ADHD Friendly Office Design Hacks

This October is ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyper Disorder) awareness month, so we’re here to bust the myths and offer some ADHD friendly office design hacks to address the challenges that so many people with ADHD face day to day.

As an office design and fit out company our aim is to support and offer guidance on creating a more inclusive workplace, where everyone feels valued and accepted. Part of that is understanding the unique needs of businesses and their workforce. In this article we’ll uncover:

Busting the Myths of ADHD
Who ADHD Affects
Why Should Businesses be Aware?
How To Recognise ADHD Traits
What Careers Attract Someone With ADHD?
How Employers Can Support ADHD Employees?
Day to Day Challenges of Having ADHD
Addressing Everyday Challenges With ADHD Friendly Office Design Hacks
ADHD Diagnosis Rates Are Soaring – What Should You Know?

Busting the Myths of ADHD

ADHD is not just a neurodiversity that should be associated with ‘naughty school boys’, as it has been wrongly associated in the past. Although it is far easier to identify in boys, it could well be affecting member of your team and they may not even be aware themselves. Sometimes it takes a close colleague or friend to recognise the symptoms. 

People with ADHD are often considered to be flighty, not focussed, and have a bad memory, impulsive and disorganised, but for so many this is simply not the case. Those with a late diagnosis often find ways to overcome these struggles through self-taught coping mechanisms that they have unconsciously done throughout their life.

Who ADHD Affects

The ADHD brain is complex, it’s creative, sociable, interesting and can be extremely knowledgeable about specialist subjects. Therefore, it’s not always easy to recognise ADHD or believe that these people experience daily challenges. It’s especially hard to spot, as a lot of the traits can be similar to menopause, hormonal changes and trauma.

With more awareness on the topic, people are beginning to identify with the challenges of ADHD, leading to a soar in later life diagnoses. This is especially true of girls and women, who present their ADHD traits very differently to their male counterparts through unconscious-masking. As a result, ADHD diagnoses for females might not occur until the age of 40-50.

Why Should Businesses be Aware?

Many people have lived much of their adult and working life unaware they have a neurodiversity. Consequently, they may have struggled at work, changed jobs frequently or found their own coping mechanisms without even realising it. 

Inclusivity in the workplace is paramount and through building awareness, people who identify with ADHD traits can be given professional opportunities that meet their strengths. Employers can cater for their needs and no doubt reap the rewards of a stronger more inclusive workplace.

How To Recognise ADHD Traits

Some people with ADHD can fulfil professional and skilled careers, unaffected by their neurodiversity. 

On the other hand, there are people that really struggle. For example, red flags could be:

  • Poor communication skills
  • Not partaking in group discussions 
  • Dominating the conversions
  • Responding late to texts or email
  • Coming across blunt and rude
  • Easily distracted 
  • Tendency to procrastinate.

If you have concerns about someone who might be struggling with undiagnosed ADHD, here’s some things to look out for:

  • High stress in what should be a straightforward task. 
  • Overwhelmed by lots of tasks presented at once.
  • Hyper focussed on a task, unable to hear others, even when they are asking direct questions.
  • Skipping meals and breaks to get something done.
  • Frustrated by interruptions and presence of others.
  • Unable to focus and taking lots of breaks, or interrupting others at work.
  • Going off on a tangent.
  • Vacant in meetings or conversation, but often taking in the information. 
  • Interrupting mid-conversation or finishing sentences for others.
  • Leaving projects to the last minute but working overtime to get it done.
  • Spending longer on a task than others may consider necessary. For example, writing and rewriting drafts.
  • Giving a task their all at the beginning, then not completing it, or taking longer to complete, as the interest deteriorates.

What Careers Attract Someone With ADHD?

People with ADHD have to follow a career that they are passionate and interested in. For an ADHDer it can be harder to think inside the box rather outside, as they are inquisitive, impulsive, and intuitive, with a thirst to learn more and make changes. As a result, you will likely find a lot of entrepreneurs have ADHD, even if they don’t know it yet. Take Richard Branson for example. 

