Did you know that one out of every three employees have a special need that requires some form of accommodation at work? That means more than 33% percent of employees aren’t reaching peak performance at work, perhaps in part because their workspaces aren’t designed to meet their needs.
Though the phrase "diversity and inclusion" can refer to a large swath of topics, this article will focus primarily on designing and building for inclusion. What can be done from a design-and-build standpoint to facilitate productivity, innovation, and satisfaction for individuals of all physical and cognitive abilities? Let's take a look.
What is Inclusive Workplace Design?
Also known as "universal design," inclusive workplace design focuses on creating buildings, environments, and workspaces that are intrinsically accessible to everyone. It's a proactive approach to designing and building workspaces that account for individuals of all abilities and meet employees' needs without drawing attention to special requirements. Some examples of universal design features that employers can implement at little or no cost include lever door handles, flat-panel light switches, large-print labels, and task-lighting choices.
However – with the aforementioned features being a great place to start – inclusive workplace design scales well beyond the easy-to-use light switch or door handle. It encompasses interior features – such as hallways, door frames, environmental controls, and more – that facilitate various working styles. In fact, according to the North Carolina State University, there are seven principles of universal design, which are summarized by Work Design Magazine as follows:
— 01 —
The design must be useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
— 02 —
Flexibility in use:
The design must accommodate a wide berth of preferences and abilities.
— 03 —
Simple, intuitive use:
Design must be easy to understand for the user, regardless of knowledge, experience, present concentration level, or language skills.
— 04 —
Necessary information is communicated to the user effectively, regardless of sensory abilities or environmental conditions.
— 05 —
Tolerance for error:
Design minimizes risk and accounts for potential consequences of unplanned actions.
— 06 —
Low physical effort:
Allow for efficient and comfortable use with minimal strain.
— 07 —
Size and space for approach and use: Supply adequate size and space for approach, reach, manipulation, and use - regardless of the user's physical size, mobility, or posture.
How to Make Inclusive Design a Reality
Whether you're selecting a new office space or renovating an existing one, there are many things to consider when cultivating an inclusive office space that meets employees' diverse needs. Below are just a few of those considerations to help get you started:
Gather information and statistics about your employees
Key considerations might be what kind of physical or developmental challenges your employees might be facing, as well as how they best individually focus.
Get familiar with smart tech and its benefits for employee productivity
New workplace technologies are emerging every day. Consider BrainLit, a light technology that mimics natural daylight to create natural lighting environments that effectively increase employee mood and productivity. Smart technologies such as this give individual users the ability to adjust lighting to their liking. This allows employees to optimize their surroundings for focus-- boosting their mental health and increasing productivity in the process.
Consider your layout
For companies moving to a new office space or renovating an existing one, opt for a layout with wide hallways, spacious interior door frames, and a mix of large and small spaces.
Consider modification options
Companies looking to implement universal design features into an existing space can use partitions and dividers to create delineated spaces for collaboration and individual focus.
For more ideas on designing an inclusive workspace that meets a diverse range of employee needs, check out this article by Work Design Magazine.
How Talisen Construction Promotes Diversity & Inclusion in Our Builds
We’ve been implementing inclusive design features into our projects for nearly a decade here at Talisen. For instance, this build for Manhattan Children's Center— a two-floor school specializing in students with special needs – called for a new sensory gym, a wheelchair lift, and multiple pantries, kitchens, bathroom, and laundry facilities for life skills classes.
On the workplace design front, our efforts at Google's 111 Eighth Avenue allowed employees to bring their work outdoors with an innovative and user-friendly terrace space that couples as an outdoor work environment. Additionally, many of Talisen's corporate interior projects have called for inclusive design features, including corporate build-outs and renovations we completed for Accel Partners, A&E Networks, Genpact International, Lead Edge Capital, Oribe, and Tory Burch.
What's more, for building owners looking to give tenants more freedom to create inclusive spaces, white-boxing is an excellent option that allows for endless customization possibilities. Our 40,000 sq. ft. office renovation for Cushman and Wakefield at 2 Park Avenue is a prime example of how white-box templates give tenants a blank slate that allows them to design and build for inclusion as they see fit.