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A shift in modern working behaviours can be used to improve inclusivity

Chris Jay, Managing Director of Bascule Disability Training

For many businesses the home working revolution is coming to an end, with several already demanding that staff return to the office. Interestingly, not all businesses are using the stick approach. Some are choosing the carrot in the form of new, contemporary workspace designs that are being used to lure employees back to the office.

It strikes me that at a time when we are boldly reassessing the working environment, and re-designing and re-evaluating the space to best suit the worker’s needs, that we could potentially make a huge stride in creating an inclusive workplace. While efforts are being made to create a space to suit all, why wouldn’t we consider the needs of people with disabilities? They do after all, represent 24 per cent of the population.

The good news is, designing an environment that best suits the needs of hybrid workers and their modern working methods, isn’t a million miles away from creating an accessible space. For example, modern workplace design trends are focussed on flexible, fluid, and adaptive shared spaces, that can be used as and when people enter the office – as opposed to staff working from a designated, stationary desk, in one particular area of the office.

Fortunately, with just a little extra thought and planning, flexible options and adaptive designs, can also be accessible workspaces. Ad-hoc desk environments must naturally have ergonomic furniture that is adaptable to users of all shapes and sizes, which could also meet the needs of people with disabilities. Desks that are height adjustable will also accommodate wheelchair users as well as all sizes of hybrid workers. Creating an environment where furniture must be suitable for all users, means people with disabilities can be included, if the right choices are made. There will of course, be instances when some staff members have specific needs and therefore bespoke, dedicated spaces may be a necessity. Again, redesigning the office space presents the perfect time to ensure everyone’s needs are met.

An activity-based space for all

Many modern offices are adopting activity-based methods of working, that involve a range of spaces best suited to a certain task. These can include quiet booths, collaboration zones, touchdown and ad-hoc desks, meeting spaces, privacy spots, focus booths, lounge areas and recreational environments.

As well as providing a more diverse range of micro-environments for each task, the choice of conditions in these spaces will help many people with disabilities. For example, for neurodiverse employees, having the option of a space designed for quiet or contemplative work may be particularly useful. With a little more thought this environment can be designed aesthetically to sooth and calm.

Given that the average anxiety levels are also higher for people with disabilities, an environment that can offer relief from noise, or office busyness will also be welcomed. Offering private pods or quiet zones with soundproof walls can help anyone experiencing stress as well as provide a place for everyone to simply concentrate. These environments that offer lower stimulation can lend themselves to people who may have mental health impairments and any staff with symptoms of stress and anxiety.

When considering multiple zones, it’s important to point out that people with disabilities shouldn’t be confined to a particular area, but rather if a plethora of options were made available, all people (both those with and without disabilities), can choose an appropriate space to suit their moods. Failure to do so could, of course, result in indirect discrimination claims.

When making any workplace alteration, keep everyone in mind. Just a few basic changes can help create an inclusive environment, even if it is simply through the consideration of the placement of switches and plug points, mixed height surfaces and storage, walkways and widths between desks, doors, the placement of chair legs on new tables, (for wheelchair access), layout, floor surfaces and lighting – as these will all make an enormous difference.

Of course, as you develop your environment, you must also remember to consider creating an inclusive culture, after that – inclusivity can become a vital component of your brand, potentially attracting a customer base with the annual spend of £274 billion per year and introducing you to a whole new and untapped talent pool.

About Sarah OBeirne

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