From a facility manager’s perspective, creating an equitable workspace experience involves adopting design practices, technology, and solutions to meet the constantly evolving needs of your workforce. For some facility managers, that may mean expanding remote work capabilities by adding new technologies or updating the existing data infrastructure. For others, those evolving needs might now include ADA ramps and other assistive technologies for in-person offices. An equitable workplace environment promotes employee well-being and performance by reducing stress and improving worker focus. As a result, employee churn rates drop while overall office performance improves.
Equity or Equality, What’s the Difference?
According to BetterUp, a leading behavioral science company, “While equity and equality sound similar the implementation of the terms have different outcomes. Equality refers to when every person or group is given the exact same resources or opportunities. But different people and groups have different circumstances resulting in unequal access to opportunities or resources.”
If Company XYZ provides the same desktop computer and programs to every employee, that’s an example of equality; everyone receives the same resource. However, workplace equity occurs when the employee’s unique needs for accessibility to the employer-provided computer get addressed.
Improving Workspace Equity
Many workplace equity solutions available to facilities managers fall into workplace design and digital support. Over the last 25 years, the Universal Design Principles have been widely adopted across the AEC industry. These seven principles address the most common barriers to participation for buildings, environments, and products.
Digital support for remote employees, the second principle, became critical during the pandemic as virtually everyone had to pivot from in-person to remote. Even though Main Street is now open for business again, remote work will continue to exist in this space.
Design Principles for the Physical Workspace
Universal Design considers all populations that access the building, not just those with disabilities. When a building, space, or environment can be easily accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible, everyone (property owner, workers, customers, and visitors) benefits. Here are three common examples for facility managers to consider for improving equity in the workplace environment.
Accessibility and mobility concerns will vary depending on the employee and their mobility limitations. Some employees may require only a cane or walker for increased stability, while others may need a wheelchair to address mobility concerns.
After assessing the employee needs, facility managers can improve mobility by:
- Installing additional access points or ADA ramps for wheelchair accessibility.
- Extending all elevators’ or lifts’ open/close cycles and installing push button panels at a lower elevation.
- Widening doorways and aisleways to facilitate the use of canes, walkers, and wheelchairs as needed.
Ergonomics and adjustability allow workers to perform their jobs efficiently while minimizing stress. Because lower stress levels can improve office efficiency and employee productivity, consider options such as:
- Adjustable workstations and chairs can increase worker comfort across various conditions and diagnoses.
- Ergonomic tools and equipment can reduce muscle fatigue from repetitive motions.
- Sit-stand desks allow sedimentary workers to stand and stretch while working to improve blood flow circulation.
Sensory Considerations are typically overlooked in most workplace environments but can provide the most significant benefit for in-office workers. The following options work well for new construction and remodeling projects alike:
- Adequate and adjustable lighting in all work areas eliminates screen glare and reduces eye fatigue, improving worker focus and productivity.
- Effective noise control can eliminate echoes and background noise, a common complaint of in-person workers.
- Visual contrast and signage provide intuitive navigation for workers and visitors, which can reduce stress and anxiety.
Design Principles for the Virtual Workspace
With the change to workplace dynamics, most notably the influx of remote work, facility managers have a separate key ask of them. It is imperative that facility managers focus on expanding digital support systems to increase remote worker connectivity and communication
Technology Integration to support the needs of remote workers is the biggest concern for many facility managers today. While there’s no shortage of programs and platforms, here are three of the most common touch points affecting remote workers.
- Log-in credentials and network security are paramount for remote workers to work seamlessly alongside co-workers and other team members.
- Increase connectivity and bandwidth for assistive technology support devices such as screen readers or text-to-speech programs that the remote worker may use.
- The tech infrastructure must accommodate various devices and technologies, including Wi-Fi connectivity and file sharing for documents and images.
Inclusive Communication and Collaboration Tools minimize communication challenges between individuals, project teams, vendors, and third-party suppliers. To provide equity in the workplace environment, facility managers should consider products and services with the following features.
- Video conferencing – most basic or entry-level packages do not provide the features needed to promote true workplace equity. To fully address the remote workers’ needs, the platform should include features such as closed captions, transcription services, and the ability to record meetings.
- Chat and messaging programs – provide real-time communication between teams and their members to expedite the design, submittal, and approval processes.
- Translation services and support – allow you to work with the best employees, vendors, and suppliers, no matter their location or language. As the world continues to get smaller, the demand for accurate translation services will continue to grow.
- Digital whiteboards – provide enhanced collaboration for teams since anyone logged into the meeting can add notes, drawings, and diagrams to the discussion without being physically present.
Adaptable Workplace Infrastructure
When addressing equity in the workplace, infrastructure flexibility has become critical for meeting the changing demands of in-person and remote employees. The noise and chaos of traditional data upgrades and their associated construction processes can affect employee focus, comfort, and productivity. Conversely, remote workers must deal with limited accessibility and connectivity disruptions, which affect their focus, comfort, and productivity. Since both workspaces rely on data and connectivity to work effectively, a flexible and adaptable power and data management system is paramount. The Gridd® Adaptive Cabling Distribution® system allows facility managers to provide an equitable workplace environment today, and the flexibility (adaptability) to work with the constantly changing technology and worker needs.
Workspaces are ever-changing, both virtual and in-person, and creating equitability within these experiences involves a hyper-focused approach. Facility managers all over the country are determining proper tactics to increase the employee experience, allowing for growth for businesses and professionals alike.