Prioritizing Accessibility in Flexible Workspaces
17 Nov 2022
An increasing number of companies are embracing hybrid operations. This flexible approach to employment has the potential to improve productivity and create a more agile workforce. Not to mention that increases in work satisfaction among employees can be instrumental in improving retention.
Nevertheless, getting the most out of a flexible workspace requires you to ensure all workers can utilize it to the fullest extent. This involves committing to putting accessibility at the forefront of all practices. This ensures your company supports workers with varied needs while also serving your legal and ethical duties toward inclusivity.
Let’s dive a little deeper into this process and look at some key components of prioritizing accessibility in flexible workspaces.
Regularly Assess Your Space
Before you can make any meaningful adjustments to your approach to your space you need to review it. Making regular assessments of your flexible environment gives you a better understanding of where potential hurdles lie. It also allows you to establish what resources you have to work with.
It’s always worth utilizing the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as a guideline here. For instance, carpet tiles must be securely attached and door openings must have a clear width of 32 inches. However, these should be considered minimum requirements. Your assessment should be geared more towards how you can maximize accessibility, rather than how you can conform to the basic legal requirements.
Perform walkthroughs in every area of your office space. Measure distances between objects to ensure maneuverability for those living with mobility challenges. Assess whether your office plates, emergency displays, and conference room signs are all usable by people with visibility conditions. Could the noise and layout of the space be problematic for neurodivergent colleagues that find certain stimuli overwhelming? Wherever possible, work with experts in accessibility to perform these assessments on at least a yearly basis.
Utilize Effective Space Management Methods
Part of what makes a flexible office space accessible is how you manage it. Good resource management practices can empower you to maximize the efficiency and efficacy of all assets within your business. Key subsets of your assets in this regard are your space, team members, and time. When you make efforts to optimize how these aspects are utilized, you can do more than ensure your operations are cost-effective. You can also leverage your efforts to provide your hybrid workers with more accessible workspaces.
One approach to space management is taking it on a project-by-project basis. Work with your teams and individual colleagues to understand what tools they require for specific tasks. From an accessibility perspective, part of this discussion should involve what team members’ needs are to empower them to achieve their results to their best ability. This allows management and colleagues to collaborate in allocating on-site and hybrid resources in an efficient and accessibility-forward way.
It’s also important to recognize that the people in your office environment are also a resource that needs to be managed for the sake of accessibility. Overcrowding is not just frustrating for everyone involved, it can also affect the ease of mobility and mental wellness. Utilizing effective scheduling software makes it easy for staff to reserve meeting rooms, workstations, and conferencing facilities in advance. This helps to ensure everyone has visibility on what spaces are available to use and arrange their remote working days to avoid overuse.
Provide Tools to Employees
One of the key elements of prioritizing accessibility is giving your workers the tools they need to thrive. A flexible workspace can be an accessibility tool in itself. Nevertheless, you must demonstrate an ongoing commitment to identifying your hybrid team’s needs and provide the resources to address these.
In the office, you should aim to make resources available without employees needing to request them, wherever possible. Adopt project management platforms that keep remote and in-office colleagues connected. This reduces the potential for home workers with disabilities to feel isolated. When you’re choosing new software or hardware, make accessibility a core consideration before purchasing. Your office should also have a range of adaptive technology such as screen readers ready for colleagues to use should they require them. It’s not always practical to offer every resource, but investing in common tools without colleagues needing to requisition and wait for them creates a more inclusive hybrid workspace.
However, with flexible work protocols, it’s also important to make sure employees have resources available at home as well as on-site. This should include helping them to establish ways to make the home more accessible in line with their working needs. This may include providing brighter lighting for the home office to put less pressure on their vision or ergonomic office furniture. Alongside physical elements, it’s vital to ensure there is digital accessibility in their homes. Ensure teleconferencing software has live captioning options. Confirm all software they use is easily navigable and has adjustable text and contrast options.
Accessibility needs to be a priority when operating a hybrid working environment. Make arrangements to regularly assess your space to identify issues and make adjustments. Adopting space management practices helps optimize the allocation of rooms and desks in alignment with workers’ needs. It’s also vital to be certain workers have the tools they need to thrive beyond their challenges both on-site and at home. It can take a little extra administration and investment, but prioritizing accessibility tends to enhance the benefits of flexible workspaces.
Guest post written by Sam L Bowman