According to global data, one in five of us is neuroatypical. Neurotypical and neuroatypical people work in the same work spaces, but frequently need different solutions and therefore a differently designed office. The report named ‘Neurodiversity in the office’, authored by Workplace research and design studio in partnership with Skanska commercial development unit in CEE, shows how to design a neuro-inclusive office, where everyone can be effective and have the same comfort level at work. The report organizes the existing knowledge on neurodiversity and provides practical tips on how to support neuroatypical people in working environments by improving space design. This is the first report on this topic on the Polish market.
We think about the needs of diverse people in our office modus operandi. In the reports we have published so far, we have been focusing on the needs of people with limited mobility and LGBTQ+ employees. The time has come for the next step – and that is the attempt to understand and translate the needs of neurodiverse people into a language of the function and architecture of office spaces. While working with tenants from various industries, we notice a growing interest in this topic. Our own employee network focused on physical and mental wellbeing also has a keen interest in it. The idea for this report grew out of a combination of the needs of tenants and the interests of employees, says Ewelina Kałużna, Head of Strategic Workplace Solution Advisory at Skanska in CEE and Managing Director of Business Link flex spaces.
Inspired by Skanska and Business Link, the report was authored by Workplace, a team of innovators specializing in shaping working environments. The biggest discovery while working on this report was the understanding of how fresh, unfathomable and ambiguous the topic of neurodiversity is. This report is a pretext for us to tell stories: about co-creation, listening and testing. The result? An inclusive design and a real change for anyone who is on the side-line of discussions about the working environment, says Dominika Zielińska, co-owner of Workplace.
Workplace invited Impronta, a company specializing in the application of neuroscience knowledge in architectural design, to collaborate on the report. Neurobiology is a field of science that permeates architecture, among other things. Information technology now makes it possible to conduct research in the working environment. The data obtained in this way enables verification of intuitive design assumptions, influencing of the quality of created workspaces and enhancing the wellbeing of employees. The creation of comprehensive solutions requires further fundamental research in neurobiology and its bold implementation in the spaces that are designed, emphasizes Natalia Olszewska, co-founder of Impronta.
Communication experts from Saints, as well as graphic designers from Tinge joined the interdisciplinary team of experts working on the report, while Dr Michał Tomczak, an expert in neurodiversity in the context of the working environment, as well as Tina Sobocińska, an expert with more than 20 years of experience in HR gained in international companies, made contributions to the report.
More comfortable office for everyone
We spend a third of our lives at work. Therefore, the kind of premises we are in has a significant impact on our health and well-being. That is why the authors of the report analysed data on the challenges and opportunities of various neuroatypical groups and proposed relevant solutions that are ready for implementation in the office space.
In a survey conducted during the preparation of the report, a significant proportion of respondents (38%) admitted that neurodiversity is already being addressed in their organizations, among other things, in the form of flexible working models – this was mentioned by 14.4% of respondents, but only in a few cases in the context of office space – this was the response given by just over 7%.
The report’s authors point out that inclusivity should be assured through measures supporting an inclusive work culture. And this is reflected in the results of the survey. More than 94% of respondents pointed out that changes can be made in their organizations. Almost 40% believe this is possible in office spaces, and one in four sees a place for support programmes.
Neuro-inclusive workspace means what?
The report presents a range of architectural and interior design solutions enabling the creation of a more inclusive space to which employees will more willingly come.
The proposed solutions include those that enable, for example, the visual and acoustic separation of work stations to support concentration. The suggestions for dividing working space include zoning, which can involve dividing the office into spaces with specific functions (e.g. a quiet zone) and surrounding them with support zones, including for telephone calls. This reduces noise in common areas, while providing the ability to move around and change the environment.
In individual work zones, it is particularly important to control the environment in terms of the amount of stimuli received.
Meeting rooms should be spacious and offer various equipment layouts. So as to enable the right space to be selected for the given type of meeting and specific place within a space tailored to individual needs.
Office is also for regeneration
In addition to working zones, an office that satisfies the needs of neuroatypical people should also offer spaces for regeneration, equally social, sensory and active.
The area for social regeneration should have access to natural light and be distinguished by its spaciousness and variety of lighting and acoustics.
It is important to provide sensory relief for neuroatypical people too. A private space with access to natural lighting calms the senses. It can also be used by neurotypical people to calm down. Acoustic and visual separation is important. This enables the avoidance of stimuli that can be an additional obstacle.
In turn, a zone for active regeneration will help satisfy the need for movement – this can be separate premises, but must be acoustically isolated and away from the work and sensory relaxation zones.
The introduction of the recommended solutions can benefit the comfort of work of all employees, including those who are neurotypical.
Need for practical knowledge
For many employers today, the return of employees to the office is currently an important process, supporting effective employee relations and organizational culture. Neurodiversity is often an advantage for teams, and companies are increasingly noticing the rationale behind investing in this area. However, the process of adapting the workspace to neuroatypical people’s needs should not be perceived in terms of a revolutionary change. The report shows a range of space-related solutions – some can be implemented when choosing a new office, while others can be implemented immediately through adapting the existing office. The report ends with a brief checklist, which enables businesses to evaluate and assess their own office. We are pleased we were able to share the knowledge we have gathered in this very practical way.
The full version of the report is available in Polish and English at: https://neuroinclusive.design/
 National Cancer Centre, https://dceg.cancer.gov