We’re delighted to feature our colleague and friend, Allyson Strowbridge of ctrl+shift+space, sharing more of her wisdom on Tips for Designing Inclusive Workplace Environments. In Part 1 of our 2-part series, Allyson shares the first four of a total of 8 tips. Part 2, with tips 5 through 8 will be featured in two weeks.
Inclusive Design Principles are about putting people first. It’s about designing for the needs of people with permanent, temporary, situational, or changing disabilities — all of us really.
It’s hard to remember entirely what life was like pre-pandemic – but with many places reopening due to the vaccines, people are starting to venture out and live life like they used to (sort of). Yet the not-so-fun surprises, like breakthrough cases, continue to round the corners, keeping many communities and families on edge. This state of ‘COVID-being’ continues to take a toll on our minds and our bodies, the effects of which have emerged as an increase in antidepressant prescriptions, burnout and screen fatigue, plus expanded waistlines. Who knows what the next 6 months will bring with variant strains like Delta taking their toll, but one fact remains clear – every one of us is going to come out of this having experienced some form of trauma or another.
Ponder then, what it will mean for our society to heal – as a whole – with such a spectrum of shock and suffering. While we can all rely on motivational speakers, traditional mental health counselors, or faith and religious advisors to help us find the strength to persevere and put one foot forward day-after-day – we also tend to look to the creatives, artists, musicians and designers, to help lift us up and show us a new and hopeful perspective to cling to as we (white) claw our way out of the pandemic’s darkness.
As a long-time workplace strategist and creative who influences office design, I offer up 8 tips (4 in part 1, the next 4 in part 2) and suggestions for how to create human-centered and inclusive places of work.
Human-centered design is the CORE value of our design principles at ctrl+shift+space. As the world slowly returns to physical workspaces, how should we rebuild them to be more inclusive, with equity in mind, and also to be culturally and psychologically sensitive for the people who will use them?
Let’s start by putting people first, and give them options to select tools or furnishings that are equal in value, quality and efficiency. But when it comes to being equitable and providing people with what they need to succeed, there must be various options to select from. For instance, instead of providing the exact same task chair for everyone in a workspace (which is an ‘equal’, but not equitable approach), offer a few options that may be a better fit for different body types and individual preferences around how one resides at their desk. To ensure design integrity, ideally all options will coordinate in color and finish for better visual cohesion in the workspace. As far as offering employee work tools that are equitable, it’s the same kind of thing – so instead of everyone receiving the same keyboard or laptop, provide several options so that people with disparate physical needs (large vs small hands) or levels of comfort using different technologies (Android vs. Apple) are able to experience less friction with their work tools.
Next, let’s put people first with inclusive design by building spaces that are meant to help with addressing the typical circumstances that individuals often find themselves in at work.
These intentionally designed areas could be specific rooms or spaces for managing various work situations – like stress-reduction, taking private phone calls, or holding spontaneous small group huddles. For example, a place for stress-reduction would look different for introverts, taking the form of something like a library or study, than for extroverts who would likely prefer a space set up more like a bar or cafe.
The need to take a private or personal phone call can happen at any moment. So providing sound-proof (or at least super quiet) spaces – whether free-standing booths, built-ins or tiny rooms – will offer options to people who may not have access to a private office, nor the time or physical ability to suddenly leave the building to take a private call in their car or outdoors. Spontaneous brainstorming huddles need activity-based spaces that have the right furnishings (mobile tables/seating/whiteboards) and appropriate tools (digital and analog). They must also be able to transform quickly to provide the right-sized space for all kinds of problem-solving activities, like: sketching, mapping, diagraming, sticky note voting, or presenting/reviewing materials over a mobile TV cart.
Be mindful to offer many types of furnishing styles and sizes too. For example, not all people are comfortable or physically able to sit in low-slung lounge chairs as they may have difficulty getting in/out of them. Similarly, not all sizes of standard height chairs are made for people with wider bodies and may cut into hips, or even cut off circulation in thighs when considering different body types.
With inclusive design, it’s important to be consistent in your approach to the senses in order for people to easily understand how a space is meant to be utilized during typical work activities and functions. As much as possible keep color palettes or patterns, textures, or sounds similar across multiple spaces that are meant to be used in similar ways.
For example, equip phone booths/private soundproof spaces with similar styles of furnishings, tools (digital and analog) and other sensory design elements (like graphics, ambient noise, etc.) to provide cues as to how the spaces are meant to be used. Use similar signage/wayfinding or audio elements to provide hints and indicators throughout the office that help people make sense of their surroundings. These cues should allow people to understand ways of using these spaces easier and faster, and should reduce the amount of mental processing needed to navigate the physical space.
Reduce the friction people feel across the physical work environment with the intentional use of various sensory cues. After all, people should have a purpose for working from the office (and it’s definitely not about just being present at your desk!) and that is to focus their energies on what matters most – getting their work done as productively, efficiently and as easily as possible.
Put people first when designing spaces by giving them control over their environment. As much as possible, provide furnishings (like flip-top tables on casters or casual seating on glides) and equipment (like TV carts or whiteboards) that are mobile or easy to reconfigure.
Be aware of the many possible uses of any given space and design with the intention that flexibility is the key to unlocking successful future places of work. Offering free-standing, easy-to-reconfigure furnishings puts control of space utilization and the ability for spontaneity directly into the end-user’s hands, empowering them to manage their experience within the work environment in ways that suit their needs and match the activities they’re engaging in – at a moment’s notice.
With education and human-centered design, we openly seek to lift up and empower all persons by recognizing and valuing differences, plus we break down stereotypes and eliminate bias in order to strengthen our ties together as fellow human beings.