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Tips to Design Workplaces for Neurodivergent Employees

11 January 2023

Modern workplaces have already established the fact that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to creating the ideal office space. Organizations around the world are acknowledging this as a fact and revamping their workplace designs to be more inclusive and accessible to employees with different needs.

They are now creating spaces that offer a range of different types of work areas so everyone can work effectively and produce optimal results without feeling burned out.

This is especially important for your neurodivergent employees, as they often have to face work areas with extreme sensory overloads. This not only hinders their performance and disrupts the quality of work they produce but can also be damaging to their physical and mental health.

Since people with neurodivergent disabilities aren't always obvious to the naked eye, employers often fail to provide them with an appropriate place to work.

If you're wondering how to create the optimal workplace for neurodivergent employees, you're at the right place. Let's find out how you can offer every member of your workforce a safe and healthy office space!

Design for Accessibility and Interaction

The concept of accessibility revolves around developing a workplace for neurodivergent employees that identifies any barriers to their optimal performance and works on fixing them. It carefully considers any factors that could be causing friction between interactions and making it difficult for your employees to communicate and collaborate with others.

Having a significant part of your workplace left unable to perform at its best can slow down your company's growth and create an environment of disengagement. Therefore, as the leader, it is your responsibility to create a positive change within the workspace for all individuals, neurodivergent or not.

One aspect of this is to create a modern work environment that continues to take into account how a highly energetic space could prove to be difficult for some employees. Awareness of how different sensory environments impact neurodivergent employees will help you form complex and dynamic workspaces that cater to all of your employees.

It can be a challenge to find the right balance, but when you make accessibility and positive interactions for all employees a priority in your workplace design, the results are sure to speak for themselves.

Have Inclusive Meeting Practices

Neurodivergent employees often find it challenging to be a part of meetings, whether they are held in person or virtually. They report feeling anxious and stressed out due to their neurological differences.

In fact, almost 43% of the American workforce admits to feeling extreme anxiety which causes them to avoid participating in meetings and even social gatherings. Fortunately, there are some ways in which you can make meetings and conferences more inclusive for your neurodivergent employees:

Schedule Ahead of Time

Notifying employees of the meeting beforehand and allowing them to block off the time slot in their work calendars can make it easier for neurodivergent people to participate effectively. It allows your employees to manage other appointments easily and not be caught off-guard at the sudden prospect of a meeting, which can increase feelings of anxiety due to loss of control.

Distribute Meeting Agendas

Whenever possible, make it a practice to distribute a meeting agenda beforehand. This offers your employees valuable insight into what to expect in the meeting, and they can also determine what will be expected from them.

Not only does it help limit any feelings of anxiousness, but it can also make each meeting more productive as employees come prepared ahead of time. Nobody will feel like they're being put on the spot and the agenda will allow for healthier discourse and conversation.

Establish Camera-Use Protocols

When it comes to virtual meetings, having face-to-face interactions through the use of video calls can make the experience feel more human. However, it can be quite exhaustive and stressful for neurodivergent employees who experience Zoom fatigue.

Employees often report feeling increasingly anxious about how they look on camera and whether their virtual interactions appear normal. This form of stress often causes employees to shy away from engaging in virtual meetings and can even hinder productivity levels. Here are some ways you can make your virtual meetings more inclusive of your neurodivergent employees:

Allow employees to keep their cameras off as per their preference.

Avoid pointing it out if somebody has turned off their camera.

Host meetings with a cameras-off policy.

Add a note within the meeting agenda to clarify whether attendees will be required to turn their cameras on or not.

Create a Noise-Sensitive Workplace Design

At the very top of the list of sensory factors to be mindful of is noise. This is rather unsurprising, as loud, continuous noise can get the better of all of us. It often ends up being a real problem for neurodivergent employees in modern workplaces. This is especially true as the trend of open-concept offices is embraced by companies worldwide.

While open-concept workspaces are great for collaboration and teamwork, they create a very real problem of increased noise levels. On top of the noise, there is also an increased mixing of different functions that create different sensory profiles. For example, the eating area could be located near a conference or meeting space.

Agile workspaces can be effective, but only if you take special care of the design to accommodate your neurodivergent employees. Instead of treating the noise levels as a part of your mitigation strategy, consider them during the concept stage of your new workplace design.

You should look into acoustic panels and set aside areas to create quiet zones within the open-concept office. You can also bring in natural material sound screens like cork and large planters to limit the sound from traveling across the office and wreaking havoc on your employees' concentration levels.

Invest in the Right Furniture

One of the most on-trend ideas for workplace design is having dynamic spaces that can be altered seamlessly into different work modes. This is a great way to make the most of your office space by bringing in AlcoveRiser Standing Desk Converters and standing desks to create a variety of mixed areas for employees to use as per the need of the hour.

However, while creating these dynamic spaces, it is important to identify the fact that not everyone works well with such hustle-bustle around them. This particularly applies to your neurodivergent employees.

The best way to accommodate them in your modern office design is to create pod rooms and quiet spaces where people can spend some time taking calls, having meetings, or working on focused tasks. Your neurodivergent employees can easily take a break from the main workspace if they feel a sensory overload and opt to work from the pods in privacy.

Form a Network of Care and Community

Studies have shown that up to 1 in 5 people around the world fall under the label of neurodivergent. This means that 1 in every 5 of us think, process, and learn differently from what is considered 'typical.'

That doesn't mean they can't perform as well as other employees or struggle with lower productivity levels in the workplace. They just work differently, and forming a network of care and community is the best way to accommodate their work practices to allow them to shine.

The best way to form this network is to encourage inclusivity in every aspect of your work environment and culture. You should start by creating an accessible and comfortable space for all employees.

Another great way to show your employees that you genuinely care for their well-being is by asking for feedback. Turn to your neurodivergent employees and ask them how the office space can be transformed into a more productive workplace as per their needs.

Limit Visual Noise

Another important sensory factor to consider is visual noise. You must take into account how information is perceived through the eyes of your neurodivergent employees.

It is common for workplace designs to make use of patterns, colors, and other wall schemes to create character and liveliness within the office. Companies often display their brand colors and add texture to get rid of all the white space on the walls and create a unique work environment. However, some of these patterns and colors can be quite disruptive to your neurodivergent employees.

Extreme texture, high-contrast colors, and geometric patterns can create a sensory overload for employees with any visual sensitivities. It can even lead to migraines and epilepsy for people with acute sensitivity.

You should consider the fact that human beings evolved while surrounded by natural landscapes, so our eyes generally process natural forms better. Complex patterns within the work environment aren't just disruptive to your neurodivergent employees, but they can also reduce focus and concentration within the rest of your workforce.

Therefore, the best way to cater to all of your employees is to opt for muted colors and soft patterns. Design your office space to have a low sensory environment that accommodates everyone's balance and depth perception without making it difficult for them to concentrate and perform.