Private Office barriers

5 Tips to Uncovering Barriers

Imagine an office space that puts you at ease and makes you feel valued, productive and engaged from entry to exit. Now consider someone very different from you – would they experience the space the same way? Would they feel accommodated or excluded, connected or discouraged by unseen barriers?

More than ever before, organizations are connecting their inclusivity goals with the design of the workplace. Creating inclusive spaces, where employees feel a greater sense of belonging requires celebrating and building upon what is working well, while also critically examining who feels left out.

When we set out to create inclusive spaces, products and experiences, we intentionally co-create with people who have experienced exclusion, by reaching out to what Steelcase Culture and Diversity consultant Mary Brown calls the ‘unusual suspects.’ “Working alongside unusual suspects should make you question how space and culture impact someone’s life which differs from you,” says Brown. “It’s about seeking people, and perspectives that challenge the status quo.”

Steelcase Furniture

1. Start with an inclusive design mindset that breaks down barriers.

While most leaders and designers agree they want to create inclusive spaces, many do not have a shared understanding of what that means or how to begin.

Inclusive design requires us to go beyond codes and compliance to see the role identity and bias play in decision making. Engaging the perspectives of people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, races, disabilities, ages, sizes, and genders, or who identify as neurodivergent, adds value to any project. It’s less about reaching a perfect outcome and more about uncovering barriers with unheard voices to drive innovation.

Signals of Inclusive Design

It can be difficult to pinpoint what makes a space great, but people instinctively identify shortcomings and potential barriers.

2. First Impressions

As you walk into space, you are welcomed by signage, thresholds, furniture settings, sounds, smells, artifacts, and artwork that set the tone and signals who belongs – and possibly who does not. The best way to attract diverse, dynamic community of people is to ensure they feel seen, supported, and accommodated as they enter. Does artwork reflect the community? Are there touchdowns and accommodations for people with functional limitations? Does signage use symbols to help everyone navigate How are hypo- and hyper-sensitivities impacted as people enter? These questions drive new possibilities.

Office waiting room. barriers

3. Diversity of Settings

When people think of traditional office spaces, they tend to imagine spaces with the same workstation repeated over and over. While this may create a sense of equality, it doesn’t show how people work differently and how our needs vary. Inclusive workplace neighborhoods feature a diversity of postures, boundaries, and intentional adjacencies. Provide places for everyone to be productive, without sacrificing equity and forcing one-size-fits-all.

4. Range of Furniture + Technology Solutions

A range of solutions enables different groups of people to share the same space in different ways. Seating diversity that supports visual consistency, while offering choice in firmness and arm rests ensures everyone is comfortable. Diverse table shapes and heights – with space to approach – provide everyone with a seat at the table. Accessible writable surfaces that can move and adapt encourage community building, collaborations and wayfinding. Don’t forget about power that’s easy to access, without crawling or bending under furniture. These choices provide dignity and allow everyone to contribute.

5. Spatial Perception + Sensory Control

Control over your environment can be tough to find in the office, but it is possible. When designing for neurodiversity, we encourage user sensory control, which has proven to enhance the spatial experience for everyone. Have you identified areas for focus, or no technology? What about flexible sensory spaces that support rest and rejuvenation? Or reservable hoteling stations where people can control visual privacy, lighting, noise, and ventilation? If the answer is no, your space could do more to be inclusive.  

The Takeaway

While inclusive design offers many opportunities, we acknowledge that this work can be challenging – especially for strong advocates. “Even when you have a heart for inclusion and innovation, it can be incredibly taxing to be the go-to person for a perspective,” says Brown. As we navigate our ever-changing world, inclusive design serves as an intervention to challenge exclusion, and build informed and impactful spaces to work, learn, heal and ultimately live better.

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active learning classroom

6 Tips on Active Learning and Active Minds

Regardless of the grade level, subject matter or class size, today’s best learning spaces are designed for participative, active and engaging learning experiences that help students function at their best – cognitively, physically and emotionally.

Active learning spaces are designed to support fluid transitions among multiple teaching and learning modes (including lecture, discussion, group work) and give students and instructors visual and physical access to each other. Highly flexible furnishings allow students and instructors to easily reconfigure the space to best support their activities.

