14th Sep 2023

Neurodiverse Office Design: 4 Ways To Create Inclusive Workspaces

Posted in:

About 15% of people, or 1 in 7 employees, in the UK are neurodiverse. Here we’ll look at office design through a neurodiversity lens, and give you some tangible actions to take when designing a workplace that’s inclusive for everyone.

It’s well-recognised that how you design your office can greatly affect the wellbeing and happiness of your people, and this rings true even more so for those who are neurodivergent.

So what does this mean for employers? And how can you adjust your office space to ensure everyone thrives?

Whilst we give our recommendations in this article, one size absolutely doesn’t fit all.

You should assess your specific team and workplace needs before making changes to your office.

First, what is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity recognises and celebrates the natural variation in human ways of thinking. It’s an umbrella term for conditions including ADHD, autism and dyslexia.

When it comes to the workplace, a study of 990 neurodivergent employees and 127 employers found that:

  • 65% of people didn’t want to tell their employer about being neurodiverse for fear of discrimination.
  • 69% of employers said that this lack of disclosure made it difficult for them to make reasonable adjustments.

So it’s clear that we still have a way to go to create fully inclusive workplaces.

What does neurodiversity mean for employers?

Neurodiverse people think differently, and can often suggest new perspectives and ideas that others may not. It also means that employers might need to make adjustments for neurodiverse individuals to be comfortable and happy in the office.

Many of these adjustments benefit the wider workforce and create more inclusive working environments overall.

So if you make changes to your hiring processes, ways of working and office space to attract neurodivergent talent, you open up fantastic opportunities to empower all team members, no matter the circumstances, to work at their best.

Here are some office design considerations that can help you support your neurodiverse team members.

1. Incorporate Sensory-Friendly Design

Create Calm Zones

Create designated quiet or calm zones in your office to provide space for people who need to avoid sensory overload.

You can use design features such as:

  • Soft lighting
  • Comfortable seating
  • Noise-reducing elements and clever acoustics

Thoughtful Use of Colors and Materials

Choose soothing, muted colour palettes and natural materials to instil a sense of calm.

Avoid using too many patterns or harsh lighting as they can be distracting or overwhelming for neurodiverse individuals.

Scent Scaping

Scent scaping has become more popular in workplaces in recent years. Not least because recent research shows that focus and performance can improve through smell.

But introducing new scents can be disruptive for those with a hypersensitivity to smell.

So be careful about the scents you introduce into your office, and ensure everyone’s ok with it first.

2. Provide Flexible Workstations

Adjustable Desks and Chairs

A 12-month study published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management showed that 65% of people reported increased productivity and better concentration ability when using a sit-stand desk.

This is because adjustable desks and chairs give people the freedom to personalise their workstations for comfort and focus.

For neurodiverse individuals with unique ergonomic requirements, this simple change can make office life much more comfortable.

Quiet Working Areas

Open plan offices don’t mean increased productivity and collaboration for everyone.

That’s why it’s best to also offer private, enclosed workstations for those who need quiet in order to concentrate. This is especially helpful for people who have high sensitivity and are therefore more likely to experience sensory overload.

You could introduce pods for lone-working or designated quiet zones for those who prefer working in silence.

3. Offer Sensory-Friendly Amenities

Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs block out background noise which can help people who are more sensitive to sounds around the office. A simple thing to offer your employees that can make a big difference to someone’s wellbeing.

Sensory-Friendly Break Areas

Offer a range of break area options for various sensory preferences.

For example, some employees may prefer dimly lit spaces, while others find comfort in bright, natural lighting.

This neurodiverse office design element ensures everyone can recharge effectively.

4. Ensure Inclusive Communication

Visual Wayfinding

Better signage lowers anxiety levels and helps employees feel more confident in their surroundings at the best of times.

Visual cues and clear signage are especially useful for supporting neurodiverse individuals who may struggle with navigation. Particularly when people are new to your company too.

Employee Resource Groups

Ultimately, the best way to offer the best experience for your neurodivergent team members is creating ongoing opportunities for people to provide input and feedback on their own experiences.

Support networks or employee resource groups focused on neurodiversity are a good way to facilitate this. These groups give people the chance to share experiences and suggestions for improving their work environment.

Design your inclusive workplace

Designing an office that meets the needs of neurodiverse team members is a significant step towards creating a truly inclusive workplace.

By embracing neurodiversity and implementing thoughtful design elements, you can empower all employees to thrive and contribute their unique talents.

If you’re considering an office redesign, refurbishment or relocation, get in touch for a chat with one of our experienced team.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What is neurodiversity in the context of the workplace?

Neurodiversity in the workplace recognises and values the diversity of cognitive abilities among employees, including conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, and Dyslexia.

2. How can neurodiverse office design benefit all employees?

Sensory-friendly design elements, such as quiet zones and adjustable workstations, can enhance the wellbeing and productivity of all employees, not just those who are neurodiverse.

3. What are some examples of sensory-friendly amenities?

Examples of sensory-friendly amenities include noise-cancelling headphones, sensory-friendly break areas, and calming colour schemes.

4. Why is clear communication important for neurodiverse employees?

Clear communication, including visual wayfinding and the establishment of employee resource groups, helps neurodiverse employees feel more comfortable and supported in the workplace.

5. How can employers promote neurodiversity in their hiring practices?

Employers can promote neurodiversity by offering inclusive job postings, providing interview accommodations such as sending interview questions in advance, and fostering a culture of acceptance and inclusion across your organisation.


Kimberley Bloor

Head of Design