5 steps to getting the ball rolling on inclusive design for your workplace

What workers look for in a workplace is always changing as the world remains in a constant state of change. To remain competitive as a place to work and to combat events like the upcoming great resignation, it’s important that you double down on ways to meet the needs of your staff. You might be considering offering flexible working arrangements, improving your benefits packages, or redesigning your office space to better set up your staff for success on the job.

In recent years, the importance of inclusive (or universal) design has come to light. In several European and Scandinavian countries, for example, employees are now required by law to provide sit-stand workstations to employees with sedentary jobs.

Such changes and worldwide discussions are leaving a bigger number of organizations questioning whether or not their spaces are designed to support a wide variety of employee needs. While you may have been able to get away with cookie-cutter office spaces in the past, failing to design for inclusivity today may result in you facing major challenges with retaining employees and building a reputable employer brand. 

To get the ball rolling on inclusive design within your organization, it’s important to understand what inclusive design encompasses, why it’s so necessary, and how to go about the process of pivoting to inclusive design. 

What is inclusive design?

A Forbes article defines inclusive design as the accessibility and usability of a product by a broad range of the population irrespective of any differences without the need to specially adapt them. 

There are a few key elements of inclusive design that are worth calling out: 

Inclusive design is accessible 

An estimated one out of every 4 people live with a disability that requires some sort of accommodation. Inclusive design keeps the needs of this large segment of the population in mind without having to design additional adaptations for them. The standard design is usable by all. 

One example of accessible design is having building entrances with zero steps. By removing this barrier, any individual can use the entrance easily, even when using wheelchairs, strollers, or delivery carts.

Inclusive design is usable by everyone easily
Workplaces that are designed for inclusivity are designed to be used by a very diverse range of people, regardless of their age, education, circumstance, or working preferences, also without special adaptations.

An example here is the inclusion of assistive technology in the workplace to help those who have hearing or seeing difficulties. You might look into including software that has screen readers, screen magnification, or text-to-speech features built-in. This bridges the gap between employees that can get certain tasks done easily and those who face barriers. 

Inclusive design considers individual differences
A workplace that designs itself for inclusivity places value on the individual differences that make up its workforce. This can either be considered from a physical standpoint, meaning the implementation of workstations, modular furniture, and adjustable desks to suit different heights and physical challenges.

Supporting individual differences can also mean supporting varied preferences to make each and every staff member feel important, welcome and accepted for who they are. You might cater to individual differences by offering your staff a range of different spaces they can work out of, from open areas like the kitchen to closed-off private booths for those who enjoy more privacy when they work. 

How does inclusive design help an organization and its people?

In very simple terms, designing office spaces for the widest range of people benefits everyone, and without much additional cost to an organization. Two major business benefits of inclusive design are that:

Staff develop a sense of loyalty and belonging
Inclusive design is intended to give diverse voices a platform through which they are seen and heard. By having their needs, wants, and opinions feel valued, staff naturally develop a sense of belonging to their organization and are far less likely to entertain potential offers elsewhere. 93% of workers in the tech industry said they would stay longer at a company that would offer healthier workspace benefits – and this includes things like sit-stand desks and ergonomic settings.

This sense of employee engagement helps organizations reduce the costs of turnover, marketing, and recruitment to replace lost talent. 

Engagement and productivity improves

 We know for a fact that office design impacts productivity. 32% of the workforce feel the poor design of their workspace has a negative effect on their physical and mental wellbeing, impacting how well they work. By correcting the environment to be more inclusive and giving staff a space to work in that doesn’t pose regular challenges, staff are much more productive. 

How can you get started on making your office design more inclusive? 

If you’re looking to get the ball rolling on making your organization’s space more inclusive, then here’s some food for thought:

Understand that inclusive design is a business imperative
Perhaps the most important thing to consider is that offering inclusive and diverse design is a moral responsibility rather than a bonus. Not catering to the needs of a huge segment of the population will only result in missing out on their contributions and facing significant costs further down the line for this neglect. Having the right attitude about the absolute need for inclusive design sets the stage for the rest of the process being a success.

Recognize that inclusive design is not an afterthought, but a strategy 

A major mistake organizations make is attempting to make a space inclusive after it’s already been designed, and this ends up being more costly than designing for inclusivity in the first place. Instead, you must think of inclusive design as a strategy that involves just as much planning and consideration as other business strategies.

Make conscious efforts to understand your organization’s unique needs
Every organization is unique and what works for one company might not work for yours. You may have a special group of stakeholders to account for that others in your industry do not. For example, if your company is a family law practice, you might want to make your space comfortable and inviting for your clients (and their families) as well as your staff.

Involve staff and your stakeholders in the entire process 

Inclusive design certainly isn’t an undertaking that should come from the top down, but one that should involve all levels of staff at every step of the process. Make efforts to listen to the needs, requests, and feedback of your staff to ensure that what they ask for is heard and incorporated into your design wherever possible.

Some ways you can do this is by hosting group discussions, focus groups, or creating survey assessments to gather collective responses. Gathering this direct feedback might open up your eyes to the fact that staff require flexible working, different office arrangements, a wider selection of spaces to work from in your office, and more choices in when and how they work.

Get professional guidance 

You can choose to go through the process of designing for inclusivity on your own but will benefit greatly by consulting with professionals who have been through the process time and time again and who have access to specialized tools for the job. Pivvot Workplace Strategies(™) is one example of a purpose-built tool that helps organizations gather data on their staff’s working preferences, visualize design and layout options for an office, and assess the potential impacts of decisions regarding space. 

As attracting and retaining staff becomes a much more competitive endeavour, now is a more important time than ever to make inclusive design a business priority. 

To get the guidance you need to apply inclusive design to your organization’s space, contact Pivvot Workplace Strategies(™) at www.pivvotstrategy.com.