Have you been looking forward to returning to in-person meetings? Maybe you want to avoid them? Returning to in-person meetings after a long period of working from home can be a challenge. That is true even for people who miss being in-person. Shifting from working from home, to hybrid work, or full-time in person is an adjustment for everyone. Moreover, it is a bigger challenge for people who experience sensory overload or sensory sensitives. According to a research article titled, “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), approximately 95% of adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) report co-occurring sensory differences that impact their day to day life 1. Make your in-person meeting sensory-friendly to include the neurodivergent community!
Make the meeting environment comfortable
Environment plays a huge role in workplace performance. Furthermore, a sensory-friendly environment will help people be more productive at work. To start, here are some ideas about seating for meetings:
- Ensure comfortable seating.
- Have different styles of chairs for different body types.
- Add chair socks, glides or balls to reduce the noise of chair legs scraping against the floor.
- Consider a short stand up meeting instead.
In addition, bright, overhead lights can add to stress. Choose a space or room with natural light instead. Remove or cover old fluorescent lighting. And let people wear hats or sunglasses if needed!
Address noise in the meeting space. For example, is there a loud fan or ventilation in the meeting space? Can it be turned off for the meeting? More than half of adults are likely to have hearing loss. Therefore, add acoustic tile, carpet tile and noise absorbing furniture like wood. They all help reduce echo and improve the sound in the room.
Most importantly, change your physical greetings. While handshakes were previously the norm, let people choose greetings that make them comfortable. For example, a fist bump, short bow or small wave are good alternatives.
Give sensory-friendly presentations
Is a presentation part of your meeting? Then, make it sensory-friendly! Here are some condensed tips:
- Limit words on the slide.
- Show and tell, both.
- Large font size for easy reading.
- Use high contrast.
Make sure to include different types of learners. For instance, think of how you can incorporate images for visual learners. Tell a story for auditory learners. Moreover add numbers, graphs, lists for digital learners. And finally, add something to do for kinesthetic learners.
Eliminate artificial smells
Artificial smells tend to be overwhelming for people. Artificial smells include strong deodorant and perfume/ cologne. Thus, institute a scent-free workplace. Furthermore, it is important to ensure that the meeting location does not have any strong smells, like air fresheners.
Designate a quiet area
Quiet areas are important to have in work spaces. A quiet area will allow participants to take a quick break whenever needed. Create a quiet zone for your workspace. Encourage team members who might be overwhelmed by a return to in-person work to use the zone! A quiet area should have limited noise or no noise at all. Moreover, you can reduce lighting, or add task lights only. The space should be clutter-free. Add comfortable seating.
Have sensory tools available
Sensory tools play a huge role for those with sensory sensitivity. Therefore, have them available at work. Moreover, have them available for sensory-friendly in-person meetings. Here are some examples:
- weighted lap pad
- water and food
Ask for feedback
Want to keep improving your sensory-friendly in-person meetings? Get feedback from your team. Give people an opportunity to share what makes them comfortable. Specifically, ask them what creates a sensory-friendly in-person meeting for their senses.
Adapt your meetings to make people comfortable. You will make your team feel included. Sensory-friendly in-person meetings help you improve accessibility and diversity for your team.
In conclusion, are you interested in learning more about being sensory-friendly, accessible and inclusive in the workplace? Read more in the following blog posts:
- Mental Health at Work: Manage Sensory Overload
- Sensory-Friendly Co-Working Space Design in Shared Offices
- How to Create Sensory-Friendly Emails
- Productivity at Work: Love Your Workspace
- Morgan, H. (2019c). 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). https://doi.org/10.15760/mcnair.2019.13.1.11