Designing the office for neurodiversity

Designing the office for neurodiversity

Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one “right” way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits.

It is estimated that 1 in 7 people in the UK, nearly 15%, are neurodiverse, which is not an insignificant number. While most office workers can relate to the annoyances of open-offices - bright fluorescent lighting, noisy co-workers, lack of privacy - for neurodivergent people, these can become significant obstacles in day-to-day life.

A recent study on how to design offices that accommodate a broad spectrum of needs brought up the usual common office issues like noise pollution, but also identified less obvious stressors such as, surfaces with uncomfortable textures, temperatures for people with sensory hypersensitivity, or distracting wall graphics and patterns.

While a neurotypical might not notice these environmental factors, they can be particularly stressful for someone who has ADHD or autism, for example.

Although they can should they want to, companies don’t need to construct entirely new office amenities to create a more pleasant office experience as there are a few small changes which can be easily implemented to make the space more accessible.

A significant consideration is the office’s lighting. Try reducing overhead lighting in a dedicated area, either by removing panels or switching them for dimmer alternatives and offer desk lamps or monitor lamps so people can customise their configurations.

Reduce clutter, both physical and visual, especially within the line of sight from people’s desks but also from walkways.

Try out desktop markers or another form of indicator to allow people to non-verbally let others around them know if they’re open to socialising or if they’d prefer to be left alone to work.

Make your small meeting rooms work harder, allow people to take their lunch break in quiet areas to get away from what might otherwise be a buzzing environment.

Although to a lesser extent, these small changes not only benefit those who are neurodiverse, but everyone else in the office too.

Employers are becoming more aware of their role in providing spaces that lead to a happier workforce and therefore a more productive one too.