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Designing for Diversity: Creating Inclusive Workplace Environments

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It’s no secret that our world is becoming more and more connected. Through globalization, technology and intermingling generations, different groups of people are increasingly overlapping. This is a reality that should be celebrated, as well as demand our consideration. As Architects and Designers, it is our responsibility to be conscious of the climates that we are creating. In order to provide spaces that meet the programmatic needs of our clients as well as incorporate the brand they would like to embody, we really need to know them as people. Creating an inclusive work space entails understanding each company’s diverse culture on a deeper and unique level – bearing in mind different cultural and religious backgrounds, the blending of generations, balancing of the gender scale, varying personalities, workstyle preferences and lifestyles, among other facets.

Diversity in Generations + Gender
It used to be common that people would join a company upon entering the workforce and stay there 25-30 years or even until they retire. Today, that’s quite unusual. On average, people now stay at a job for 4.6 years. With employees coming in from various stages of life, everyone should feel like they have a sense of belonging, without prioritizing one generation over another. Designing for different generations and work styles can vary by company and industry, a common solution is to incorporate a blend of private offices and open workspaces. Experienced professionals who have been in the workforce for several decades tend to prefer private offices, viewing them as a status symbol or reward, while many younger workers in general prefer an open and less formal format, where the vibe feels more like a coffee shop or living room setting.

In addition to an increased span of generations working together, there is also a higher percentage of women in the workforce now compared to when the baby boomer generation first entered the workforce. Therefore, companies must consciously take the preferences of both men and women into equal consideration and provide necessities such as an adequate number of men’s, women’s and gender-neutral restrooms, as well as comfortable, private areas for nursing mothers, and, in some cases, onsite childcare.

Diversity in Workstyles + Personality types
Everyone is different, with unique personalities and acquired tastes. So why would we expect them to operate in the same way and thrive in the same types of environments? In order to give employees the opportunity to thrive, we need to provide a variety of spaces for introverts, extroverts and people in between. Some people prefer quiet work zones while others prefer open, bustling collaborative areas. Some tend to work better in silence and dark spaces, as we saw working with computer engineers on a recent project, and others enjoy music and as much natural light as they can get.

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Through space and place, we strive to incorporate a variety of environments in our designs to support as many personality types and workstyles as we can. This extends to elements like furniture and lighting that can be customized to each worker’s needs. The more flexibility is built into the design, the more individual preferences can be accommodated.

Diversity in Lifestyles
Another aspect of diversity to consider when designing is lifestyle. There are many different facets that could be studied, but in our research and experience it largely boils down to physical, psychological and spiritual well-being. This means incorporating such things as prayer rooms, quiet rooms, onsite gyms, outdoor walking paths, sit-to-stand workstations, meditation gardens and bike storage, just to name a few. The environments we’re in can greatly affect our mental health, which ultimately affects our physical health and general well-being. The more we can design for people holistically vs. just one aspect of their lives (work), the more valued, empowered and happier they will be, which will naturally make them more effective workers.

It’s important when designing a space to include a representational cross-section of people in the planning process—not just the executives, but also those immersed in the activities and workflow of every day. When workplaces promote inclusivity, the general health of employees improves, which in turn improves the health of a company. This allows individuals to feel comfortable and safe to be their authentic selves. Employees become empowered and involved in solutions, bringing a cross-pollination of ideas and inspiring innovation.

The key to inclusion is valuing our differences. How can we be different together and how can the workplace support those differences? An investment in diversity and inclusion -- choosing to view your space and employees through an empathetic lens — is a company’s investment in itself. Most people would say that’s the kind of company they would like to work for.

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