When it comes to spacial design in the commercial office sector, you tend to hear a lot about trends. Architectural and interior design magazines are flush with articles on the matter. There is feature after feature about ergonomic standing workstations and recreational spaces as companies compete with Silicon Valley firms when it comes to the bells and whistles of a corporate environment. In response, many companies clamor to update their office spaces to remain relevant, get press, and attract up and coming talent in the process. Yet far too often, they miss the boat on one extremely important attribute – accessibility. Sure, they may check the boxes on what’s required by municipal and provincial building codes, but it rarely spans beyond that. As a result, a pool of prospective (and current?) talent is left on the sidelines. Of course, it’s not just about accommodating human resources, as a number of businesses serve customers/clients at their office. Imagine if a prospective client arrives to find that their own mobility and usability is challenged from the moment they approach the offices of a commercial property?
Luckily, the oversight that we have addressed above is not related to you. You are here after all, in search of answers for how to make your office more accessible through renovations, retrofits, and upgrades. Let’s review.
Four Updates to Make to Your Office Space to Make It More Accessible to ALL Staff, Clients and Visitors
Remove Barriers to Entry
Your fire escapes, restrooms, and main entrance are all accessible because building codes have long dictated the necessity. But it’s not enough. Move from room to room and workstation to workstation in addition to break areas and any other space that is supposed to be used by staff and clients alike. Can all wheelchairs, walkers, and knee-scooters (etc.) move from space to space with relative ease? If not, someone will invariably be singled out, and left out.
While widening doors/entryways and removing elevated step-ups in your renovation will make a big difference, consider something more dramatic that better opens up the office. Many businesses are choosing to knock down entire walls to create a more communal environment. This not only creates more usable space, studies prove that in a corporate environment it fosters better communication, collaboration, a freer flowing of ideas. By removing literal barriers to entry, you remove figurative ones too. As a result, your office will enjoy greater accessibility, and productivity.
Free Flowing (and accident-free) Flooring
Flooring in traditional office spaces can not only be challenging for those with physical challenges, it can be downright dangerous.
For one, carpets may be impossible for wheelchairs to navigate over. Companies should tear out and replace challenging carpet with accommodating flooring. In addition, certain types of flooring are more slippery than others. Those who cannot quickly correct their balance can sustain injury. Slip resistant floors must be installed. Hardwood, laminate, vinyl, and ceramic flooring alike must have a manufacturer stated friction coefficient of around .5. While slip resistance is factored into outdoor wheelchair ramps, it must also be considered for indoor ramps in the office.
In addition, flooring renovations must consider what the surface is like today, and tomorrow. Day to day use impacts the integrity of the floor. This is where the AC Rating comes in. An AC rating is used for laminate and vinyl floors in the office. It is a measure of resistance to abrasion, impact, and stains, all of which can pose a challenge not only to those with physical limitations, but all staff, clients, and visitors.
More Thoughtful Lighting Installations
Not all mobility issues relate to biomechanics. Those with vision impairments (blurred or limited vision in low light) also require accessibility upgrades, which requires retrofitting of lighting installations. Your office accessibility upgrade should look to better leverage natural lighting by day, and be more thoughtful with artificial lighting at night. The latter is also important for rooms and areas that do not enjoy access to windows. On that note, a renovation could factor in the addition of windows for outdoor facing walls.
If your office still uses incandescent lights (as some warehouse conversions do) replace them with modern lighting systems. Old incandescent lights that were commonly used until around 2010 are not only energy inefficient, they have a correlated color temperature (CCT) of about 2800K (Kelvin) which provides for poor contrast and color perception, rendering them less accessible than smarter LED alternatives, which leads us (in part) to our next point.
Employ IoT for All of Your Employees
The internet of things (IoT) has forever changed (for the better) how offices function. Lighting (as per above), security, heating and air-conditioning, audio/video, and on-premises appliances must all be made more usable to all. If Smart office technology is not introduced to better manage systems some of your staff may continue to face unnecessary obstacles. For instance, simple things such as adjusting room temperatures when burning the midnight oil at the office on a cold winter’s night can be a challenge when HVAC controls are literally out of reach. Smart technology can change all of that, as staff can access controls via their smartphone or laptop. That’s just one small example of how IoT can transform their experience. Consider IoT when planning for your accessibility renovation, and ask contractors about working Smart installations into the project. The investment today will pay dividends for decades to come.
Want to learn more about how to make your office more accessible? If your company or development is in the greater Winnipeg area we encourage you to contact Vulcan Construction for a consultation. We are Winnipeg’s commercial accessibility renovation experts.