Winnipeg worker in sensory-friendly office space wears noise cancelling headphones - Pinnacle

5 Tips for Creating a Sensory-Friendly Office

Sarah Jane Martin Management Best Practices Leave a Comment

Have you ever considered making the switch to a sensory-friendly office? For some employees, sensory-friendly modifications may seem insignificant—but for others, it can dramatically improve their productivity, comfort, and overall job satisfaction.

You can create a more inclusive and enjoyable workspace for everyone with just a few simple adjustments to company policies and office layout. Follow these tips to learn how to create a sensory-friendly office and why it’s important.

What Is a Sensory-Friendly Office?

A sensory-friendly office is a workspace where strong external stimuli—like scents, visuals, or sounds—are reduced or controlled. This prevents the environment from becoming overwhelming, distracting, or uncomfortable for people with sensory sensitivities.

It’s important to remember that sensory sensitivities aren’t a matter of preference. The truth is, they can be quite distressing—physically and emotionally. Understandably, this can hinder work performance and overall health for certain employees. Luckily, there are easy changes you can make in your office to accommodate everyone’s needs.

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Why Businesses are Transitioning to Sensory-Friendly Office Spaces

As discussions of mental health and neurodiversity are more widely encouraged, society’s understanding of sensory processing disorders has broadened—and they’re a lot more common than you might think. Sensory sensitivities are linked to several common conditions, including ADHD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Autism, and many more. Research shows that as many as one in six people have sensory processing challenges

The shift to create accessible, inclusive workplaces goes beyond introducing people from diverse backgrounds into your team. Employers need to focus on making appropriate accommodations—that way, employees will feel welcomed and valued.

All it takes is a few policy changes and strategic design choices to show your team that you’re willing to advocate for their needs and wellbeing. The results: happier, healthier employees, and a more comfortable environment where people can do their best work.

How to Create a Sensory-Friendly Office

Here are five simple ways to reduce sensory input in your office that some employees may find distressing or overstimulating.

1) Eliminate Harsh or Fluorescent Overhead Lighting

While some people might not mind the hum of a bright, fluorescent light fixture overhead, others may find it incredibly distracting or uncomfortable. Those with light sensitivity may experience headaches, anxiety, and other unpleasant feelings—especially early in the morning when the coffee hasn’t quite kicked in. Look for sensory-friendly alternatives, like floor lamps, sunny windows, and incandescent bulbs that produce a soft, warm glow.  

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2) If Your Office is Open-Concept, Provide Access to Quiet Spaces

For the social butterflies in the office, a large, open-concept office is a dream workspace. But for folks with sensitivity to sound, it can significantly affect performance—especially when they have a challenging task requiring deep focus. Providing access to quiet spaces and breakout rooms is incredibly helpful for employees who are sensitive to loud environments.

You can easily convert a large storage closet into a mini office pod for temporary use. We recommend installing a door with a window and proper ventilation, so employees won’t feel isolated. If providing access to quiet spaces isn’t feasible in your office, provide noise-cancelling, over-ear headphones!  

3) Avoid Using Strongly Scented Products 

Scented air fresheners, candles, and perfumes can trigger bad headaches, nausea, or even allergic reactions for folks with scent sensitivities. Stick to unscented cleaning products in your office and enact a scent-free workspace policy for employees. This means no perfumes or colognes, and lightly scented or unscented personal deodorants.

4) Relax Your Dress Code Policies 

Uncomfortable, restrictive clothing can cause significant physical distress for people with sensory processing differences. Assess your workplace dress code policy to determine if it is unnecessarily strict. Do your employees really need to wear a three-piece suit or a dress and high heels to perform their jobs? It’s okay to have standards of professionalism for workplace attire, but if your dress requirements are physically restrictive, it could put some employees at a disadvantage.

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5) Allow for Hybrid Work Models 

It may seem unrelated to sensory sensitivities, but a hybrid work model can have a profoundly positive impact on folks with processing differences—and everyone else, for that matter. Every employee has responsibilities and stressors outside of work, and some days, making the trek to the office can add an extra layer of undue stress. Offering the option to work from the comfort of home makes it easier for employees to stay on track without overexerting themselves.

Empower Your Staff to Work to the Best of Their Abilities

The benefits of creating a sensory-friendly office are far-reaching—for workers, employers, and all areas of business. When your team feels supported and empowered to do their best work, you’ll see huge improvements in employee retention, satisfaction, and productivity. Remember to remain flexible, open-minded, and receptive. When minor accommodations have such a major impact, it’s worth taking extra measures to set your team up for success.  

Sensory-friendly policies are just one way of making your office more welcoming and accommodating for diverse employees. For more tips on making work life better for everyone on your team, browse the Pinnacle blog to learn more.

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