from the constant activity around them.



4. Reduce Noise Levels

Noise levels can be a major source of stress for neurodiverse individuals. If possible, try to create a quiet space where employees can go to work without being disturbed by conversations or other noises. Try to use sound-absorbing materials in your office design, such as carpeting, curtains, or acoustic panels.

If that's not possible, consider providing noise-canceling headphones or earplugs for employees who are sensitive to noise.



5. Think of Air Quality

Does your office get a little stuffy? Or do you sometimes get a lingering smell that no one can smell? If such issues bother you, try imagining how they make someone with brain-related olfactory hypersensitivity feel.

These individuals may be plagued by traces of scents that most people barely even notice. They may also experience severe headaches, vomiting, and other allergic reactions in response to strong odors.

Unfortunately, many people with this condition go undiagnosed and can have a difficult time identifying the source of a specific scent that triggers their symptoms. In addition, smells can evoke powerful memories for many of us; for those with hyperosmia, this effect is even more pronounced.

Such a trigger can cause depression, stress, and heightened anxiety because one smell can bring back memories of an unsafe place or a bad experience. From there, it's a slippery slope of other unpredictable reactions that may make everyone else uncomfortable or too worried to go back to business as usual.

As mentioned, hyperosmia and other olfactory-triggered conditions are hard to identify. So, it's on the company to eliminate intrusive odor, especially from within the office. Here are a few tips to get you started:

Implement a "no-strong scent" rule in the office, i.e., no smoking, vaping, or wearing strong perfumes/aftershave/colognes

Invest in a top-of-the-range HVAC system

Add bamboo, ivy, rubber plants, and other potted vegetation to help clean the air

Replace air filters regularly

Ensure your breakroom, kitchen and washrooms are kept spotlessly clean every day.

Install desk air purifiers for individuals with severe cases of hypersomnia

Use natural cleaning products over synthetic ones.

With a little effort and attention to detail, we can all help create healthier environments for all of our cognitive sensitivities.



6. Prioritize Ergonomics And Comfort When Selecting Office Furniture

Employees with ADHD often benefit from being able to move around while they work. You can encourage this by providing standing desks or under-desk treadmills. You can also allow employees to take walking breaks throughout the day.

It's also important to provide plenty of storage options in your office space design so that people with neurodiversity conditions like OCPD can stay organized. Having a place for everything can help reduce stress and anxiety levels. Make sure there are plenty of shelves, cabinets, and drawers available so that people can store their belongings in a way that works for them.



7. Provide fidget toys

Fidget toys can help people with conditions like ADHD and anxiety to focus and stay calm. Keep a few fidget toys around the office for people to use when they need them. Some popular fidget toys include stress balls, fidget cubes, and squishy balls.



8. Play with Your Office Layout and Wayfinding

It's hard to resist the temptation to single-source all your office supplies from a trusted vendor. However, this can lead to uniform cubicles and office layouts that are so lifeless. Ironically, this sense of uniformity can be cold and unwelcoming to people with certain cognitive challenges.

A good example is a dyslexic person. Such people rely on landmarks and subtle environmental cues to guide them even when indoors. So, imagine how frustrating it is to walk through an office where everything is identical!

Nurturing a unique office space chock full of visual landmarks can add character to your workspace. But it also creates clear lines of sight that can help orient a dyslexic person saving them time, stress, and loads of frustration.

Conclusion

So, if you want to create an office space that is both comfortable and inspiring for neurodivergent individuals, keep the following tips in mind. Remember that everyone is different, so what works for one person may not work for another. But by creating a diverse and inclusive environment, we can all thrive together!