Inclusive Office Design Is Key To The Future Office

Lucy Minton, COO and co-founder of Kitt, discusses the changing design priorities of business leaders as workers return to the office.

Office occupancy has reached its highest since the pandemic began. As the return continues to intensify, business leaders are increasingly reevaluating their priorities to ensure they’re able to attend to their worker’s newfound needs. A standout question emerging is how far office spaces currently accommodate for diversity and inclusion of all employees, shifting the topic to the top of the agenda and forcing business leaders to alter their spaces accordingly. 

The businesses of today and tomorrow need to think past profit and numbers and become more flexible, adaptable and understanding of new employee needs and expectations – something that pre-pandemic could slide down the priority list. Now, the onus is on business leaders to create office space suitable for all and recognise a difference in working styles in order to maintain employee satisfaction and retain talent. 

Respecting a shift in working styles

The pandemic brought about a collective trauma – the fall out of which, even two years on, is not always that clear. And with the lines between our professional and personal lives becoming so blurred due to working from home, it’s sure to have impacted how we work. However, instead of considering how lives have changed over the past two years, some businesses are simply reverting back to pre-pandemic processes – and still wonder why staff aren’t as receptive to their calls for a return to ‘business as usual’.

Employees want to feel listened to and it’s now up to leaders to play that role in meeting the changing needs and expectations of the modern-day workforce. Our research has shown that 25% of directors now want the option to bring their children into the office with allocated space for childcare, enabling more flexibility in working patterns. Introducing this can show a greater appreciation of the difficulties of balancing work and family obligations and will improve overall productivity and employee experience, safe in the mind their childcare is attended to. 

While some employees may be raring to leave the four walls of their homes, others may be anxious about their return to the office. Therefore, leaders must ensure they are empathetic, understanding and should consider discussing employees’ preferred working styles, giving the chance for them to work where they are most productive.

There are no hard and fast rules here. While quieter types may want to work in secluded nooks for solo focus time, more gregarious people might prefer collaborative breakout areas. The key? Acknowledging that all employees aren’t the same and providing a bespoke, adaptable workspace where each individual can thrive. Leaders can gain a greater understanding of this by listening to their employees and discussing how these fit into the priorities of the business.

Designing an inclusive space 

Office design is often overlooked when thinking about how to build an inclusive work environment, but it plays a critical role in making employees feel comfortable and equal. Traditionally, offices have been designed with a one size fits all approach, now employees are demanding more from the space – especially in regards to diversity and inclusion. 

Gen Z’s are especially concerned with D&I in the workplace, taking a different approach from previous generations. Research shows 83% of Gen Z’s say a company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is a priority when choosing an employer. Therefore, as the market flips and employees hold much more power when looking for employment, it’s important leaders know what they’re seeking. Now, more companies are stepping forward and declaring that D&I is no longer something “we should do”, but rather it is something “we must do” to resolve inequalities. 

Our own research shows that over a third (32%) of business leaders are ensuring their office has gender-neutral/inclusive language throughout the office, e.g. signage, and half (50%) are making cultural representation their number one priority – reflective in wall art, posters and further workplace material. This shows a significant shift in the way we think about office design and with larger corporations, such as Google leading the way, it’s about time we set a standard that reflects the modern-day workforce. 

Make or break 

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace are no longer a preference, but a requirement. To achieve this, business leaders can work through and assess their strategy and working environments to make sure they empower the workforce to contribute their full potential and allow their voices to be heard. The need for this is intensifying at a rapid rate and leaders must act fast, as it could be the difference between resignation and retention for the modern-day employee. 

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