10 tips for inclusive workplace design (and why it matters)

Key takeaways

  • The modern workforce is diverse, and office designs must be inclusive to support the needs of everyone on your team.
  • Workplace teams that are new to inclusive design practices may not be able to visualize the many ways an office can be transformed to work for everyone. Reviewing examples of inclusive design like the ones below can provide valuable insights.
  • Inclusive office design is the right thing to do from an ethical stance, and it also comes with many benefits for organizations. Inclusive design efforts can increase revenue, productivity, and employee retention.

Inclusion matters at every level, including your office design

The importance of D&I in the hiring process has been in the spotlight over the past few years. While many employers have made significant progress in this area, it’s less common for companies to make similar progressive changes toward more inclusive workplace design.

Traditionally, offices have been designed to suit neurotypical individuals with binary genders and without disabilities. Employees with identities that fall outside of that haven’t received the consideration they need to perform their best. This means that your current office design likely needs an overhaul to create a space that supports everyone’s needs. 

“It’s fundamental to be able to deliver a workplace experience for everyone,” says Rob Blair, Global Workplace Manager at TravelPerk. The new office can help retain talent, optimize productivity, and more.

Inclusive offices generate 5.5 times more revenue than their less inclusive counterparts. 

Benefits of inclusive workplace design 

  • Increased revenue. Diverse teams provide a wider range of perspectives, creating more opportunities for innovative, money-making ideas. Inclusive offices generate 5.5 times more revenue than their less inclusive counterparts. 
  • Increased productivity and better employee experience. A work environment that doesn’t support everyone’s needs can be a drain on workers’ time, energy, and enthusiasm. It can be stressful and even demoralizing for an employee to try to force a space to work for them. When you design the office for everyone, these problems disappear, increasing employee engagement and productivity.
  • Better employee retention. An inclusive office improves retention rates by creating a space where every employee is accommodated and given a great workplace experience. Companies that provide inclusive office spaces can see retention rates 5.4 times higher than less inclusive offices.
  • Better returns on real estate investments. Real estate is one of the top expenses for most companies, so it’s important to get as much value as possible from your office building. Designing an inclusive workspace that supports the needs and well-being of employees can improve occupancy rates, meaning less square footage is going to waste.

Employee feedback is essential for inclusive office design

Inclusive workplace design must go beyond the basics of universal design trends such as ramps and wide doorways. Physical ability, mental health, gender identity, age, parenthood, and work styles are all aspects of a diverse workforce that should be considered in inclusive design. 

To ensure you’re creating the best work environment for your staff, it’s critical to collect employee feedback.

“I think we can all do our best to drive equal representation. And we do that by listening to our people, giving everyone a seat at the table, and giving [everyone] a chance to express their views with an open mindset,” Rob says. 

Employees are the backbone of your organization — their input should be considered when making decisions that will affect their work. 

“I think we can all do our best to drive equal representation.

Rob Blair, Global Workplace Manager at TravelPerk

When surveying employees, aim to learn things like:

  • Do they feel the office accommodates their needs? 
  • Are there any design elements that make them uncomfortable, such as crowded meeting rooms or gendered bathrooms? 
  • What would a perfect office look like for them? 
  • Does your office provide comparable experiences? For instance, does a worker with impaired hearing have a comparable video conference experience to an employee without hearing impairment?

In addition to individual feedback, employers can collect another form of employee feedback through building utilization data. Every day, employees “vote with their feet” for the spaces they find most useful. This data can provide valuable insights into how effective your inclusive design changes are. 

Examples of feedback and utilization data working together for inclusive office design

Scenario 1

Your employee survey results show a need for a lactation room for nursing parents. The workplace team creates a space for this, but utilization data shows that people rarely use it. Your staff has already indicated this is a need, so a lack of use shows that some element is still not quite right.

Further feedback from employees who are nursing reveals that they don’t feel comfortable using the space because the door doesn’t lock. That’s an easy fix, and once made, data confirms that the lactation room is now a success.

Scenario 2:

Employee feedback reveals that some workers feel the open-office layout is too noisy and distracting. It causes their productivity to drop and is a daily source of stress that affects their mental health. 

The workplace team recognizes this need for more quiet work areas, but no obvious locations come to mind. After reviewing workspace utilization data, they see that employees seldom use meeting room B. 

Since that room isn’t performing well, they repurpose it, adding office pods where employees who need a quieter environment can comfortably do their work. A few weeks after introducing this new quiet room, data shows that employees now consistently use the updated space.

What does inclusive design look like?

Inclusive workplace design should support a diverse range of differences, from physical disabilities to neurodivergence. The two scenarios above provide a peek at what inclusive workplace design looks like in practice, but there are many ways that companies can design for a diverse staff. 

10 examples of inclusive office design

  1. Audio transcripts for digital displays, such as a monitor that shows which conference rooms are currently in use. This provides a comparable experience between workers with and without visual impairments. 
  2. Convertible desks that can be used in seated or standing positions ensure that workers who have trouble maintaining one position for too long can work comfortably throughout the day. 
  3. Ergonomic chairs and keyboards provide increased comfort for employees and help avoid injuries such as back or wrist strain. 
  4. Adjustable office chairs can be raised or lowered to suit workers of any height.
  5. Gender-neutral restrooms ensure that employees who are trans or non-binary don’t have to stress about choosing the “right” bathroom.
  6. Uncrowded office layouts allow enough space for someone with a wheelchair or crutches to maneuver comfortably. 
  7. Flat-panel light switches and levered door handles follow the “closed fist” rule, ensuring that people with disabilities and limited dexterity can operate them with ease.
  8. Lactation rooms are important for employees who are nursing, especially in the context of the post-pandemic office, where there are now over 1 million fewer women in the workplace.
  9. Quiet rooms for focus work allow employees with ADHD or other concentration difficulties to focus on their work in a less distracting and stressful environment.
  10. Greenery and natural light are important in the modern workplace. These features naturally reduce stress and make the office environment more enjoyable.

The modern office must be diverse and inclusive to be successful. Rethinking office design and moving toward a more inclusive built environment gives employees a sense of belonging that traditional workspaces can’t provide. Your employees’ feedback and building utilization patterns are your best resources for discovering the inclusive design strategies that will be most effective for your team.