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aesthetics

Why aesthetics matter to neurodivergent people

How does your workplace feel?

I remember walking into a large London charity for my first day at work after being interviewed in a beautiful glass-fronted office. My actual office was a complete mess of papers, out of date banners, marathon running kits, damaged chairs and what felt like total chaos. This destroyed how I felt about that place and as a result put me in a completely negative position about that workplace, breaking the mystique of what I had been expecting.

This was my first job out of corporate life where everything was pristine, and I had certain expectations about what the aesthetics of the workplace would be like. Reflecting on this I recognise that when I saw the office, I was going to be working in that I felt my personal value and been reduced and so had myself esteem.

When we talk about aesthetics in the workplace, we mean how our five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch (plus our gut feeling) are influenced by our environment.

Here are some things that I think are important to consider that can help make workplaces more aesthetically pleasing:

Organised spaces

Though the very nature of work dictates there can be some untidiness from time to time it can be incredibly distracting and sometimes tormenting if workspaces are not kept tidy periodically. For example, some individuals with dyslexic traits find having things in a mess often causes them stress and anxiety and takes the focus away from what they want to be doing.

Lighting

Studies have shown the amount of natural light in an office has a direct impact on employee productivity attention and alertness. This is also true for many neurodivergent individuals as natural light helps the brain work better.

Variability in lighting

In addition to natural light, it is also important to be able to vary the amount of light in your working space. For example, task lighting is essential when working on detailed pieces of work. What is also useful is the ability to change the intensity of the lighting based on your mood and the type of activity you are undertaking. What can often be difficult to deal with though is intense lighting that cannot be changed, think back to those classic 1970s offices with intense strip lighting – not great!

Seating

Materials are key here in terms of things that don’t make you sweat or squeak when you move the seat. It is also important that seats work for the individual in terms of providing them support and avoidance of pain and long-term injuries. Changing seating position is also critical as studies have shown being able to stand up for example when performing certain tasks really enhances the quality of thinking in addition to movement.

Add stuff that grows

Plants add life to the office, though they may not be everybody’s first choice they do also have some important health benefits including giving a focus on something to look after the outside of your immediate work tasks. This can often create a much healthier and calmer work environment.

Colour

For some individuals, colour is incredibly important in terms of the impact it has on their social and mental well-being. For example, some extremely bright vibrant colours can cause migraines and other neurological responses in the workplace. When this becomes particularly tricky is when brand colours are very strong and the organisations that we are working in use these brand colours in particular areas. An example is a cafeteria in a large bread manufacturer that has strong brand colours used in this space, and as a result, an area designed for relaxation and recovery is now for some a high-stress environment.

Allowing personalisation

It is important individuals are allowed to make their workplaces their own, this can be achieved by having things that help motivate them and stay on task during their workday. This will often include things like family photos if appropriate or other reminders and tools like whiteboards that they can use to help plan and deliver their day. For some individuals, this can also involve the use of fiddle toys that allow them to do other activities that do not inhibit their processing to stay focused on what they are doing. For example, some individuals with ADHD traits find it incredibly helpful to be able to doodle or fiddle with a piece of blue tack during conference calls and conversations as it helps them to stay focused on what is happening and not get distracted.

To open plan or not to open plan – that is a very big question

Many of us are not currently back in the office when we do return this question is not going to go away.

When it comes to aesthetics, there is a lot to be said for open plan working in the benefits that it can give in terms of collaboration, but unfortunately for some neurodivergent individuals, it can often be incredibly distracting and debilitating. I would argue that this far outweighs any benefit that is potentially gained by the organisation by having a continuous open collaborative space. What I believe is a far better approach is to have zones within the work environment where it is possible to have collaboration when needed but then an individual can retire to a quieter more personal space, and they do not need to collaborate in such an open way.

With aesthetics, choice matters

With all the senses constantly in play updating us on the environment and giving us feedback on what is going on. For some individuals with neurodivergent conditions, this feedback can be heightened to the point of being uncomfortable for example a chair fabric may make your skin feel spiky or a particular colour scheme give you a headache or disorientate you. The position of your desk may expose you to excessive noise and distractions or make you feel that everyone is looking over your shoulder. I believe with simple changes and common sense thinking many of these issues can be avoided.

There is a perception that when you need to change the aesthetics of an office environment that there would need to be a huge financial investment, and this can rather put organisations off looking at it. I would argue that the biggest investment is talking to your people to understand their needs and preferences. I’m not suggesting for a minute you will be able to meet everyone’s individual unique preferences but as with all these things, there is a compromise to be had, as with sensible planning and thinking we can all make office environments better for everyone.

