Published on:

07 November 2023

Updated on:

29 November 2023

Read time:

4 minutes

Joe Whittle

Senior Designer

Neurodiversity in the workplace refers to the natural variations in how people think, perceive, and process information while at work.

Neurodiverse conditions like autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia are simply differences. With recent estimates suggesting 15-20% of people are neurodivergent, creating a neurodiverse workplace is a must for conscientious and progressive businesses.

At Office Principle, we specialise in neurodiverse office design, tailoring office fit outs to support neurodiverse minds. Read on for insights into neurodiversity at work, and crafting a workspace where neurodivergent employees can excel alongside neurotypical colleagues.

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What is neurodiversity in the workplace?

The term neurodiversity recognises that neurological differences are just natural human variations, not deficits. It covers conditions like:

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Characterised by challenges in social communication and restricted/repetitive behaviours. Autistic individuals may have sensitivities to stimuli like sound, light, and touch. Many excel in visual skills, pattern recognition, and attention to detail.


Marked by challenges in sustaining attention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. ADHD minds gravitate toward stimulating environments and multi-tasking. They often display creativity, intuition, and dynamism.


Impacts reading ability, information processing speed, short-term memory, and sequencing skills. Dyslexic people tend to excel in visual-spatial tasks, pattern recognition, and big picture thinking.


Affects coordination, balance, manual dexterity, and processing instructions. Strengths include creative problem-solving, resilience, and perseverance through challenges.

While each neurodivergent condition has its own unique attributes, many thrive in a neurodivergent workplace that caters to their needs with inclusive design. Subtle changes to the environment remove barriers, allowing them to fully harness their talents.

Why design and build a neurodiverse workspace?

Forward-thinking companies are realising the compelling business case for embracing neurodiversity:

  • Tap into new talent pools - Neurodivergent minds can offer creativity, innovation, and unique perspectives. An inclusive culture helps attract and retain these workers.
  • Enhance productivity - Allowing employees freedom to play to their strengths significantly boosts morale, motivation, and output.
  • Improve experience for all staff - Inclusive design provides options that benefit every employee, not just neurodivergent ones.
  • Reflect your customer base - Neurodiverse customers deserve empathy from businesses who understand their needs.
  • Gain competitive edge - Join other leading brands proactively embracing neurodiversity like Microsoft, JP Morgan, Ford, Dell, and SAP.

Neurodiversity is a tapestry of unique minds, each with its own extraordinary pattern. Embracing these differences in the workplace is not just an opportunity; it's a necessity for fostering innovation, empathy, and a truly inclusive environment.

Joe Whittle, Senior Designer

Key challenges for neurodiversity at work

Neurodiversity encompasses a wide spectrum of individuals, with many neurodivergent people facing challenges in office environments. Creating a more inclusive workspace requires recognising these unique needs and making appropriate accommodations:

  • Distracting, chaotic environments - Noise, clutter, and bustle can easily overwhelm. Open floor plans lack quiet spaces for focus work.
  • Sensory issues - Heightened sensitivities to light, sound, smell, and texture. Harsh fluorescent lighting and scratchy fabrics cause stress.
  • Communication difficulties - Challenges reading subtle social cues, making eye contact, processing complex verbal instructions.
  • Wayfinding problems - Feeling lost and disoriented in monotonous, uniform spaces with unclear navigation.
  • Anxiety-provoking settings - Unpredictable spaces disrupt comforting routines. Fear of judgement from neurotypical colleagues.

Lighting and acoustics

Proper lighting and office acoustics are a key neurodiversity office design feature. Incorporate ample natural light from windows or skylights to ease eye-strain. Provide dimmable artificial lighting with diffusers to enable control over brightness and prevent glare.

Allow escape from noisy, distracting open areas into solo focus rooms or private enclaves with soundproofing materials that limit auditory distractions. Leverage white noise systems and nature sounds in group settings to aid concentration.

Strategically place acoustic panels, screens, and sound-absorbing materials throughout the space to muffle disruptive noises. And ensure HVAC systems operate quietly to prevent intermittent disruptions.

Colour schemes and zoning

Thoughtful use of colour schemes and zoning creates a calming backdrop. Employ cool, muted colour palettes using blues, greens and neutrals on large surfaces for their relaxing effect. Then designate specific collaboration zones by using warm hues like yellow to stimulate energy.

Limit visual clutter on walls and architectural features. Define spaces by activity using consistent lighting schemes, materials, artwork or other environmental cues. Keep it simple and orderly.

Furniture layouts

Furniture arrangement directly impacts comfort and focus. Position desks, dividers and storage strategically to avoid facing coworkers directly, limiting visual distraction. Include standing-height desks, treadmill or cycling workstations to accommodate neurodivergent needs for movement while working.

Locate collaboration nooks away from busy corridors to prevent disruption from passersby yet keep them connected to the broader workspace.

Calming and sensory spaces

Dedicated calming and sensory spaces provide respite from excessive stimulation. Create quiet rooms furnished with soft beanbag chairs, blankets, and dimmable lighting tailored to individual needs. Build in outlets for movement like indoor tracks for pacing or under-desk pedals/cycles.

Allow use of noise-cancelling headphones and sunglasses so employees can self-regulate stimuli as needed. Offer sensory tools like weighted blankets, textured fidget tools, aromatherapy diffusers to aid relaxation.

Signage and wayfinding

Finally, intuitive wayfinding prevents disorientation. Guide navigation using supergraphics, colour-coded zones, and unique architectural elements as visual landmarks. Supplement signs with tactile maps, apps and virtual assistants to help locate amenities.

Maintain consistent, logical layouts within and between floors. Eliminate ambiguities in the space planning.

Creating your own neurodiverse workplace

Implementing inclusive office design can produce immense gains for your organisation's diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Thoughtfully optimising your company's physical spaces to be more sensory-friendly and navigable will allow your neurodivergent employees' to truly flourish.

If you're planning an office refurbishment, contact our team to start planning your ideal workspace. We're passionate about crafting offices where every mind is welcome to thrive.

Our strategic approach enables us to deliver inspiring offices where all members of your team can thrive. We handle all aspects from concept to handover, creating workplaces built around your people.

Meet the Author

Joe provides a strong, creative lead with a confidence derived from having played a key role in a variety of projects across numerous sectors. From blue chip to boutique, Joseph’s portfolio contains an eclectic mix of brands providing him with a keen sense of what works and, most importantly, what will make those who use the space feel happy and fulfilled.