Building More Inclusive Workspaces for a Diverse Future 

February 24, 2022
Written by: by Zoe Ellis-Moore, Spaces to Places
Inclusivity is one of the most important considerations in the flexible workspace sector, as society grows ever more diverse. Zoe Ellis-Moore, Founder & CEO of Spaces to Places explores how the flexible workspace sector can be a shining light in the pursuit of a more tolerant, inclusive, and diverse future.

As the flexible workspace sector continues to grow and attract more businesses, freelancers, and remote workers, the need for inclusivity in design, policies, and practices also grows. If – as seems increasingly likely – flexible workspaces are the future of work, they present the perfect opportunity to right the wrongs that traditional offices never conquered.

Anyone who’s ever worked in a traditional office knows that they never please everyone, but a large part of the blame can be placed on the inherent rigidity of private office space. Flexible workspaces, on the other hand, are a new paradigm in that they’re designed to be used concurrently by diverse occupiers with diverse needs. That means there’s never been a greater reason to thoughtfully consider how you can prioritise inclusivity and cater for everyone.

If you’re a flexible office or coworking operator, now’s the ideal time to consider how you can build a space that’s more suitable for the diverse future. Here’s a brief summary of how to approach the challenge.

Workforce diversity statistics

First, it’s important to take a moment to understand who you’re actually designing your workspace for – or, in other words, who makes up the current workforce.

It’s no secret that the current world of work largely caters for what we’ve historically seen as the majority in the workforce – which has invariably been white, neurotypical, able-bodied, and male.  But the idea of majority and minorities should, by all rights, be fading. This is especially the case in the USA, where it’s projected that by 2044 minority groups will in fact be the majority.

Here are some statistics about the UK workforce that help to illuminate the importance of refreshing our idea of workspace inclusivity to better meet the needs of the previous minorities: But the truth is that, regardless of what percentage of the population they make up, all sectors of society should have equal care and attention when it comes to something as basic as workspace provisions.

What does an inclusive workspace mean?

In the purest sense, an inclusive workspace is one that is accessible to and usable by the broadest range of people possible, regardless of their differences and without requiring them to make special adaptations. To word it in a less complex way – it’s a workspace that is suitable for everyone, not just a single demographic slice.

But a definition alone doesn’t make it any easier to understand how to actually go about creating an inclusive workspace suitable for a diverse workforce. It’s clear that there are a broad range of requirements, sensibilities, and preferences to account for in the design and function of a workspace if you’re to meet the needs of all demographics in the workforce, so the key is in understanding how to account for them.

That’s where inclusive design comes in. Referring not just to design in the traditional sense of what the space looks like, inclusive design also involves thinking about the processes, policies, and features that make a space inclusive. For example, you don’t just consider changing the lighting in your workspace to better suit those with epilepsy, you also reconsider the accessibility considerations of the meeting room booking element on your website.

Inclusive workspace design ideas

To list all of the potential considerations when designing a more inclusive workspace would be a tall order – but here are some ideas of ways you can think about baking inclusivity into your workspace’s design and functionality.
  • Making sure that your workspace (and all of its floors) are accessible to wheelchair users with appropriate use of ramps or elevators
  • Having an equal and sufficient number of toilet facilities for both men and women
  • Utilising multi-sensory safety alarms and large-print signs for all essential instructional signs, catering for sight- and hearing-impaired people
  • Making as much use of available natural light as possible, and restricting your use of artificial lighting such as LED and fluorescent
  • Providing a choice of standing and sitting desks, accounting for those who prefer or require one or the other
  • Ensuring you have a full stock of accessible computer equipment, from ergonomic keyboards and alternative mice to screen-glare protectors
  • Fitting all doors with handles that are designed for use by all people, including those with limited manual dexterity
  • Adopt an alternative approach to traditional celebrations to avoid exclusion – by either opting for non-denominational celebrations or ensuring that all members’ faiths are covered in celebrations
  • Focusing on fostering an open and tolerant approach to requests and feedback – listening to and aiming to solve the problems of all members and implementing an anonymous feedback mechanism
  • Providing both hot desks and dedicated desks, to accommodate anyone who prefers to have a fixed, static workspace
  • Prioritising measures that promote physical wellbeing, including improving air quality, decreasing the presence of irritants, and providing plenty of break-out spaces
  • Considering providing nursery or creche facilities if appropriate and feasible, accommodating working parents
  • Aiming to host workshops, development classes, conferences, and other events that focus on under-represented people’s needs
I earlier referenced how the traditional office never pleased everyone, but it’d be remiss not to mention that it’s arguably not too dissimilar for flexible offices. It’s next to impossible to perfectly meet the needs of every member of society in one space, after all.

But what’s not impossible is to make an effort to meet as many needs as possible, and keep an open mind about how you can continue to improve your approach to creating a more inclusive workspace over time.

Listen, think, and implement. That’s how we, as a collective in the flexible workspace sector, can lead the way in catering for a more diverse future.