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A place for all brains – designing for neurodiversity in the workplace

Unispace’s Principal of Strategy, Australia, Bruce Khajehnoori shares his design principles for neurodiversity with Smart Company. Developed from his own experience with ADHD, the principles around physical design, cultural and operational changes can be applied to better cater to neurodiverse employees; and in doing so improve the workplace experience for all.

We spend hours on end at work, yet some workplaces don’t effectively support employees’ mental health or those with neurological differences such as autism, ADHD and dyslexia.

“Designing for neurodiversity means getting the basics right so that a workplace is not only functional across all factors of user experience normally expected of a workplace, but that it specifically includes considerations of the neurodiverse segment of the workforce, which roughly makes up anywhere from 15-25% of the entire global population, with variations across countries,” Bruce told Smart Company.

“There is a growing trend in the property industry where an increasing number of organizations position themselves as not only considering but in fact enabling neurodiversity, with very little detail on how this is achieved and what that means for businesses in a physical, operational and workplace culture lens,” he said.

Bruce’s principles regarding physical design, cultural and operational changes can make a positive impact to workplaces and the role they play in supporting staff. Here are 5 key principles that can be implemented in your workplace:

Wellness spaces: it’s not just candles and soft cushions. A wellness room should be a space away from work settings where employees can recharge and manage stressful moments, with enhanced acoustic and privacy measures. These spaces allow for calm reflection and reduce cognitive overload.

Sensory adjustments: clearly separate zones that support high activity (noisy, group work) and low activity (quiet, individual work) for both individual and collaborative working. Having both bookable and non-bookable spaces supports individuals who are sensitive to noise and light to choose where to work at different times of day.

Clear way-finding: simple, minimal and clear signage is important for those who process visual aids better than text, as is appropriate communication for visually impaired employees.

People leader expectations: educate and upskill people leaders to have a basic understanding of neurodiversities so they can better support their teams. Implement staff training from healthcare professionals and education toolkits to get the basics right.

Physical exercise: it’s no secret that exercise has a positive impact on mental health and supports cognitive function. By providing access to exercise opportunities, whether in the office, in the building or through a subsidized fitness center membership, there are many ways that organizations can encourage employees to be more active.

Read the full article on Smart Company here.


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Bruce has almost 20 years’ experience working in design, architecture and workplace innovation. He has also been researching human cognitive behaviour and neuroscience with a focus to better understand the complex array of neurodiversities, and therefore the needs of his clients and their people. Bruce works with our strategy clients across Australia, helping them to define and understand their needs so that we can create the right work environments for their people to succeed.

Connect with Bruce on LinkedIn.