The acknowledgement that our world should cater to a diverse number of people with varying needs is now not just a utopian ideal but a widely accepted principle. Especially since a survey of UK households conducted last year found that 24% of the population has a disability, with 23% of respondents being working-age adults. To make every worker feel welcome in their workspace, a consideration of their needs must be taken into account. Companies ought to establish DEI values. As shared workspaces are rapidly becoming the workplace of choice, the coworking movement must also lead the way for inclusivity. Let’s explore how coworking spaces champion accessibility.
Accessibility – what does it mean?
When we think about the term ‘accessibility,’ we typically focus on physical accessibility, where a workplace has taken measures to ensure that every individual can enter and move around the office.
This includes installing lifts and ramps in and around the building as an alternative to stepped access. Widening entrances for wheelchair access. Workstations have plenty of space to move between desks. Light switches and door handles are within reach. Bathrooms are disability-friendly. Parking spaces have been allocated for people with disabilities too.
The UK Equality Act ensures that physical accessibility is standard practice across all work environments, from traditional offices to coworking spaces. However, not all workspaces provide for invisible disabilities, which also include vision loss, hearing impairments, and learning disabilities. “Situational disability,” defines Ivanne Poussier, describes how “accessibility can be considered from a permanent point of view and also a temporary point of view.”
True accessibility does ‘not exclude people from using something on the basis of experiencing a disability,’ explains Alistair Duggin. Providing a place for people in consideration of myriad disabilities can help individuals feel “empowered, can be independent, and will not be frustrated by something that is poorly designed or implemented,” says Duggan.
Neurodiversity in the workplace
Making up 15% of the UK population, neurodivergent people are often placed on the autism spectrum, and associated with “neurological or developmental conditions such as ADHD or learning disabilities. A neurotypical person is an individual who thinks, perceives, and behaves in ways that are considered the norm by the general population.”
Coworking spaces can be beneficial for neurodivergent people, as they are often designed with a variety of workstations that encourage movement around the space (as opposed to having a fixed desk in an office). Quiet zones, which may include private booths, and small bookable workspaces, are neurodivergent-friendly, for example.
David O’Comin designed Nook wellness pods specifically for neurodivergent people. He explains that as coworking spaces are often socially vibrant places, they can be challenging for introverts who can feel easily overwhelmed. As a solution, Nook workstations have been fitted with sensory lighting and sound.
O’Comin says coworking has the potential to create “incredible opportunities to set the tone and change the world in terms of how we build our environments, our organisations, how we arrange communities, and how we bring people together.”
Coworking in a hybrid world
Bringing communities together is particularly nuanced in today’s hybrid world, where coworking isn’t just limited to the physical workspace. With the use of digital tools, including chat apps and communication channels, a distributed workspace community can stay connected across a virtual community too.
Software gives coworkers the freedom of choice as to when and where they come into the workspace, without losing contact with the rest of the community. It benefits people who from time to time feel physically or mentally unable to come into the workspace, for instance. The UK Mental Health Foundation shared “that 12.7% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions.” The flexible nature of coworking establishes hybrid working lifestyles that support well-being.
Coworking spaces aren’t only flexible in their approach. By opening for longer, with quieter periods in the morning and evenings, coworking can nurture people with learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dyspraxia who may take slightly longer to achieve work tasks, as they don’t have a fixed 9-5 schedule like in a traditional office.
The variety of membership options in coworking, from hot desking to private office leases, gives coworkers a plethora of options for various spaces that suit different needs. Memberships are often on a rolling contract, giving people an opportunity to try out a workspace to see if it meets their needs.
Coworking spaces are often trailblazers for inclusivity, helping people feel like they belong and are accepted in the community. These inclusive values are often established by the community manager who shares them with coworkers when they join. Coworking software can be useful in sharing these values and delivering automated information to new members before they join.
This sets the expectation for everyone to behave and communicate with respect and consideration for others. Ultimately, this approach establishes a safe space for all and protects vulnerable people, including those with disabilities.
A further analysis of accessibility must consider affordability too. Access to tech education and creative opportunities is a privilege. Many marginalised communities aren’t given the opportunity, however, according to Savills: “Providing affordable and interesting workspaces is crucial to ensuring that London is at the forefront of the tech and creative industries, and therefore a draw for national and international talent.”
Coworking spaces can bridge the gap, for instance, many workspaces open their doors to their local community and host free events that enable people to upskill and experience a professional work environment. In 2017, Nexudus customer, Huckletree launched the Alpha accelerator “following acknowledgement of the lack of diversity and equality within the startup ecosystem.” It has so far supported over 80 founders and raised £35 million in funding.
There are many more ways that the coworking movement is leading the way for people of all abilities, and across intersectionalities. The most important aspect of this is establishing values of respect and inclusion, and being considerate of everyone no matter their ability.
At Nexudus, we’re passionate about creating fully customisable, easy-to-integrate software that manages your entire space - from reception to rooftop. For over 11 years, our award-winning tech has helped workspace owners and operators be more efficient, provide members with an unforgettable experience and gather advanced analytics for better decision-making. Discover how we can help you today.
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