Today, this is especially important given teh setbacks so many students experienced during the pandemic. This broadened, whole-learner approach goes beyond academics and recognizes the importance of motivation, engagement and student wellbeing. Whether students are in the classroom or learning remotely, person-to-person connections and the ability to easily interact with teachers and peers is essential. A more effective use of technology also presents tremendous opportunities to enhance student engagement and learning outcomes.

Steelcase Classroom active learning

1. Active learning increases engagement and improves student outcomes.

In active learning spaces, students are more likely to:

  • Report an increased willingness to participate actively in class.
  • Accept new challenges and work beyond their comfort zone.
  • Feel a sense of community and belonging.

2. Active learning spaces improve movement, communication, creativity, critical thinking and collaboration.

Over the past few years. Steelcase has partnered with more than 80 diverse institutions serving thousands of students at all levels across North America to understand how teaching and learning is evolving- and how smarter, more active environments can help.

Students report notable gains in movement in the classroom communication with peers and teachers, creative activities, critical thinking and collaborative learning. 79% of students reported that the experience in the environment designed for active learning was somewhat or much better than in a traditional classroom.

Instructors reported that the new space supports the type of teaching and learning that they want in their classroom and noticed improved student behaviors and mindsets. Instructors also favored the time they spent teaching in an active learning classroom when comparing the experience to that in a traditional classroom.

79% of students prefer active learning spaces over traditional classrooms.

active learning graph

3. Make technology and furniture moveable.

Enable both remote and co-located participants to move around the room. This way, remote students aren’t always ‘on stage’ next to the lesson. Mobile furniture and mobile virtual displays support a more flexible environment. If the classroom is sitting a group discussion, pull the virtual display up to the table instead of situating it at the front of the room. Make sure both remote and co-located participants have clean sight lines to people and content. Flexible furnishings and/or the use of mobile devices can let you move co-located or remote participants to give them the best view.

Students using Steelcase furniture

4. Arrange remote and local participants, and digital and analog content to ensure equal participation.

Activate vertical wall space with writable or trackable tools making everything in the room a learning tool. Some software platforms and integrated technology systems support the use of multiple monitors. That allows people and content to be displayed separately, which creates a more equitable experience for remote participants.

5. Design for the camera’s viewing range (90,120 degrees).

Make sure remote participants can easily see content. A robust video collaboration system, such as the Logitech Rally Bar Mini, allows teachers to move freely around the room. It can also showcase multiple types of content and material to students.

6. Use shared content creation tools.

Provide equal access to digital and analog information and enable multiple modes of collaboration.

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Future CEO Office Space

4 Tips on Learning the Future of Working

If machines can learn, what future value do people bring in a time of rapid advances in AI? It’s about developing uniquely human skills so you can do things computers can’t.

Learning is essential in today’s workplace and we need to help people learn as a regular part of their jobs. But the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on workers’ ability to learn and grow. Remote work made it more difficult for employees to engage in face-to-face training and professional development opportunities.

While there are plenty of high quality online training resources, employees also need to engage in informal learning and mentoring opportunities that happen through casual conversations and serendipitous interactions in the office. According to Future of Work Strategist Heather E. McGowan,

“Long gone are the days when you could ‘dine out’ on the education you got in the early part of your life. With the twin forces of technology and globalization meeting the mega trend of expansive human longevity, our thesis is now reality. In the past we learned one time in order to work; now, we must work in order to learn continuously.”

Heather E. McGowan

A recent survey by the Community of European Management Schools and International Companies alumni (mostly young professionals working in global organizations) reported working from home was harming heir opportunities to learn from each other and more experienced colleagues. They said the inability to easily consult with more experienced colleagues for advice or observe how others deal with situations, prevented them from developing their own skills.

Future Private Office Room

1. Learning impacts retention.

The ability for employees to learn and grow in their career plays a major role when it comes to retaining talent. Many companies are failing.

56% of employees and 68% of business decision makers say there are not enough growth opportunities in their company to make them want to stay long term.

