Designing a neurodiverse workplace by Jack Kelly

Published on
Jack Kelly
Written by
Head of Flex Customer Experience

Neurodiversity is a term that we hear increasingly these days. However, what does it mean and how can the property world support neurodiversity in a meaningful way?

According to Harvard Health, neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in different ways. Examples can include increased introversion or extroversion, hypersensitivity, ADHD, dyslexia, depression or autism.

Based on different studies, between 15%-20% of the population is neurodiverse. However, historically workplaces have only been designed for neurotypical people. Clearly, if we want to truly tackle diversity and inclusion, we must factor this in.

The move to hybrid working in recent years has been broadly positive for neurodivergent workers, owing to more time spent in familiar home surroundings and less time facing potential macroaggressions during busy commutes. However, what can we do to ensure that workspaces cater for neurodivergence and help make the office a comfortable environment?

Colour schemes play a big part. We know that some neurodivergent individuals may see dark welcome mats as a black hole – which obviously isn’t the welcome we want anyone to experience – therefore at GPE we opt for lighter coloured welcome mats to remove that possibility. Similarly, academic research highlights that avoiding patterns and bright contrasting colours can help to aid concentration and avoid triggering anxieties.

During fast paced working days, we’ve also witnessed how beneficial wellness rooms are for our customers. Whether it’s spaces that allow people to spend time alone, pray or give expectant mothers the chance to rest, these wellbeing spaces within can really make our customers feel at home. Equally, gym spaces to encourage exercise, through to polices that allow people to bring their pets into work with them can help to support people’s individual needs and comfort levels.

While the headlines often focus on today’s office as a place to collaborate, not everyone comes in for this reason, and more introverted individuals will value and require the opportunity to find their own space. We understand it’s important that there are quiet breakout spaces within our Fitted and Fully Managed buildings that support solitude and encourage ‘deep work’ – for example, subtle background sounds, good acoustics, lower lighting and furniture layouts that signal lone working is the purpose.

Conversely, we must also factor in collaboration, connection and higher energy spaces, considering how some extroverted individuals will take energy from and perform best in these types of environments. Traits here can include subtle yet more up-tempo background music, touchdown benches and booths that support group activities, plus tea points that act as hubs and may provide those “water cooler” moments and serendipitous encounters that many miss when working from home.

The reality is that some people will enjoy both types of spaces at different times, neurodiversity is anything but straight forward, so the key is to how we can effectively zone spaces, giving everyone access but providing the right level of separation to ensure the working environments feel different whilst genuinely serving their purpose. This is where property owners should prioritise their customers – and we are already adapting a Customer First approach at GPE – as their feedback is key and their needs will change all the time.

It is a fascinating and constantly evolving journey, so as an industry we must continue to grow our knowledge. At GPE, we have partnered with some fantastic organisations who specialise in areas of neurodiversity, including Purple and Sunflower, which provide guidance around hidden disabilities. We’re also proud to be SEND Coffee’s first corporate partnership, which has already been impactful for both parties. The learnings from these partnerships have been invaluable, as we learn and embed their experiences and expertise into our own thinking and operations going forwards.