These behaviours are attractive to many employers, who seek to recruit those with a desire to innovate, troubleshoot and exude passion. An ADHD brain must be stimulated to remain interested in their specialism. They are not intended for repetitive work but can have an eye for detail if a topic feeds into their interest. With this in mind, here are a list of professions that might typically suit someone with ADHD:

  • Teacher
  • Journalist 
  • Chef
  • Event Organiser
  • Stage manager
  • Beautician
  • Marketer
  • Hair Stylist
  • Small business owner
  • Entrepreneur
  • Freelancer
  • Heathcare provider
  • IT and tech
  • Artist

How Employers Can Support ADHD Employees?

People with ADHD, knowingly or unknowing, can find the workplace a challenging environment. The best thing an employer can do is spread awareness of ADHD. If an employee believes they have ADHD or has been diagnosed, the employer should:

Acknowledge there is an issue, and ensure the employee feels heard.

Understand and comfort the employee. 

Never assume you know their struggles as each ADHD person has different levels of traits

Support by asking what can be done differently?

Research ADHD and see if you can offer help and guidance at work.

Provide assistance in areas the person is struggling.

Be Flexible as the person may need to work from home or in a quiet space. There needs may also change, but if you remain flexible you will also get the best out of someone with ADHD.

Day to Day Challenges of Having ADHD

While employing someone with ADHD can bring many benefits to your organisation, they can suffer day to day challenges that can interfere with work and relationships. Here are some examples of ADHD challenges.

  • Distractions can be small noises, movement, or day dreaming. Having somewhere quiet to escape to is essential.
  • Impulsivity, anger and going off on a tangent can lead to frustrations, so regular check-ins and time management tools can help keep the workload on track.
  • Hyperactivity can cause difficulty sitting still and fidgeting. In a workplace where people are mobile, such as a classroom, retail or hospitality setting, this is less of an issue, but in an office environment, the employer should consider allowing more face-to-face interactions.
  • A poor memory can really impact a person’s performance at work, but there are ways to manage this. Writing lists is important, but they need to be achievable. It’s best to spend some time breaking down large tasks into manageable chunks to prevent being overwhelmed. These smaller tasks can then be presented in list form or a task management tool. There can be great satisfaction in physically ticking off an item as complete.
  • Boredom is torture to someone with ADHD. If a task is not interesting it can be put off, left on the backburner or dismissed altogether. So, when it comes to paperwork and tedious tasks, you’re best setting timers and deadlines to keep the ADHD brain challenged.
  • Hyperfocus is not necessarily a trait you might associate with ADHD, but hyperfocus can be an ADHD superpower. It is when someone is so focussed on their work they can’t hear or notice what is happening in their surroundings. Noises, conversations, and hunger can be suppressed when someone is in hyperfocus mode. While this sounds amazing, it may mean the person comes across as rude or arrogant. If forced out of hyperfocus mode, it can cause the individual stress, anxiety, anger and generate mood swings. Hyperfocus is not something an ADHDer can force or switch on or off.
  • Sensory overload can be set off by anything, from the clothing you wear to a noisy environment; from being hyperfocussed to juggling a range of tasks. Sensory overload causes someone with ADHD to burn out quickly. With ADHD it can take a lot of energy to tune into a task, as detractions and burnout are major challenges.  To help reduce sensory overload, encourage breaks, and provide somewhere to wind down. 

Addressing Everyday Challenges With ADHD Friendly Office Design Hacks

JBH Refurbishments is an office design and fit out company that frequently explores the unique needs of different working environments and the people within them. ADHD is a very real challenge that affects more people than most of us realise. Growing awareness of neurodiverse challenges including ADHD, is helping us to reach the next level of an inclusive workplace.

We’ve already talked about some of the challenges associated with ADHD, so now let’s look at the how we can address these with some clever ADHD friendly office design hacks.

Quiet Spaces

Our number one ADHD friendly office design hack is the most important of all; introducing a quiet space, somewhere to unwind, or work quietly without distractions is super important. In fact, everyone can benefit from a quiet workspace from time to time. Here are some examples of spaces you can include within your office design to provide a space away from distractions:

  • Soundproof booths for individuals or larger booths for small groups.
  • Private meeting rooms in a variety of sizes to suit differing needs.
  • Breakout space within the office where an individual can escape their workstation.
  • Kitchens (when quiet) and canteens can double up as a workspace, provided they offer a range of table/seating options.
  • Acoustic panelling within the office can absorb sound.
  • Covered outdoor areas can offer a great alternative workspace in warm weather.
  • A wellbeing room with relaxation influences can be a space to unwind or take a break.