55% say the best way to develop their skills is to change companies.

“Learning is the new pension. It’s how you create future value every day.”

Heather E. McGowan

These insights guide the design of both informal and structured learning experiences:

2. Learning happens everywhere.

Learning is not limited to training rooms. High-performing, adaptable spaces deliver learning opportunities for in-person and remote participants when they include mobile technology. Analog tools and flexible furniture that fosters face-to-face interactions.

Future Office

3. Learning is a never-ending journey.

Rather than thinking of learning as episodic, like attending a conference or training session, it’s more about nurturing a culture that encourages experimentation and has a tolerance for ambiguity and failure – an organization that’s prepared to try things and learn from what went wrong without assigning blame. That’s an attitude and culture that’s opened to taking risks because they’ve calculated risk and recognized it’s a learning opportunity.

4. Future focused organizations need a learning mindset.

To scale innovation and growth, employees need to be continuously sharing and learning from each other. By bringing people together in collaborative and creative ways, the workplace can help people build strong networks and enable a learning mindset. 

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Hybrid Collaboration Office

11 Steps for Designing for Hybrid Collaboration

The earlier you bring design, facilities and IT together to consider how furniture, lights, video and audio will intersect, the more seamless the hybrid collaboration experience will be for in-person and remote participants.

1. Consider the rooms layout so everyone faces the camera.

That may mean shifting orientation to the long wall instead of the short wall in a rectangular room. Seating in arcs or orienting everyone to face the camera helps improve communication, eye contact and focus. Tiered seating in larger spaces can help everyone’s face be seen on camera. Includes plenty of personal tables for individual devices. In the open, consider seating with a high back or a built-in screen for added privacy. Furniture with pegs, hooks and storage keeps cords, personal belongings, and equipment out of the way.

2. In enclosed spaces, center the camera in the room to ensure everyone at the table is in the field of view.

Avoid excessive on-video motion and distraction by eliminating pathways around the space from the camera’s view. Privacy film can be applied to glass to hide what’s happening on the screen from passersby. In open spaces, position the camera to avoid views of aisles, corridors, or adjacent co-workers. Conversations and movement will be distracting.

Hybrid Collaboration Conferencing Room

3. Focus on speech clarity and privacy, as well as limiting the spread of sound, atmospheric noise, and echoes.

Fabric wall treatments, panels, carpet, and softer seating can help absorb sound in hybrid collaboration environments. Acoustic fabric panels opposite the technology in a room can help with sound absorption. Ensure audio settings with noise suppression. Set speakers to default to low while still allowing for adjustments. Consider secondary microphones in settings where people are sitting far apart.

4. Provide multi-faceted lighting of the space, people, and background.

Multi-directional lighting is best to avoid harsh shadows. Lighter colored surfaces within the space promote light distribution. Dimmable options provide the ability to adjust based on the needs of the space. Diffused lighting is preferred over direct downlights. Avoid placing directional downlights directly over peoples’ heads, which can cause dark shadows on faces. Consider programmable light modes in spaces optimized for video meetings.

Hybrid Office

5. Help people see what’s happening and stay engaged.

Logitech’s Scribe camera for whiteboards and Microsoft Surface Hub digital whiteboards and built-in-context camera help people see what’s happening and stay involved. Steelcase Flex Media Cart untethers technology and makes it moveable for better hybrid collaboration.

6. Create a more inclusive experience.

Microsoft Teams Front Row layout and Logitech’s Grid View camera setting place remote participants in more natural sizes and locations on screen, and frame each in-room participant in their own personal window. Tables and chairs need to be positioned to maintain natural sight lines between those in the room, those who are remote and shared content.

7. Use intuitive furniture and technology together.

Microsoft Teams or Zoom Rooms spaces enable on-touch to join while AI-enabled cameras auto-track and auto-frame Ocular tables make it easy to know where to sit to be on camera.

8. The amount of eye contact and face sizes in video chats is often unnatural.

Especially in a one-on-one conversation. The size of someone’s face makes you feel like your personal space is being invaded which puts you in a hyper-alert state.

Hybrid Private Office

9. Seeing yourself constantly in video chats is fatiguing.

You would never want to stare in a mirror all day. It’s stressful.

10. Movement is limited in Hybrid Collaboration.

Video can keep us stuck in the same spot. People perform better cognitively when they can move.

11. We have to work harder in video chats to interpret people’s non-verbal cues.

When we can only see someone’s head and shoulders, it is harder to know why they are making a certain facial expression or gesture.

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personal spaces flex space

8 Tips on How to Make Personal Spaces for Focus

1. An open office isn’t always the best place to work – particularly now that many people take virtual calls throughout the day.

  • With so many audio-visual distractions, there aren’t enough personal spaces in most offices for people to focus, take a call or rejuvenate.
  • Busy backgrounds and a lack of boundaries distract during video calls.
  • Many spaces aren’t remote-ready. Power, lighting and monitors make it easier to connect.
  • Lack of informational privacy can prevent people from talking about or showing content on sensitive or topics.

2. Offer a variety of privacy options.

Fully enclosed enclaves, pods, screens or shelves can provide diverse ways for people to seek out the right level of privacy for the type of work they’re doing. Well-curated backgrounds can provide a professional look free of distraction for those on the other side of the meeting.

3. A range of seating is needed to support different types of work.

For shared spaces, chairs should respond to bodies of all shapes and sizes and require a few manual adjustments to get comfortable. People with assigned spaces will want a fully adjustable chair they can dial in to their exact preferences, that keeps them comfortable longer.

4. Whether sharing or calling it your own, height- adjustable desks are worth it.

More people ca uses the same space comfortably if shared, and those with assigned desks who may sit longer can change postures and keep moving.

5. Provide optimal lighting for different kinds of hybrid work.

A task light that is designed for on-video experiences highlights people’s faces and helps them control their appearance on camera and make up for ambient light. A table lamp with a shade that provides a soft glow also works well.

6. External monitors not only make it easier to toggle between tasks, but they can make it easier to share content on video.

External cameras can be repositioned or refocused so people or content can be seen well.

7. Flexible power allows people to keep personal devices charged wherever they choose to focus.

While power is standard in most personal spaces, in many shared spaces it can be an afterthought or costly to install, which is where flexible power comes in.

8. Most remote workers experience audio and video difficulties.

  • 89% struggle with video.
  • 85% struggle with audio.

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experience woman seated in chair

Beyond Hybrid. 4 Tips for Going Beyond Hybrid

1. People making more intentional decisions about when and why they go to the office expect a fundamentally new experience.

It’s not so much about where you work, but how you work. People want a new level of agency over their work experience, and while leaders can mandate where it happens – or not – the bigger opportunity lies in challenging assumptions and existing norms.

Workplaces need to adjust to this new reality. If they have the option, more people will make intentional decisions about why and when they go to the office. Leesman, an employee experience measurement firm, calls this “purposeful presence”.

This means employees will think about their reasons to go to the office – an important meeting, face time with the boss or to focus without the family around- rather than just going automatically. And while being together is important, employees are saying the single biggest problem with the office today is the lack of privacy to do individual work.

Some organizations are exploring new workplace approaches, some are staying with existing strategies while others are waiting for more people to return to the office or for hybrid work patterns to stabilize before making changes. Regardless of where you fall on this spectrum, people’s needs have changed, their work has changed, and they need a fundamentally new experience at work.

2. Over half of all meetings (56%) are spent on video.

People need hybrid collaboration spaces where both in-person and remote participants can participate fully, and individual spaces for video meetings where they can hear and not disturb others.

experience flex frames and flex stations

3. In the last year, there has been a 15% drop in assigned spaces.

Pre-pandemic, 88% of people had assigned workstations. Leaders indicate the reduction will continue. This shift challenges the current norms. Those norms include where people start their day, store their things and how they create a sense of belonging.

experience an open workplace

4. Employees are more empowered today.

People have new expectations about how and when they engage in their work. Whether they took part in the “Great Resignation,” “Quiet Quitting” or the “Great Relocation,” employees have a bigger voice about how and where work happens. 

experience front porch open collaboration

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