Here is to a neuroinclusive workplace!

If you would like to know more about how to make your workplace more neuroinclusive and how to implement these aesthetics changes effectively. If this is something that is of interest to you, please get in contact.

neurodiverse

Being neurodiverse in the workplace

Have you ever been faced with a problem that you just can’t solve? You don’t know where to start, and have no idea what to do next?

I’d like to introduce you to Paul who has been working in advertising for 5 years. He has been struggling with managing his diary and tasks for most of this time with many near misses and close shaves. Paul was diagnosed with dyslexia at school but since starting work hasn’t felt that he needed to talk about it and to be fair has done pretty well for himself in winning some key clients as well as building some key relationships that have helped his employer increase their revenue. Unfortunately for Paul as his responsibilities have grown so have the number of things he needs to do, and he can’t hold them all in his head anymore. In addition, because he is now more senior within the organisation and these errors are getting noticed by others, his capability is being brought into question.

This situation came to a head in a recent performance review with Paul’s manager and Paul was alerted to the fact that disciplinary steps may need to be taken if he was unable to sort the situation out. At this point, Paul opened up about his dyslexia and as a result, he was offered a workplace needs assessment. As a recommendation of this assessment, Paul was offered some workplace strategy coaching to help him with his task management.

Strategy coaching is a form of coaching that works with individuals on a one-to-one basis to help them solve problems using skills that they have learnt before. What is different from traditional coaching is that there is also a mentoring component to help them understand how their condition affects them.

Understand the condition then build the strategy

The coach worked with Paul to understand how his workplace and job role worked along with the responsibilities and tasks that he was frequently dealing with. Paul was able to talk through the many solutions that he tried over the years along with some of the frustrations that he had with sticking to a solution consistently. The coach was then able to present a couple of different strategies to Paul and they work together to work out which one would be most suitable for him. This is where coaching crosses over with mentoring and this is entirely appropriate in this situation.

The goal is to help an individual, build strategies that work for them. In addition to giving them the skills to adapt those strategies when situations change. A key part is building a process of learning, playing with and then stress testing strategies while reviewing and reflecting on progress.

Paul ended up selecting a To-Do List app that enabled him to focus on his tasks separately from other items like meetings and calendar events. This was important for Paul as he had often struggled to differentiate between items that were time-bound and items that he had scope to do when he was ready. The other key part of using the app was that his To-Do List was available on several different platforms meaning he could access it when he wanted to. The other big bonus was Paul was able to also manage his social and home life within the same app reducing his stress and arguably saving his relationship, as he had forgotten birthdays, anniversaries and many other key events.

NB: his partner regularly talked about Paul’s memory as a ‘forgettory’.

Part of this coaching also looked at how Paul could adapt what he’d learn in the future as his role developed and things changed because self-sustainability is essential, and it is vital that individuals like Paul are able to know where to get help and how to adapt the help they already have to meet future demands.

Improving mental health and performance

There is a pool of evidence that suggests strategy coaching improves employee mental health along with retention and career progression within a business. Strategy coaching is not a sticking plaster it is a toolkit that equips individuals to become the absolute best they can within the workplace. Clients like Paul who have undergone strategy coaching report a positive impact on their confidence at work along with an up lift in their perceived personal effectiveness. This positive feedback is also supported by their immediate line managers as they reflect on the impact of strategy coaching on their team members. You will be pleased to know this was also the case for Paul’s line manager.

“The coaching I received around task management has helped me keep my job and improved work to the point where I was able to go for promotion to the next level. This has been a complete lifesaver for me, it’s helped me to do the thing I love without fear of making mistakes.”

Paul – Key Account Manager – Advertising Agency

The story doesn’t end there Paul is likely to need additional support and help at different times throughout his career. This is why The Neurodivergent Coach clients can get in contact at any time to follow up after the first coaching session has finished. This is really important as it gives an independent sounding board for advice and support as they progress on through their career and a place to talk through their successes and any potential help they might need in the future.

Ten years on

I experienced strategy coaching first-hand over 10 years ago and although the sessions were quite different to what we deliver now the impact they have had on my career and personal development are incredible. They have enabled me to do things that I found exceedingly difficult to the point that I would avoid them. In fact, without strategy coaching, I certainly would not be running my business today and I certainly would not be able to write this blog post.

If you would like to know more about how strategy coaching could support, you or someone within your organisation please get in touch.