Since the turn of the century, there has been a shift on moral and legal policy to encourage companies to recruit employees who might once have been overlooked or discounted. As a result, the number of people with disabilities entering the workforce has been steadily increasing.
According to research undertaken by the Office For National Statistics (ONS), 7.7 million UK people of working age (16-64) reported they had some form of disability in April-June 2020. That represents 19% of the working age population. Of these, an estimated 4.1million were in employment, an increase of 97,000 from the year previously. Over 53% of the disabled population are now in employment, this compares with 81.7% for non-disabled people. The unemployment rate for disabled people is 6.5% compared to 3.5% for non-disabled people.
An underused asset
Companies who develop an inclusive employment policy and foster an inclusive working culture are able to make use of a previously underused asset. There are vast pools of talent among the disabled workforce that were previously overlooked or underemployed. Companies that can provide a positive work environment can tap into this asset, gives them a competitive advantage over those businesses which only pay lip-service to inclusion.
To ensure that disabled people can fully participate in the workforce, offices need to be accessible. This will include practical measures that promote accessibility. Think about how people open and close doors, enter and move around the building, and how they collaborate. Are there any potential barriers to physical accessibility and mobility in your office design and how can these be overcome?
Inclusion is all encompassing
Inclusive office design is not just about accessibility for people with disabilities. Inclusivity is a holistic approach, that makes the office space more flexible and easier to use for everyone. The aim is to help support employee engagement, the extent to which they feel passionate about their workplace and employment.
Employees who are engaged will put discretionary effort into their work and be keen to help the company achieve its goals. In design terms this means creating a space that helps employees select where and how they work. The same principles that support the inclusion of disabled employees also help to increase engagement across the workforce.
Post-Covid inclusion & blended working
The flexible working options that have been evolving in response to the Covid-19 pandemic align with some of those that help to promote inclusion. This might be one reason why so many people have reported a happier working life as a result of the roll-out of remote working. Employees who are given more choice and autonomy over their working lives are generally more satisfied with their employment. The office design of the coming decades will evolve to take account of blended working practices, where remote and on-site working are integrated, with people able to move from one form of working to the other seamlessly.
Inclusion, accessibility and flexibility are going to be the watchwords of office design and employment practice over the coming years. Companies that embrace the change and are proactive are more likely to reap the commercial benefits that these changes could bring.