Home / Features / Reflecting societal changes in workplace and public washrooms

Reflecting societal changes in workplace and public washrooms

A report by the BCO(i) into the future of the workplace post-pandemic suggested that workplaces need to do more to reflect societal changes. The report predicted the replacement of gendered communal toilets with pod-based WCs that feature touchless doors, taps and soap dispensers. What more should the FM sector be doing to ensure that calls for more inclusive toilets in both workplaces and public buildings are being met?


It’s the fundamental role of the workplace to support its users – that means catering for a wide variety of needs and reflecting societal change.

For a long time, toilet and washroom facilities were viewed as basic functional spaces and little budget was assigned to their refurbishment or design. Now, the way they feel as well as how they operate is up for consideration. Toilets and washrooms are increasingly becoming more comfortable spaces, akin to being at home, and importantly they’re becoming more inclusive too.

Visiting the toilet is a basic and universal human need – which means that everyone must be able to access appropriate facilities with ease. Parity is essential.

There are many advantages to gender neural toilets. They are great for an increasingly diverse population and can help to put transgender and non-binary people at ease, make it easier for parents accompanying small children and address ‘line equality’ (the fact that women often have to queue for toilets, compared with men). Plus, in design terms, they typically occupy less space which can allow the inclusion of other amenities elsewhere. However, we often hear that many women find these shared spaces uncomfortable. So, with greater understanding of different needs – be they based on identity, preference, ability or religion – must also come an appreciation that not everyone feels the same. There are many people who do not welcome shared-spaces for such personal activities.

Part of making gender neutral toilets work for organisations lies in ensuring that all the facilities you might need are within the cubicle space – that’s the sink, hand dryer, sanitary bin as well as the toilet. Also, the cubicle must be a full height partition wall with a solid door that goes all the way to the floor. This is about more than just audio privacy, it ensures a feeling of greater comfort and safety for all users; something that traditional toilet cubicles don’t achieve.

For FMs striving to address inclusivity in all its guises it’s important to recognise that gender-neutral toilets are important in the modern office, but for some, gender specific toilets still have their place. For me the key to getting toilet facility provision right is offering choice. It’s the best way to futureproof a space and ensure that all potential users’ needs are met, whether they’re in your workforce currently or might be in the future.

The BCO’s prediction there will be more contact-less interfaces within large, shared environments seems well-founded, after all the pandemic has made infection-control a business-critical consideration. There are inclusivity advantages to this too – particularly for those with restricted mobility. But there has to be a word of caution, particularly in the context of toilets – touchless doors are one thing, automatic locking is another. There are plenty of people who won’t use a train toilet because they don’t trust that the button means the door is locked. We have to ask do we trust technology enough in some of our most personal moments?



As many workplaces begin to bring people back to the office full time, facilities managers have a chance to create a fresh start in this new normal, wiping the slate clean when it comes to protecting occupants. The washroom is a space which holds a lot of potential in this regard.

After extended periods away, when it comes to people returning to busy offices, one of the biggest challenges is making them feel safe and comfortable in these spaces. There is a lot that those working in facilities management can do to ensure people feel at ease, particularly in the washroom.

Although touchless technology in washrooms isn’t anything particularly new, it now seems like the perfect time to look at installing more products that offer a hands-free experience. Not only do they bring added levels of hygiene for end-users, but some can also help reduce water wastage, leading to a more sustainable and cost-effective system for facilities managers and bill payers.

When you think about an end-user’s experience in a washroom setting, there aren’t many places where touchless products can’t be installed – with taps, soap dispensers, flushplates and hand drying systems all available in options which don’t require physical contact. Creating a touchless washroom is a great way to reassure end-users that your organisation is taking steps to curb the spread of bacteria and germs. There are also several new innovations that take hygiene control to the next level.

Occupant comfort isn’t just about hygiene, however. As our society continues to progress to become more inclusive and accessible for everyone, our future washrooms will need to reflect this shift.

Modern offices need to offer spaces that suit the needs of all end-users, regardless of gender, age or mobility. This may mean incorporating a higher number of gender-neutral spaces and cubicles, or catering to those with increased concerns around privacy.

Accessibility is important in every office, and facilities managers may want to try and exceed the minimum legislative requirements when it comes to creating more inclusive washrooms.

The last two years have led us all to re-evaluate our relationships with workplaces, public spaces and commercial buildings, and arguably, there’s no place that’s happened more than within the washroom.

As our society starts to find a new normal, it’s vital that facilities managers listen to the changing needs of end-users and teams using these spaces every day. Addressing inclusivity, accessibility and hygiene is key over the next few years and will ensure a space is fit for purpose.

About Sarah OBeirne

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *