Neurodiversity is a relatively new term that’s being applied to the workplace and office design. The goal of a neurodiverse workplace is to create spaces where all employees can thrive and feel comfortable.

While accessibility is well understood when it comes to physical barriers, the challenges of neurodiversity are not as well understood in the workplace.

In this article, we take a look at what neurodiversity is and offer some guidance on how to design a neurodiverse office where everyone can thrive.

 

What Does Neurodiversity Mean?

According to Harvard Health Publishing[SV1] , neurodiversity can be defined as “the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one ‘right’ way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits.”

In other words, some people’s brains work in ways that are non-typical. In most cases, these individuals may have medical disorders, learning disabilities, and other conditions. While their brains may work differently, these people have certain capabilities that are often overlooked in the workplace. For instance, neurodivergent individuals may have better memories, see issues from unique perspectives, and more.

Here’s a list of some conditions that may cause a person’s brain to work in non-typical ways:

  • Persistent post-concussion syndrome
  • Migraines
  • ADHD
  • Autism
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Dyspraxia
  • Down syndrome
  • Epilepsy
  • Chronic mental health issues (include bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and more)
  • Dyslexia
  • And many others

Each of these conditions can cause the brain to work in ways that are not typical compared to people who are considered healthy. The term for those who are not neurodivergent is “neurotypical.”

Some individuals deal with cognitive issues, others deal with hypersensitivities (such as sound, light, and more), and others deal with chronic pain, mental health issues, and more.

According to Delphinium, about 15% of people in the UK are thought to be neurodiverse. That’s a lot of people!

 

Neurodivergent Employees Bring Benefits to the Company

When employees who are neurodivergent have the right accommodations, they bring these talents to the workplace:

  • They’re excellent at focused work
  • Creative, think differently (see things from different perspectives)
  • They pay attention to details and systems
  • Enjoy purposeful team breaks
  • Learn by testing and exploring

These individuals can bring increased efficiency to workflows and systems with their faster thought processes and delivery. They’re better able to see inefficiencies that neurotypical employees may not see.

Neurodivergent employees can also develop into better managers and leaders because they’re better equipped to consider each person’s needs.

There are even more benefits that neurodiverse employees can bring to a company. Businesses that overlook these individuals are hurting themselves by not hiring such talented, capable people.

 

Neurodiversity & Hiring

Today’s recruiting methods are not accommodating for neurodivergent individuals. These people are often rejected for being atypical and problematic in some way. But what many employers don’t understand is that neurodivergent people often have capabilities that would make them a benefit to the team and the company.

In addition, many of the tasks carried out by employees are not developed with neurodivergent employees in mind. Even so, these people usually are highly intelligent and have a range of talents that could make them valuable assets.

Thankfully, more businesses are starting to understand the need to hire and accommodate neurodiverse people. They’re looking for ways to make the office more comfortable and usable by these individuals, too.

 

What Challenges Do Neurodiverse Employees Have in the Workplace?

Those who are neurodivergent face a wide range of challenges in the workplace, including the following.

 

Discrimination

Workplace discrimination is a leading cause of stress for neurodiverse employees. There are stigmas attached to having cognitive disabilities or other issues that lead to discrimination. For this reason, many employees who deal with neurodiversity try to hide their conditions at work. However, this often fails for most employees with these conditions.

 

Unsuitable Work Environment

Workplaces are usually designed to suit neurotypical employees without considering the needs of those who are neurodivergent. This can cause issues with productivity, comfort, and more in the office.

 

One-Size-Fits-All

Another issue is that many companies rely on a “one-size-fits-all” mentality when it comes to neurodiverse employees. But this is not the right way to accommodate these individuals in the workplace. Each person’s condition is different; under this type of mentality, an employee could feel distressed and unsupported and even see a worsening of their symptoms.

These individuals are also highly sensitive to changes and stimulation in the office.

The good news is that the workplace can be designed to accommodate neurodiverse employees.

 

What Changes Can Businesses Make?

The first place to start to make the workplace more accommodating is for all employees to go through training and awareness about what neurodiversity is and how it affects neurodivergent individuals.

Next, there are changes to the office design that can make the space more inclusive, including the following.

 

Components of a Neurodiverse Workplace

  • Low-stimulation environments for hyper-focus
  • Social spaces for stimulation breaks
  • Quiet rooms for intense concentration
  • Low-traffic areas to alleviate social anxiety
  • Collaborative hubs to support extraversion
  • Active zones to encourage movement
  • Materiality and lighting to cue behaviours
  • Layout and furniture to indicate the purpose of the space

Here are some things that help make the office more inclusive for all employees:

  • Use low-stimulation colours such as cream or other neutrals for walls.
  • Avoid patterned floors, as these can cause confusion to walk across and increase anxiety or cause people to become fixated.
  • Create “anchor points” for specific workgroups; indicate these spaces with a graphic or display everyone can sit around.
  • Allow the use of noise-cancelling headphones in the office.
  • Design physical spaces that are quiet zones
  • Offer flexible work hours that allow people to work when they feel the best
  • Create different types of spaces for different moods (phone booths for privacy, for instance)
  • Use biophilic design in the office; nature calms and soothes most people
  • Use common elements to create rhythm in a space—focal points can create familiarity
  • Dividers can be used to create separate spaces and quiet zones
  • Lighting, colour, pattern, materials, and smells need to be taken into account; these can be overstimulating to some who have neurodiversity

 

Summing It Up

Neurodiverse employees can be a huge benefit at the office. Thankfully, more companies have begun to see the advantages of these employees and are willing to make accommodations for them in the office.

The key is to create areas that work for everyone, including those who are neurodiverse. Specific design features can be included in the workplace that fit a broader range of employees. With the right office design, the workplace can accommodate all employees, including those who are neurodivergent.