Activity Zones 

Working with people as part of a group stimulates someone with ADHD, and it can encourage everyone to collaborate more effectively. To encourage collaboration, our second office design hack is to introduce activity zones, a place where different groups/departments can sit, discuss, or even mentor others. Typically, we’d suggest dedicating a space that is away from the main office. We suggest designing and furnishing the activity zone with:

  • Comfortable seating, ideally with integrated tables and charging for laptops.
  • Large central table for displaying/sharing/work.
  • AV system for conference calls, or exploring digital documents, videos and other assets as a collective.
  • Acoustic panels or soft furnishings to absorb the groups noise.

Energy Burners

People with ADHD can suffer with excess energy and overthinking, causing fidgeting and unsettled behaviours. To help burn off pent-up energy or unwind, an office design hack is to introduce:

  • A small gym
  • A wellbeing room for light exercise
  • Height adjustable desks to allow for sitting and standing
  • Table tennis, pool table, darts, gaming or virtual simulator
  • Treadmill or bikes with integrated laptop desks
  • An outdoor space.

Calming Design Features 

Maintaining a calm space can be incredibly helpful to someone with ADHD. An ADHD office design hack is to use decorative tranquil design features, such as:

  • Office planting
  • Water features 
  • Fish tanks 
  • Soft furnishings
  • Pendent lighting 
  • Lamps 
  • Rugs 
  • Sofas
  • Acoustic panels and accessories 
  • Music
  • Muted tones, greens and blues

Task Support 

We’ve touched on the difficulty of boredom, time management, and forgetfulness associated with ADHD. So, it’s important to integrate office design features that promote better productivity, such as:

  • Clocks and time aids
  • Interesting décor
  • Activity zones (as mentioned above)
  • Visual leadership boards and reward schemes
  • AV system
  • Spaces designed for comfort
  • Inspirational messages and artwork

ADHD Diagnosis Rates Are Soaring – What Should You Know?

The subject of ADHD has captured many headlines in recent years, with diagnoses rates rising to astronomical levels, particularly in adults. 

The NHS Business Services Authority data for England released in December 2022 identified 170,000 patients who were prescribed at least one CNS stimulants (ADHD medication) between July and September 2022, which is an increase of 2.4% from the same period in 2021. However, these figures do not account for numbers of undiagnosed people with ADHD and those that are not on medication. 

Dr Tony Lloyd, the Chief Executive of the ADHD Foundation, explained their figures suggest around a 400% increase in the number of adults seeking a diagnoses since 2020. According to the foundation, one in 20 people in the UK are affected by the condition. 

In particular, girls and women have g­­­­one undiagnosed, as the traits present very differently than in boys and men. Females have a tendency to mask and internalise ADHD symptoms, which then get wrongly diagnosed as anxiety, menopause or depression, while boys and men present externally through their behaviours.

Dr Ulrich Müller-Sedgwick, a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, reported that least four times more boys than girls receive a diagnosis of ADHD. Therefore, there are expected to be 50%-75% undiagnosed ADHD women in the UK. 

These women have likely struggled with symptoms of ADHD for much of their lives, due to their ability to mask and internalise. In fact, ADHD rates for women over forty have soared in recent years due to increased awareness. 

ADHD has also been spotted by healthcare professionals due to more women aged of 45 and 55 seeking support for menopausal symptoms, which can be similar to ADHD traits, such as an inability to focus, brain fog, forgetfulness and losing items.

Doing their bit to share their own experiences are celebrities and entrepreneurs, who have outed themselves as ADHD. The likes of Loose Women presenter, Nadia Sawalha, Melanie Sykes, Christine McGuinness and Johnny Vagas, have publicly spoken about their struggles, explaining that the diagnosis brings clarity to their behaviours and allows them to explore medication, therapies and coping mechanisms. 

Share and Spread Awareness

This blog has allowed us to research in detail ADHD, and explore how we can all promote a more inclusive workplace. If we can help you create an ADHD friendly office design, please get in touch with our team. In the meantime, we ask that you share this link and show support for ADHD Awareness Month. 

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