How to Support Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Dec 8, 2022

It’s estimated that around 15% of people in the UK, that’s 1-in-7 of us, are neurodivergent. 

As more and more companies look for ways to support the neurodiverse individuals in their workforce, it’s time to look at our office spaces and whether or not they’re suitable for as wide a range of people as possible. 

In this article, we explore neurodiversity in the workplace, including what neurodivergent means, how modern office refits and designs can improve neurodiverse inclusivity, as well as how you can open a dialogue with your employees about their needs. 

What does neurodivergent mean? 

A neurodivergent individual is someone who has a variation in their cognitive function that alters the way they process information, consequently affecting the way they respond to social situations and learning/working environments. 

Some examples of neurodivergent conditions include: 

  • Autism
  • Dyslexia
  • Dyspraxia 
  • ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • BD (Bipolar disorder)

Why is supporting neurodiversity in the workplace Important?

Neurodiversity in the workplace matters because, aside from wanting to cultivate an inclusive workplace, individuals that are neurodivergent have unique talents that can provide new perspectives. These talents include intense focus, complex mathematic skills and code writing, to name a few, all of which can benefit your business no matter your industry.

Efforts to employ neurodiverse individuals vary, and are far more common in large corporations. However, as more businesses embrace neurodiverse employment, we need to consider how to adapt modern office design to accommodate different needs.  

What office designs support neurodiversity? 

The varied and unique needs of neurodiverse people means that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for neurodiversity-positive office design. 

And while it’s unlikely that you will be able to meet everyone’s requirements, there are certain measures you can factor into your workspace to ensure that your office works for the broadest range of people possible.

This involves adding features that allow individuals to work in a way that suits them. 

Traditional office space designs are often entirely unsuitable to neurodivergent individuals; however, small changes can dramatically improve their wellbeing and work performance. 

Do note, many of the following suggestions can also help to improve the focus levels and productivity of neurotypical people, too (everybody needs a space to focus, or a space for collaboration from time to time!). 

Here are 5 key office designs that support neurodiverse individuals: 

Lighting and sound control

Many neurodivergent people struggle with sensory overload, or the overstimulation of the five senses due to their surroundings.

Common causes of sensory overload are loud or repetitive noises and bright, harsh lighting. Either of these can prevent individuals from focusing and even cause them nausea or pain. 

For that reason, you may want to incorporate adjustable lighting in your office space. This way the space can suit individuals that need it as well as your neurotypical employees. 

You may also choose to soundproof your meeting rooms and key focus areas. This will help to reduce ambient noise and distractions during focused hours while providing neurodiverse members of staff with a place to go should noise ever become overwhelming. 

Low stimulation focus areas

Visual overstimulation is also a key aspect of sensory overload, which means that busy patterns or certain colours can affect people in different ways. 

You may want to consider creating low-stimulation areas that are designed for employees to focus. The design for this space could include a minimalist approach using décor that will not cause overstimulation, such as neutral-toned walls and furniture. 

Once again, designs of this ilk don’t just benefit neurodiverse employees, so often can dramatically improve productivity across the board.

Signed office routes 

Some neurodivergent individuals can become overwhelmed with repetitive or unstructured spaces, and benefit from clearly marked corridors, as well as clear, circulated office layouts to prevent disorientation. 

In addition to this, a clearly structured office plan:

  • Creates a strong first impression for visiting clients/customers.
  • Helps improve navigation efficiency (creating shorter routes to key areas).
  • Generally makes the place look nicer

Collaborative areas

While some neurodivergent individuals require quiet spaces and sound control, others find they cannot work without a base level of noise and social interaction. 

This is an opportunity to provide areas in your office that will encourage collaboration for your employees. Think:

  • Collaboration zones that encourage natural, dynamic meetings.
  • Comfortable seated areas for employees to work together.
  • Communal desking (open plan). 

How to start a dialogue with neurodivergent individuals in the workplace

The requirements of neurodiverse individuals are inherently broad.

Nobody can presume to know the exact needs of their employees. Therefore, it’s important to open a dialogue with everyone about what requirements they have of the workplace. 

However, if you are thinking of doing this you need to carry it out in a way that is sensitive and will not differentiate them from their neurotypical colleagues. 

In order to get an honest appraisal of your workspace, and to ensure that nobody feels uncomfortable during the process, you have two main options:

  • Send out anonymous digital surveys with space for employees to make suggestions/let you know their needs.
  • Offer your diary for employees to book one-to-one meetings should they want to talk in person. 

Some people may not want to discuss neurodiversity, so it’s important that you stress that it’s absolutely fine if they’d rather keep to themselves, but that your door is always open should they want to communicate anything with you. 

It can be difficult building an inclusive workspace, however, there’s support available…

Inclusive office designs for neurodiverse people from Rhino Interiors 

Neurodiversity should be celebrated in the workspace; it’s one of the best ways to adapt and grow as a business.

Our team at Rhino have worked with businesses from across the UK, helping to support neurodiversity in their office spaces. 

While each condition is unique, just as each workspace needs to be, there are consistent design elements that we can implement to help make your workspace as inclusive as possible. 

To find out more about how we can transform your office space to improve the wellbeing and performance of your employees, both neurodiverse and neurotypical, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team today. 

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