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Arup spearheads inclusive workplace transition in Birmingham

An important part of Arup’s office move was to provide every impacted employee within the firm an opportunity to influence the new fit-out and ensure it accommodated their needs. This approach was framed around supporting neurodiversity, wellbeing, and inclusivity in the workplace.

As part of Arup’s dedication to embracing diversity, the organisation is proud to support Neurodiversity Celebration Week 2024 (18-22 March).

Alison Kilby, an Associate Director in Arup’s Birmingham-based building engineering team, has helped orchestrate the organisation’s recent move back to the city centre at the new 68,000 sq. ft office at Paradise’s One Centenary Way. In the process she has helped to create one of the most diverse and inclusive workplaces in Birmingham.

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Alison Kilby, associate director at Arup.

Alison helped lead an internal group that worked with architecture specialist HOK to first involve individuals from all teams in the layout and designs of the new office across all aspects of the design fit out; from how they envisaged using the spaces, through to finishes, which were selected for low carbon footprints, the visual impact on work settings required for neurodiverse members of staff and conceptual alignment.

HOK also worked with Arup to model each area and simulated ‘Day in the Life Of’ scenarios which emulated different types of employees and the typical journey to work, use of the office during the day and the commute home again. Each journey highlighted a hyper or hyposensitive individual with a different role within the organisation, and successfully demonstrated how the workplace catered to neurodiverse staff members.

The team took all the plans and proposals for review with Arup’s Inclusive Environment team and the Midlands Connect Ability cohort – this is a global Arup network set up to ensure an inclusive and supportive workplace experience for all members, including those with disabilities, long-term health conditions, neurodivergent members and those with diverse needs.

The result ensured the space was thoughtfully designed by Arup’s people, for Arup’s people.

The consultation-led process produced practical solutions that prioritise flexibility to the office layouts, including desk designs and the circulation of both people and teams throughout the floorplates. This approach not only empowers employees, it also enhances productivity and fosters a culture of inclusivity. It also allows for individuals and their teams to work at their own pace and with the required levels of confidentiality.

With a suite of 26 focus rooms across the office of different configurations, individuals and their teams can also work in a wide range of different circumstances; completing confidential calls, sensitive conversations or give colleagues a complete break from team noise without the need to work from home.

Within the open plan areas there are several different workplace settings that allow hyper and hypo sensitive members to focus, collaborate and create and learn in environments that suit their needs. Lifestyle rooms provide an escape for members to take a break from work and enjoy active or social time with colleagues.

Lighting has been a key design focus with an adaptive Circadian Lighting system to suit time of day and seasonal variances. This is designed to have a biological impact on the human body clock and improve wellbeing. Areas of naturally lower lighting utilising desk lamps provide a variety of settings for those that prefer a more subtle lighting arrangement.

Visual connectivity has been a key design factor, with workspaces designed to ensure teams feel connected to one another without being siloed through partitioning. Stairs in the atrium connect Arup members across work settings regardless of team or location.

Urban greening has been maximised throughout the office and includes a preserved moss wall with Arup branding and planting across all floors, while a Mindfulness zone surrounded by planting provides natural light and views of the city.

Alison explains: “Our approach to Arup’s new Birmingham office has centred around empowering our people to have their say on how and where they work. Principles of collaboration expand beyond what Arup does internally, extending to the way we work with our clients as well as the wider community. We have listened and followed through on the principle of offering our colleagues a choice in how they work in our office”.

“We’ve listened to research and what works best for our employees in their home offices and created the kinds of spaces they will benefit from. When we first started putting the design vision of the new office together, we engaged with our internal change champions to understand exactly what was needed to create a more sustainable, and focused Arup workplace. What came through very clearly is that everyone wants to foster productivity and be enabled to do their best work.

“Most of all, Arup supports its neurodivergent workforce and we’re supporting the events and themes of Neurodiversity Celebration Week because we know that one size does not fit all. We value different needs and want to see a level playing field where everyone can succeed, both at Arup, and in the wider world.”

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