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Is your workspace welcoming and enabling to all?

Your workspace has an important role to play in inclusion. Your physical environment sends a symbolic message about who belongs, and who doesn’t. Through thoughtful (and often inexpensive) tweaks to how you set up your space, you can make everyone feel welcome and cared for.

Check out our five-step guide to render your physical space more inclusive:

Noise and Deep Work Banner

Noise and deep work are important for productivity flows; if someone works better by using time for deep blocks of concentration, working from home, or under specific lighting, try to be respectful and accommodating of their needs.

While you probably don’t have control over the layout of your space, there are some tweaks you, as a leader, can make to maximize productivity for all:

💡 Discuss & establish ‘Do Not Disturb’ norms as a team. Maybe you agree that headphones are a sign to keep back, or that switching off notifications is fine if you have the option of an SOS phone call for anything truly urgent.

💡 Carve out quiet (or noisy) space. Consider co-opting a meeting room or lobbying your property team to create new small spaces designed both for solitary deep work and highly disruptive phone conversations.

💡 Allow working from home and other flexible arrangements to give people the power to work when and where maximizes their productivity and happiness.

💡 Block time for deep work. Encourage people to proactively manage their diaries around deep work blocks for concentration (Note: as a manager you need to respect these blocks!).

Thinking about accessibility might not come naturally to all of us, but it’s critical for anyone with a disability to feel included. It is more than a ‘nice to have’ – it’s the law. But as a manager, you need to ensure you go well beyond legal requirements to make disabled teammates and guests alike feel at home.

Examine your environment for areas for improvement and make accessibility a feature of all onboarding discussions. Here are our top tips for maximizing accessibility:

💡 Make accessibility a standard topic to cover as part of onboarding. Simply ask: “Do you have any specific needs for our physical workspace?” and explain that it’s important to accommodate everyone in your space.

💡 Create clear directions to the office for guests and interviewees, and arm everyone with standard text to include in invites with highly descriptive directions to your space.

💡 Check that your front of house team knows how to assist people with disabilities. First impressions count. Your front desk and security teams should have best practice guidelines in place to make every visitor’s experience positive

What hidden needs could your teammates have for their workspace? Remember that people are unlikely to make a fuss about these things. (True story, we once had to step over a colleague praying in the stairwell. Not cool.)

It’s up to you as a leader to take the initiative to ask and keep an eye out for unspoken needs. A few special needs to watch out for:

💡 Space for prayer. Be sensitive to the fact that this is often a hidden need that’s tricky to raise before you & your teammate have built rapport.

💡 Bike & run commuters’ needs. Secure bike storage and showers are top requests for those who bike or run to work.

💡 Private space for new mothers to pump breast milk. Some women are happy to use a toilet stall, but others may feel exposed or unsanitary there. Be sensitive and ask about this in your return to work catch-up.

Being inclusive with the food you provide at team gatherings and daily in your cafe is a really simple way to be inclusive of different needs, allergies, and cultures.

Here are our top tips for inclusive food & drink:

💡 Provide Halal, Kosher, vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free options in your cafe and at team gatherings. Also, consider dairy-free options at coffee stations.

💡 Always ask guests for company events and lunch meetings for dietary requirements, and accommodate these.

💡 Non-alcoholic options for the beer fridge. How would you feel if you were a recovering alcoholic, or abstained from drinking for religious reasons? Include some tasty non-alcoholic options so everyone can take part at drink time.

💡 Food is a great way to bring people from different cultures together. Think about regularly hosting team potlucks for people to break bread together and share food from their cultures.

Finally, think about the décor and symbols you’re displaying at the office. Could they be considered offensive, exclusionary, or even degrading? How you could modify your meeting room names, accessories, and photos to be more inclusive?

The three most prevalent un-inclusive symbols to watch out for include:

💡 Masculine accessories. Could your office space be mistaken for someone’s “man cave” complete with foosball table, Star Trek decor, provocative images of women and beanbag chairs?

💡 Photos of leaders on the wall. Particularly if they’re primarily white males, this can be a poignant reminder to those on your team who look different that they’re unlikely to reach the upper echelons of leadership in your business.

💡 Meeting room names. It’s safest to choose a neutral theme for meeting room names. Or if you must name rooms after people you admire as a business, make sure these reflect the diversity you aspire to have in your business.

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The bottom line?
Inclusive workplaces aren’t just about interpersonal relationships. They’re also about the physical environment in which everyone works and there are lots of tiny actions you can take to probe and improve how welcoming and accessible your workspace it.

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