Article | Adaptive Spaces, Evolving Workforces

Why should organisations consider inclusive design in their ‘return to office’ plans?

January 9, 2023 4 Minute Read

By Francesca Langton Kendall


Hybrid working is here to stay and continues to be top of mind for CBRE clients. In a recent occupier survey, 72% of organisations said that they are moving towards a 'hybrid workplace' model in which employees have a measure of choice within the framework of company guidance. Within this context, the need to ensure a successful ‘return to the office’ means that the workplace itself must be redefined. Currently, 69% of organisations stated that they would be revisiting their workplace design standards to reflect this new way of working – to encourage in-person collaboration, chance encounters and face to face meetings to build networks and relationships.

The majority of workplace design changes focus on enhancing collaborative and amenity spaces to cater for aspects of work that ‘cannot be done remotely’. However, something that is often overlooked, is the importance of access to quiet spaces for employees to focus, re-energise and concentrate. This is particularly important for more introverted employees, many of whom have thrived while working remotely. This has been largely attributed to them having more control over their working environment, especially when it comes to noise and unplanned interruptions. For individuals with sensory sensitivities the prospect of returning to an office with a higher proportion of collaborative space might not be very appealing and actually make it an excluding environment.

Considering the needs of the range of people who need to work within the office environment is at the heart of inclusive design. And, whilst the need for quiet spaces is clear for the subgroup of more introverted employees, or those have ‘sensory sensitivities’, if we only assign the benefit to this group, we would undervalue its importance for others. For example, while we can generalise the distribution of work to ‘focusing’ at home and ‘collaborating’ in the office, this is often not possible to do in practice. We also need to consider the disparity and variation of home working environments – just because someone is working from home, doesn’t mean this is the ideal space for quiet and focused working. Many workers contend with the likes of dogs, husbands, teenagers, the neighbour’s guitar-playing son or simply loud street traffic in more urban and densely populated environments – not to mention the endless Teams or Zoom notifications disturbing our concentration throughout the day.

The power of quiet spaces has been shown to have many mental and physical health benefits, and its no wonder that people continually strive to seek these out – not just in our working environments, but in our personal lives too. So, in our efforts to entice employees back to the workplace, let’s not forget to consider the complexities and differences within our workforces and ensure that we provide enough variety and choice to cater for a diverse range of employee, but more importantly human needs.

Get in touch with our team if you’d like to see our report on how and why organisations should ‘build belonging’ into their workplace strategy.