Courtesy of the International WELL Building Institute
The WELL Equity Rating emphasizes inclusive design that supports people and enhances organizational performance.

Building a Brighter Future: How Inclusive Design Creates a More Emotionally Healthy Workplace

Nov. 10, 2023
Imagine stepping into a workplace that embodies the principles of inclusive design at every turn. The WELL Equity Rating can give you a roadmap to get there.

In the ever-evolving landscape of modern workplaces, the concept of design goes beyond aesthetics and functionality. Now, with the rise of remote and hybrid work, our relationship with the office has fundamentally changed. We’re seeing a brighter spotlight on how workplace design can impact workers’ emotions and well-being. Of course, building a workplace where people can have a strong sense of belonging and feel truly productive and happy takes genuine commitment and practice. The foundation for creating a more vibrant, more thriving workplace starts with inclusive design.

Imagine stepping into a workplace that embodies the principles of inclusive design at every turn. The entrance is welcoming and accessible, with ramps and elevators seamlessly integrated alongside staircases. As you move through the office, you notice a variety of workspaces thoughtfully designed to cater to different needs. Open collaboration areas buzz with activity, but there is also a smattering of private nooks equipped with soundproofing for focused work and different sensory needs.

The furniture is ergonomic and adjustable for the comfort and wellbeing of all employees. Desks can be raised or lowered, chairs are designed to accommodate various body types and workstations are equipped to be wheelchair friendly. Abundant natural light streams in through large windows, reducing the dependence on direct lighting that may be unsettling for some.

Digital interfaces are user-friendly and inclusive, with text-to-speech features for those with visual impairments and keyboard shortcuts for those with mobility challenges. Meeting rooms are equipped with video conferencing technology that provides real-time subtitles and translations, ensuring that everyone can participate in discussions.

Break areas are designed to be social hubs, with an array of seating options to cater to different preferences. A quiet room with soothing lighting and comfortable seating is available for employees who need a moment of respite. Speaking of respite, planters with greenery and patterns reflecting nature are scattered throughout, contributing to a calming and biophilic environment.

Inclusive design not only supports each individual, but also enhances organizational performance. By carefully crafting the office to reflect the people who use it, the physical aspects of inclusive design percolate into the broader cultural impact within the organization. For instance, the break areas are thoughtfully designed with diverse seating options and a place to peacefully retreat—not only to accommodate various employee preferences but also to promote inclusivity by recognizing that people have different needs to recharge. This approach to physical inclusivity sets the tone for company culture, reflecting an ethos of understanding and empathy.

Inclusive design is not just about accommodating diverse abilities within a given space; it extends into creating an environment that values and respects the unique backgrounds, experiences and perspectives of its employees. Most importantly it gives people choice and control within the environment. In parallel with the physical elements, the company culture is one of understanding and empathy, where managers receive training on inclusive leadership and employees are actively educated on unconscious bias. Everyday interactions, events and celebrations acknowledge various cultures, fostering a sense of belonging for everyone.

In all workplaces, inclusivity should not be an afterthought but a fundamental aspect of design. Every detail, from the physical layout to the policies and practices, is geared toward creating an environment where all employees feel valued, supported and empowered to do their best work. It’s a workplace that recognizes the unique strengths of each individual and leverages them to create a diverse, innovative and harmonious community.

In today’s post-COVID-19 business world, this practice emerges as a compelling strategy for welcoming employees back to the office. Companies that prioritize inclusive design signal a commitment to fostering an equitable and diverse workplace culture, contributing to a more equitable society at large. Of course, organizational leaders can take many other steps, and the WELL Equity Rating serves as a roadmap to make equitable and happier workplaces accessible to everyone.

The future of work is inclusive, and the future starts with reimagining the spaces where we work together.

About the Author

Angelita Scott

Angelita Scott, Ph.D., is Director, Standard Development, Community Concept Lead, and WELL Equity Lead at the International WELL Building Institute. Dr. Scott previously served as an Assistant Professor of Interior Design, believing that the built environment should be equitable for everyone regardless of race, gender, age, or ability. Her research takes a preventative approach to the interior environment focusing on the intersection of residential design, housing, and well-being, and cultural well-being and workplace environments. She focuses on mental health (stress reduction) and occupant satisfaction through these perspectives.

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