The importance of ensuring your workspace does not fall short for your neurodiverse colleagues

Creating workspaces that cater to the diverse needs of all employees, especially the neurodiverse, is not just important—it’s essential.

As we witness an increase in neurodivergent individuals entering the workforce, Sarah Payne, Head of Design at Kerr Office Group, highlights a pressing reality: traditional office designs often fail to support neurodivergent employees who feel their work experience is significantly impacted by their condition.

This article explores four critical design elements—spacing, lighting, colour and patterns, and stimming elements—that are key to transforming workspaces into inclusive, empowering environments for neurodiverse employees, ultimately enhancing their productivity and well-being.

Sarah Payne, Head of Design at Kerr Office Group

An increased focus on employee wellbeing and inclusion is critical to supporting all employees to reach their potential. Year on year, employers are seeing an increase in neurodivergent employees entering the workplace as the Gen Z cohort integrates employment, with 40% of neurodivergent employees stating they are impacted most days in the workplace by their condition. Further evidence that for a workspace to be inclusive and welcoming to everyone, the design needs must consider neurodiverse needs.

Spacing: Since neurodiverse employees differ in their stimulation cues, ways of working, and triggers, a variety of areas should be designed to cater to each of these. Quiet working areas for focused working without the confines of a closed room or total isolation can be calming. Conversely, accommodating super-minimal hyper-focus rooms that allow employees to work in isolation in an environment that minimises all distractions can be beneficial for some.

Lighting: How your office is lit plays a major role in making it accessible for those identifying as neurodiverse. Diffused light should be used, and we highly recommend controllable lighting in workspaces to suit unique neurodiverse needs. Lighting should be adaptable for different tasks, allowing colleagues to adjust it depending on the level of concentration needed or their current mood. Varied light temperatures from warm to cool white are ideal.

Colour and Patterns: Office spaces can cater to neurodiverse needs by avoiding visually jarring and eccentric patterns. Loud colours and flashy décor walls, while suitable and often enjoyable for neurotypical employees, can be detrimental for neurodiverse employees. They can severely hamper their comfort levels.

Stimming Elements: Stimming, short for self-stimulating behaviours, is common among neurodiverse individuals, especially those with autism. These are repetitive body movements like tapping feet or finger flicking. It helps to manage their emotions, allowing them to calm down feelings of anxiety, fear, or excitement. Neurodiverse office design should provide spaces and materials to support these mannerisms. Having rocking chairs or medicine balls to sit on, desk objects like rubber band balls in the general workspace, or specially designed wellness spaces is a game-changer for neurodiverse employees.


About Alys Bryan

Alys is a knowledgeable design editor who is focused on instigating conversations, both online and in-person, with industry experts which challenge, educate and advance the commercial interior sector. Her training and 15 years of professional experience as a furniture designer for the commercial sector makes her uniquely placed to lead Design Insider as Editor
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