20th Mar 2023

Workplaces as Neighbourhoods: A Path to Inclusive Office Design

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The rise of hybrid working represents a monumental shift in what we class as ‘the norm’ when it comes to where and how we do our work. With this, organisations face the challenge of empowering people to work more flexibly, balanced with the need to bring teams together to do their best work. And of course, maintain that all important sense of community.

Add in the fact that each person has their own preferences and needs, and the challenge only becomes greater!

Recent Steelcase research concluded that the key to successfully embracing new working practices lies with leadership teams. Employees want their leaders to be visible and show them how it should be done.

Gone are the days of executive floors only for senior leadership teams (or at least they should be!). To make any cultural or behavioural shift at work, senior teams must lead by example. They need to be role models for how hybrid and agile work looks for the organisation.

Office design is key to helping leaders do this. Here are a few ideas of changes you can make to turn your workplace into the bustling community environment it should be for everyone.

Think of your office as a ‘neighbourhood’

Accessible, approachable, and functional offices are the ones that are most inclusive of everyone from apprentices to directors. Steelcase’s ‘neighbourhood’ concept offers a way to make this a reality. In practice, it means offering a mix of public and private spaces with a range of setups for different working styles, preferences, and specific needs.

It also means leaders being more visible in bringing teams together, breaking down silos, and giving scope for a more inclusive office design overall.

If you can do this, you end up with a workplace that functions more like a vibrant neighbourhood, with the sense of community that people need to thrive.

To create an inclusive neighbourhood-style workplace, implement these tactics:

  1. Openness and inclusivity

Create open spaces that encourage interaction and communication between all employees, including leadership. A simple way to do this is to remove unnecessary partitions in favour of larger open areas with a mix of individual and group meeting rooms, break-out spaces, and communal areas such as a work café.

To ensure your office design is inclusive and caters to people with different abilities, religions, ages, and backgrounds, make space for areas like prayer rooms for example. Ensure these spaces are comfortable with ergonomic, flexible furniture that can be moved and adapted based on individual preferences and needs.

  1. Informal communal spaces

Casual conversations are where relationships are built and employee bonds are made. Provide accessible, informal meeting spaces such as lounge areas, break rooms, and tea and coffee stations where everyone from graduate to senior leadership level can mix.

Simply seeing that the leadership team are in the office enjoying the facilities will encourage more people to use it too. The sense of community that can be fostered in an office just simply isn’t the same when everyone’s working from a home.

If you can promote health and wellness in your communal areas by design, then even better. Natural light, plants and biophilia, and healthy food options are the basics to aim for.

  1. Collaborative workspaces

Create collaborative workspaces where employees and leaders work together on projects. More face-to-face collaboration enables leaders to demonstrate the behaviours that they want to see in their employees.

Design-wise, don’t underestimate the significance of incorporating your company’s brand identity into your communal spaces. It creates a real sense that the office is a place where everyone feels like they’re working towards a common goal and encourages pride and ownership over the work you produce together as a team.

  1. Personalised workspaces

Steelcase talk about ‘leadership by design’ working when senior leaders are visible, with workspaces alongside other team members. You can’t be what you can’t see, so if leaders are shut away in offices, then how will they affect positive change?

Of course, it’s still essential to provide personalised workspaces where leaders can have privacy when needed. This way, everyone gets the best of both worlds. Teams can see their leaders in action and follow by example, whilst busy C-suite members can still get the space they need to complete important work that requires focus and concentration.

  1. Technology

The very nature of hybrid work means people are able to work from a variety of locations. This is only possible when technology is involved. For times when people can’t all make it into the office for that workshop or meeting, there has to be a way for remote team members to contribute, without barriers.

We’ve been advocates of great workplace technology for a while now – we published an article on utilising technology in the workplace which still rings true now.

In conclusion

Creating a workplace that gives employees visibility of their leaders is the first step to encouraging people to embrace your office space as somewhere they want to spend more time.

If your workplace is a ghost town, no one’s going to use it. From the word go, ensure it empowers everyone and provides for a range of needs to be as inclusive as possible. As the world continues to evolve, workplaces must keep up with the times and cater to the needs of their employees.

Looking to breathe new life into your office?

If you’re looking to transform your workplace into a more productive, efficient, and successful environment where your people thrive, we can help.

Get in touch to talk to one of our experienced workplace consultants about your office.


Chloe Sproston

Creative Director