workplace neurodiversity article illustration large version Illustration by Patrick Cullum @pat_geoff_ron

Workplace neurodiversity: designing for difference

Neurodiversity is the range of differences between people’s brain function and personality traits. Up to 20% of us are considered neurodivergent. The other 80% are known as neurotypical.

Within these groups, there’s a whole spectrum of unique needs to design for.

Designing for neurodiversity

To design for neurodiversity, we first need to understand that behaviour is individual. We often say in workplace strategy that activity-based working (ABW) is outdated. ABW taught us that a single setting is not equally suited to all tasks. With neurodiversity, it’s essential to recognise that not every person performs that task in the same way.

Design for neurodiversity requires a more nuanced approach. Neurodivergent employees may struggle in a traditional workplace. With small adjustments that benefit everyone, you’ll be able to leverage their unique skills and create a more inclusive workplace environment. While these principles are embedded in our design process at M Moser, we’ve developed an Inclusive Design service to help clients who want to go beyond expectations.

Commenting on the release of Universal Music’s guide to Creative Differences, UK CEO, David Joseph, says “making your organisation ND-friendly is to the benefit of your entire workforce. Everyone should feel comfortable in bringing their whole selves to work.”

Components of an inclusive space

Most organisations can’t design for individual needs. However, by combining a spectrum of preferences with a range of spaces, we can still achieve the desired outcome— for every person to feel they can work effectively. Most importantly, this minimises the appearance of difference. It becomes about choice.

Consider these essentials when designing an office for neurodiversity:

  • Low-stimulation environments for hyper-focus
  • Social spaces for stimulation breaks
  • Quiet rooms for intense concentration
  • Low traffic areas to alleviate social anxiety
  • Collaborative hubs to support extraversion
  • Active zones to encourage movement
  • Materiality and lighting to cue behaviours
  • Layout and furniture to indicate the purpose

Visually, a neurodiverse workspace looks similar to any other office. By breaking down the plan below into four distinct personas, we can understand how their needs come together.

axonometric space plan for neurodiverse workplace

Neurodiversity group: Neurodivergent

Spaces for neurodivergent employees combine distraction-free workspaces with stimulating community areas. Collaboration and meeting zones are typically more intimate, designed for smaller groups and one-on-one conversations.

Individual characteristics

  • Excellent at focused work
  • Creative, thinks differently
  • Sensitive to change and stimulation
  • Attention to detail and systems
  • Enjoys purposeful team breaks
  • Learns by testing and exploring
axonometric space plan for neurodivergent staff

Neurodiversity group: Introverted

Similarly, the introverted group require more concentration and community spaces. Communication happens in a social setting where employees can choose to participate, rather than in large meetings.

Individual characteristics

  • Highly perceptive and considered
  • Typically listens first, reflective thinker
  • Prefers clear and planned change
  • Pauses before decisions
  • Sociable in small groups
  • Learns through observation
axonometric space plan for introvertstaff

Neurodiversity group: Neurotypical

Neurotypical employees thrive in multi-purpose, open spaces. Collaboration is integrated within the working zone to provide opportunities for teamwork. Less privacy and fewer barriers are required.

Individual characteristics

  • Social skills come easily
  • Approachable and connected
  • Adaptable to change
  • Minimal or no sensory requirements
  • Enjoys spontaneous integration
  • Learns through others
axonometric space plan for introvertstaff

Neurodiversity group: Extraverted

Extraverts benefit from vibrant, open spaces for making connections and sharing ideas. The settings focus on a variety of communication styles, from individual calls team discussions.

Individual characteristics

  • Brilliant connector and communicator
  • Expressive and open
  • Enjoys change and spontaneity
  • Makes decisions quickly
  • Invigorated by group interaction
  • Learns by doing or talking
axonometric space plan for extravert stff

Our environment shapes how we work

Environmental factors change our experience. In fact, they can both deter and attract us to a space. No matter how the workplace looks, people will underperform if the conditions are wrong.

To make sure spaces are suitable for everyone, think about how these components make you feel. Try to provide different combinations to meet people’s needs. Every organisation is different, so the best solutions come from diving into the culture of your firm and understanding how you work.

Inclusivity deserves a top spot in every leader’s list of priorities. The result? Empowering teams to make the organisation more successful.

Contact our Workplace Strategy team to help you create a more inclusive workspace.

Frances Gain

Senior Associate, Workplace Strategy and Transformation

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