By Ramona Tanay
In recent case studies, carried out by ASID (American Society of Interior Designers), they highlight the trend of interior designers striving to address the growing demand of businesses – make the workplace more visually and practically inclusive.
As the values and priorities of businesses evolve to reflect those of contemporary society, so too does the physical workspace morph, transpose, and evolve.
Why Inclusivity Matters
Inclusivity means creating a feeling of acceptance, fostering an environment where others feel they belong. For employers who strive to obtain and retain top talent, fostering a welcoming environment is a top priority. Members of today’s talented and creative workforce are more selective about whom they will work for and about what conditions they will tolerate.
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Dealing with racism in the workplace is a no-win for any party. A business that is viewed as discriminatory will quickly see its top resources – its employees – flee in droves. Those who stay on board will see their creativity stifled by a restrictive narrow-minded environment. Instead, a smart and ambitious company will seek to create an environment that actively encourages a diversity of thought, an environment where all people and all perspectives are welcome.
A Global Mindset
The vast majority of large and mid-sized companies seek to be global players. This is not possible without embracing the diversity of our world and creating an image of inclusivity.
Inclusivity Fosters Employee Engagement
Inclusivity is also a major motivating factor in employee engagement. How is the employee supposed to feel engaged if he or she doesn’t even feel welcome?
An engaged employee is one who has control over his or her work experience. They feel trusted and encouraged to use their unique skills and character traits that they know can add value to the organization. Creating an inclusive environment that fosters employee engagement means showing trust and flexibility. One way to do this is in the physical space of the work environment.
The Visual Components of an Inclusive Workspace
Open Space With No Assigned Desks
There is a striking and immediate visual difference between today’s inclusive workspace and the restrictive out-dated ones of yesteryear – the open space.
Many new companies are opting for ‘no assigned desk’ practices. This means the employees are free to choose where they work, which can change from day to day or from task to task. The intended benefits of this practice are that:
- Employees are encouraged to socialize more
- Employees are empowered by the control they have over their environment which is likely to carry over into their work, stimulating them into taking more initiative and more ownership of their work
- Employees are more likely to be comfortable
- The hierarchy among employees is demolished – or at least not so overt – which tends to lead to less infighting and greater cooperation
An open non-assigned workspace is a clear signal to employees that the company trusts them to have control over their work environment. They feel empowered and they feel encouraged to take initiative and work cooperatively with their colleagues.
One of the most obvious and intentional signs an office is attempting to create an inclusive work environment is in the accessibility of their facilities. That means providing certain amenities which eliminate the exclusion of people with physical disabilities. This includes:
- Wheelchair ramps
- Braille signage
- Handicap parking spaces
- Automatic doors
Creating an environment that has clearly been designed to be inclusive to all people further instills this mindset in the employees on a daily basis. The visual signs cannot be ignored and serve as a constant reminder – if need be – that the company values and welcomes all people. This translates – in subtle and not so subtle ways – into a more welcoming and respectful environment.
Agile workplaces are designed to offer flexibility, empower employees to make choices about their work environment, and take ownership of their work experience.
Furthermore, an agile workspace should increase productivity in the following ways:
- Better collaboration among workers
- Attracting and retaining top talent
- Increased workplace happiness
- Better stress management
- Promoting initiative
The common thread to any agile workspace is the concentrated focus on flexibility. Whether it’s a conventional desk and chair or a soft cushion on the floor, an isolated quiet room, or a larger open space – the workers have options. This signals to them clearly and immediately that their company has a certain amount of flexibility, that their company respects their decisions, and trusts them to take control of their environment.
The mindset an agile open space work environment or office encourages will carry over into the work itself and into the overall company culture.
The impact of design on a company’s mindset, how that translates to their employees, and how that fosters engagement and strengthening of company culture is not a question of theory. We have decades-worth of data on the important subject. And designers and office managers are taking an evidence-based approach to design with predictable and encouraging results.
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What signs can you see in your office that tell you it is an inclusive environment?
What amendments or improvements to its design could foster greater inclusivity?
Asking yourself these questions is not the first step toward creating an inclusive workspace or office. It should be a step that is taken on a continuous basis. Inclusivity, by definition, means constantly adapting to the people around us and creating an environment where they are welcome and feel like they belong.
(Disclaimer: The article is sponsored, and hence promotes some commercial links.)