people collaborating in kitchen area

How do we create more inclusive workplaces?

Workplace design as a vehicle for office equality and change.

Inequality can be hardwired into the layout, with perimeter offices and fixed desks that benefit only a small portion of the overall workforce. Today, most people work in modern offices with open-plan spaces, which favour extroversion and further contribute to an organisation-wide imbalance. So, how do we create more inclusive workplaces that can be leveraged as vehicles for organisational change?

As workplace designers, we need to accommodate the ongoing transformation of place, people and culture. There are many ways that firms can go above and beyond to support health and equality issues, but here are three areas to focus on first.

people sitting at high work tables
Harness the why

What gets your team out of bed in the morning? How are they inspired?

Understanding how people, culture and environment intersect is key to business success. There is no one route to improving wellbeing or creating the most desirable space to attract new talent.

If people understand the bigger picture and what they are working to achieve, hierarchy takes a back-seat and people are empowered to drive towards a common goal. Creating environments that support every individual to be as effective as possible can have dramatic impact on their overall output.

Workplaces mimic the diversity of cities, where a variety of different cultures and perspectives collide and enable companies to innovate. However, while dense urban settings bring the benefit of access to skilled global talent, they bear the disadvantage of heightened stress coupled with strains on services – unless the design is carefully considered.

people chatting in office kitchen
Magnify the environment

Neither the corner office model nor the open floor plan is conducive to an inclusive culture. The corner office model promotes hierarchy as a value, while an open plan seating arrangement favours extroverted employees who derive energy from social interactions. Instead, companies need to design an environment that enables employees to choose from a variety of settings based on the type of work and how each team member can meet their individual needs.

Such an environment should include both open areas for socialising and collaboration, as well as quiet areas for deep work and private conversations. By moving into these versatile spaces, CEOs and senior leaders provide employees direct access to communication with the organisation’s key decision-makers, regardless of their level or tenure.

people working in booths
Put people first

Each employee has a unique set of needs, many of which are not visible. Interior designers and architects, whose fundamental mandate is that of health, safety and wellbeing, have a responsibility to provide a considered and accessible workspace for all. This ranges from providing wheelchair access to thinking about how neurodiverse employees, those with hearing disabilities, or colour blindness, need to use space. This enables everyone to feel and perform at their best without feeling like they have to barter for their benefits.

Another aspect of accommodating people’s individual needs in the workplace is to design for health and wellbeing. For example, sit-stand desks help fight sedentary diseases and encourage healthy work styles, while offering employees the enhanced choice of personalised working for a marginal cost increase. 80% of adults suffer[1] from lower back pain at some point in their lives, and providing conveniences in the workplace can decrease that number.

vibrant kitchen space with art
Inclusivity across the gender identity spectrum

Incorporating centralised spaces like open cafes and work points designed for high traffic encourages cross-functional interactions. In addition, workplaces should consider inclusivity across the gender identity spectrum. This goes beyond washrooms and into the company culture where organisations have the power to incorporate inclusive design language, enabling employees to feel safe in being their authentic self at work.

Wellness design can be a vehicle for change because it has the power to transform offices into inclusive, equal spaces, promoting innovation and enhancing productivity. In turn, spaces designed for diverse needs empower employees and C-suites to engage in an open dialogue around change, collaboration and culture. Implementing and maintaining an inclusive culture becomes far easier when that inclusivity is built into the very fabric of the workplace design.

Jeni Durksen

Associate Director, Design

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