Sensory-Friendly Co-Working Space Design in Shared Offices

Co-working space design is a topic of interest in shared workspaces.  Large companies create co-working spaces for their employees to work together.  Individual offices are reduced or may not even exist.  Workers may share desks and worksurfaces.  Small companies and solo-entrepreneurs use co-working spaces too.  In those instances, space is rented both short and long term.

The use and design of co-working spaces have benefits. However, there can be many challenges too.  Research, “Connections Between Sensory Sensitivities in Autism; the Importance of Sensory Friendly Environments for Accessibility and Increased Quality of Life for the Neurodivergent Autistic Minority” by Heidi Morgan (2019) found that there is no “one-size-fits-all” for sensory-friendly workspaces 1.  Consider making your co-working space sensory-friendly to address the needs of workers.

To be sensory-friendly, you must attend to the eight senses.  Yes, you have eight senses!

Two people sitting at a shared desk in a co-working space designed office.

How to use the senses in co-working space design


One of the most helpful things to do in co-working space design is to review lighting.  Use a lighting checklist.

Eyeball icon.

In a shared workspace, a pivotal question to ask is, do lights and natural light contribute to the health of the building?   The answer should be yes. This co-working space design idea is not just a “bright” idea. Access to daylight is critical.  In short, lighting can contribute to health by offering adjustable brightness from multiple lighting sources.  For example, ensure there are both overhead lights and desk lights.   If you have standard fluorescent lights, cover then with special light filters or diffusers.


Ear icon.

One of the critical disadvantages of co-working is noise.  Especially in shared office space, background noise can be a problem.  Offset this and ensure quiet areas and quiet rooms are made available.  Add noise dampening materials like carpet tile and acoustic wall or ceiling tiles.


Mouth with tongue open icon.

An important consideration of a co-working space design is taste. Necessarily, make sure there is access to food and beverage on site.  In particular, access to water is critical.  Workers need to eat and drink regularly to be healthy and productive.  A co-working space requirement is an office kitchen.  Furthermore, choose an office location that has lunchtime eateries nearby.


Hand pointing icon.

One way to offer a creative co-working space design is to pay attention to touch and the tactile experience.  So, how closely do people work together?  Some people like to work together.  However, other employees do not and tend to be more productive in private spaces.  Modular office tables can be a solution to allow different configurations. Provide both social spaces, with comfortable seating where people can work together.  Alternatively, provide options for single-person workspaces.


Nose icon.

The key to enhancing the benefits of co-working spaces through design is paying attention to the sense of smell.  Ever be exposed to a bad smell at work?  It cannot be ignored and no work gets done.  The first thing to do is to design a system so that waste and recycling is managed.  They are the most significant contributors to smell.


Stick person running icon.

One of the common downsides of co-working spaces is their location.  If you are choosing to rent, buy, or build, check out the location’s walkability score.  Chose one with a high walk score that is accessible by walk, bike, and transit, in addition to parking.

On the other hand, what are the benefits of co-working? Co-working spaces often have a gym or active living space inside.  A healthy worker is a happy worker, so including space to move is vital.

Finally, how to design a modern co-working space?  Simple, make it accessible.  Make the accessibility features so integral to the design that they do not stand out.  Accessibility is not just for people who use wheelchairs.  Accessibility features help people who have a difference in any of their senses.  They also help people who use other mobility devices like a cane or walker.  Additionally, they help people who do not use any sort of assistive device at all.

BalanceStick figure balance on one leg icon.

Another co-working space design tip is considering how the worker’s sense of balance used at work?  If there are elevators, ensure stairs are open for use and not just in case of emergency.


Stick figure and organs icon.

The anatomy of good co-working space design includes interoception.  That is your eighth sense.  It tells you when you are hungry, thirsty, or have to go to the toilet and is your internal organ sense.  So, ensure toilet facilities are easily and readily accessible to all.  That means that there are gender-neutral and wheelchair-accessible toilets on every floor. Additionally, ensure toilets are in sufficient quantity.

Remember, your co-working space checklist is eight points.  Make your shared workspace sensory-friendly and you will have happy, healthy, and productive workers.

  1. See
  2. Hear
  3. Taste
  4. Touch
  5. Smell
  6. Movement
  7. Balance
  8. Interoception

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Did you know? Businesses and organizations that support autism also adopt a sensory-friendly workspace. Autism-friendly companies often have a neurodiverse workforce.  Their workers are more likely to have sensory sensitivity or experience sensory overload.  Furthermore, an autism-friendly work desk is sensory-friendly too.

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  1. Morgan, H. (2019). Connections Between Sensory Sensitivities in Autism; the Importance of Sensory Friendly Environments for Accessibility and Increased Quality of Life for the Neurodivergent Autistic Minority. PSU McNair Scholars Online Journal, 13(1).
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