How to design and maintain an inclusive office

Office design for inclusivity

Office design can affect employees' overall productivity, collaboration on projects, and sense of belonging in the space.

Today's workforce is comprised of highly talented people from countries and backgrounds across the globe. In fact, companies considered to be diverse are 35% more likely to surpass their industry competitors financially. 

As a facility manager, the decisions you make not only affect operations, they also help promote workplace values and culture. To create a more diverse and inclusive office, facility managers can begin by adhering to some key principles.

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Implement universal design elements

Creative office space to attract top talent

It is difficult for people with disabilities to feel comfortable in an office that isn't designed for their specific needs. Universal design creates spaces that are usable by people regardless of physical or cognitive challenges they're facing. Wheelchair access, highly-readable signs, and attention to acoustic and thermal comfort are examples of universal design elements. 

Spaces that use this philosophy aren't just designed for those with disabilities either. Other universal design elements including simplicity, flexibility, and tolerance for error, benefit the entire office. Facilities managers should first understand the principles of universal design and then seek opportunities to make appropriate changes in their offices.

Create accessible private and public spaces

Designated private and public areas help companies accommodate teams with different working styles and responsibilities. They are also an important component of inclusivity. 

Private rooms allow staff to voice thoughts, opinions, or concerns without worrying about immediate conflict or backlash, which is a crucial element of inclusivity. If the staff doesn’t feel comfortable expressing thoughts to coworkers and leadership, the environment won't feel truly inclusive.

Public areas like lounges and lunchrooms are just as important. These spaces help create moments of connection and can spark discussions between staff. In these areas, staff from different teams or of varying levels of seniority that typically don’t interact with each other have the opportunity to connect. 

In addition, another way to foster an inclusive environment with spaces is through activity-based workspaces. These areas are optimized for certain types of work like deeply focused solo tasks or collaborative brainstorming meetings. 

Employees can move around and find the area that suits their work style the best. This also helps the office to feel more dynamic and energetic, as employees won't always be static at their respective desks.

Assess your recruitment practices

Recruitment practices and methods in the office

Recruiting methods hold inherent biases. Hiring choices are often made based on first impressions. These biased decisions can exclude qualified candidates because of irrelevant factors like cultural background, physical looks, gender, or even the current mood of the interviewer. Effective recruitment and inclusivity go hand-in-hand. 

Failing to account for human error in recruitment means potentially missing out on the perfect hire. Facilities managers can use tools like recruitment software and processes like anonymized applications to help negate some of the bias present in their hiring methods. It is important for facilities managers to review their processes frequently to ensure their fairness.

Set clear inclusivity definitions

Workplace inclusion has to be clearly defined before any initiatives can be introduced. One useful definition of an inclusive office is a workplace in which all staff are treated with respect and have equal access to resources and opportunities. 

Facilities managers should build on this high-level description to create an idea of what concepts like equal access, diversity, and fairness look like in their own offices. Including these definitions in your company's core values will help you to set clear goals and build concrete policies.

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Keep detailed data and reports

Reporting data in performance tracking

Facilities managers should ensure that their teams are working with well-reported diversity and inclusion data. Sharing this information also helps build a layer of transparency in the organization, and helps encourage department leads to ensure their teams are more diverse. 

Analyzing demographic data in roles like executive leadership can provide a clear snapshot of how inclusive your workplace is, and help you to set diversity quotas accordingly.

Hold leadership accountable

Employees tend to gather their perceptions about workplace inclusiveness by looking to senior leaders and managers. Inclusive workplaces require buy-in to policies from leaders in the organization. These leaders should have clearly defined diversity or inclusion goals with attached rewards or consequences. 

Formalizing inclusiveness as a business goal helps solidify the company's commitment to these values and earn the respect of its clients and employees.

Establish strong communication systems

Employees must feel that their voices matter. Establishing clear communication channels gives individuals the opportunity to voice their opinion, point out concerns, and provide valuable feedback. This could be through a workplace request system, formal discussions, communication apps, or surveys. 

These systems should also be used regularly to update employees on the progress of diversity and inclusion initiatives. Managers that can create a robust communications system will be able to empower their staff to uphold the values of the workplace while creating a strong sense of transparency.

Leave room for creativity

The ability to infuse one's individual personality into an office space is important for staff members. It’s also an effective way to attract top talent. Managers should allow staff to contribute to the style of the office as it's essential to making people feel comfortable in their workspace. 

This could come in the form of staff-made murals, desk customizations, whiteboard walls, or anything that provides a medium for individuals to show what they value. Fostering a creative work environment can also improve the team’s ability to develop great ideas and build a sense of personal ownership at work.

Establish protocols for conflict resolution

Having an inclusive office means allowing for conflicting opinions. Your office should embrace diversity and have a structure in place for addressing and resolving disagreements. Also, healthy conflict can arise from talented teams looking to present unique ideas.

Facilities managers should ensure team leaders are trained to listen and manage conflict appropriately. A highly intuitive complaint or feedback system can also help address situations that require immediate attention so no one feels unsafe or invalidated in the workplace. As a facilities manager, this may also mean tracking move or change requests. 

While there may be logistical reasons behind a request, there can also be cultural or personal reasons. For example, an employee with mobility issues may want to be closer to the washroom, or an employee may request a change if they are being treated unfairly by a peer in their department. A request manager can help you respond to and resolve change requests.

Keep processes sustainable

Communication systems for inclusive workplace

Having a sustainable process helps managers continue to adopt inclusion policies to fit new challenges. Processes that are difficult to maintain can undermine inclusion efforts. This is especially harmful when it comes to employees' trust in leadership. Unsuccessful inclusion efforts may make staff in the workplace wary of contributing to new policies. 

Managers should find ways to consistently gather new information and make changes where needed in their workplace. Monthly or quarterly check-ins with department heads, HR, and other stakeholders can help ensure that offices are meeting their long-term commitments to diversity and inclusion.

Promote wellness

Promote wellness in the office

Creating an inclusive office space means ensuring that each employee feels they belong. Providing employees with space in the workplace to engage in physical activity can improve both the employee experience and the success of your company. 

For instance, it can boost morale and encourage coworkers to engage in team-building activities outside of work hours. It can also improve employee health and reduce stress.

Consider the benefits of offering your employees a gym, a yoga/stretching room, internal fitness classes or simply a comfortable outdoor space to relax during breaks. Establishing a comprehensive wellness plan will ensure employees have a sense of belonging at the company and feel their well-being is prioritized.

How office managers can promote a culture of inclusivity

Office spaces can have a strong impact on inclusivity by providing opportunities for self-expression, creativity, wellness, and team bonding. But it’s important to note that these tactics will not work without adequate processes to support them

Managers will need to ensure that conflict resolution and open communication are championed by staff in order to get the most out of an office space designed for inclusivity.

Are you looking to improve inclusivity in your office space through design changes or improvements? OfficeSpace's space management tools can help you make informed space utilization decisions, customized to your needs.

Are you looking to improve inclusivity in your office space through design changes or improvements? OfficeSpace's space management tools can help you make informed space utilization decisions, customized to your needs.

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