Workplace design must address a neurodiverse workforce

Neurodiversity in workplace designHOK’s WorkPlace practice has issued its latest report, Designing a Neurodiverse Workplace (registration), exploring how organisations can apply workplace design to create physical environments that support the full range of neurodiversity in  employees. HOK’s report includes interviews with experts as well as suggestions for design strategies, operational changes and individual adjustments that can support neurodiverse and neurotypical staff alike.

Approximately 15-20 percent of people are neurodivergent, i.e., have one of a collection of conditions that includes autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia. The report claims that employers are beginning to recognise that, in addition to simply being the right thing to do, accommodating neurodiverse people can provide a significant competitive advantage. This is leading to a range of more inclusive policies, programs and procedures, though this recognition is only just beginning to affect workplace design.

“Designers have an opportunity to influence the physical and cultural adaptations required to make workplaces more inclusive,” said Kay Sargent, a director of HOK’s Workplace practice. “We need to ensure that the most valuable assets and currency of every business—its people—have the opportunity to be happy, health, engaged and empowered.”

The report explores how workplace designers and strategists can help organisations create more inclusive environments. Key observations include:

  • Designing for neurodiverse populations will benefit a company’s entire workforce.
  • While neurodiverse staff can bring exceptional talents—including creative storytelling, coding, empathy, pattern recognition and problem solving—they cannot always thrive within existing workplace norms and practices.
  • Different neurological conditions manifest in different ways and even those sharing the same condition experience it to varying degrees.
  • Most common workplace challenges centre on spatial organisation, spatial character, acoustic quality, thermal comfort, lighting and degree of stimulation.
  • Ensuring that employees have choices about how and where to work enables them to more effectively manage their own needs and maximise their productivity.