Designing for a Multi-generational Workforce

Multi-generational workforce depicted through an office meetingThe generation gap is shrinking fast. No longer is it the case of the seasoned employee mentoring younger colleagues. Younger and older employees are now sharing knowledge and skills with each other. Joe Flynn points out in a White Paper that for the first time, our workforce consists of four generations of employees working alongside each another. With an ageing population and later retirement age, Flynn argues our workplaces need to be designed for greater demographic and gender diversity.

Joe Flynn is a workplace strategist with Margulies Perruzzi Architects. His white paper, The Multigenerational Workforce and its impact on Workplace Design, presents seven design principles:

  1. Abandon uniformity
  2. Design for flexibility
  3. Respect the past. Design for the future
  4. Focus on culture, not trend
  5. Plan with technology
  6. Remember ergonomics
  7. Design for a healthy office

Each of these points is explained in the paper.


No go for platform lifts

open platform lift at the bottom of a stairwayIn the video below, a nice explanation of why stairway platform lifts are not the preferred option for wheelchair users and people with limited mobility. While these devices provide access in buildings where passenger lifts are not an option, they are best limited to retrofits of existing buildings. There should be no reason for designing these costly and awkward devices into new buildings. From a universal design perspective it usually means some critical thinking got lost at the design concept stage. These devices provide access in a technical sense, but they don’t provide equity of access, particularly as they need to call someone in the building to come and unlock and operate the device. So generally they will be avoided where possible. That might mean not using the building at all. Think of the potential commercial and social consequences of that. The video below from CERTIS Learning shows how these devices work and why they should be avoided.


Equitable Emergency Evacuation

Thanks to the Office of Access and Functional Needs Library in California, we can all download a free version of Lee Wilson‘s very useful publication, Evacuation of People with Disability and Emergent Limitations. Lee is an access consultant who is very active in Australia on this topic. Clearly, the focus on providing access into buildings now has to be matched with being able to get out in the event of a fire or other emergency. The guide takes you through many scenarios – it has lots of technical information within its 189 pages.

Editor’s noShows the running man icon illuminated in green with both Chinese characters and Englishte: I recently returned from travelling the Silk Road from Western China to Shanghai where emergency exit signs in all hotels were placed 30 cm above the floor level and many were photo-illuminated, so they don’t rely on electricity to stay illuminated in a fire. The running man symbol was used in each case, as pictured left, but I did not see any with the international access symbol as shown above. Also each room picture of two fire escape masks in bright yellow and redhad “fire escape masks” for wearing during evacuation as shown in the picture below. As an aside, I posted the above picture on Linked In – at the time of posting, it received more than 3,600 views, so it is obviously a topic of interest.



Design guide for public spaces

Cover of the Guide with lots of little pictures of place in small squares like a chequerboardThe Illustrated Technical Guide to the Accessibility Standard for the Design of Public Spaces published in 2014 by GAATES (Global Alliance on Accessible Technologies and Environments) is comprehensive. GAATES is based in Canada and refers to the Americans with Disabilities Act for standards, but they also include best practice features and design considerations. This means the guide is applicable almost anywhere. 

The guide is available as a 75MB document to download or you can view it online. The Table of Contents lists: Paths of Travel, Recreational Trails, Beach Access Routes, Outdoor Public Use Eating Areas, Outdoor Play Spaces, Accessible Parking, Obtaining Service in Public Spaces, and Maintaining Accessible Public Spaces.


Shared space or contested space?

front cover of the report. black background with a collage of pictures and the title in white letteringPolicy makers are concerned about growing motor vehicle usage, pollution, and poor health outcomes due to lack of exercise. So, the transport and planning experts are keen to get people out of their cars an onto bikes and public transport. Creating pedestrian malls is looking like a policy favourite too. But this often means that pedestrians have to mingle with slow moving traffic, light rail, and cyclists. Alright for some, but not for everyone. Older poeple in particular do not like to share walkways and footpaths with cyclists. And for many older people, the car is their mobility device.

Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland has done some research on this topic which is titled, Shared Space, Shared Surfaces and Home Zones from a Universal Design Approach for the Urban Environment in Ireland . It comes as two documents, a short executive summary, and the full document. The study explored “contemporary national and international practices and thinking on Shared Spaces, Shared Surfaces and Home Zones and to investigate these concepts from a Universal Design approach in the Irish urban environment. This report sets out key evidence based findings and provides key recommendations in relation to the implementation of Shared Spaces, Shared Surfaces and Home Zones in Ireland”.


Gender-neutral bathrooms: A challenge to design around the code

Gender inclusive bathroom by Elizabeth FelicellaGender-neutral bathrooms have sparked many public debates in the US, however, in Australia, this is still a fairly new concept.  We are familiar with unisex accessible sanitary facilities that provide a space that allows carers and users of any gender.  Yet, the public services’ push towards gender neutral bathrooms to foster inclusiveness of transgender and intersex employees are causing debate in its Canberra buildings.

“We absolutely know it’s necessary to do it and to do it well,” Tim Bavinton, executive director of ACT Sexual Health and Family Planning told Fairfax Media. “But any change in a work environment requires the opportunity for people to understand why the change is necessary, and to address any issues of concern that they may raise.”

The National Construction Codes in Australia only recognises the provision of male and female sanitary compartments.  Perhaps universal design will provide the solution that architects are looking for: “Because public bathrooms need to be designated male or female, it forces transgender and nonconforming individuals to choose between the two, sometimes leading them into uncomfortable or unsafe situations. The code leaves architects with a choice, too: take the easy route and design single and multi-occupancy bathrooms labeled “male” or “female,” or design around the code–the latter of which often takes more creativity and resources.”


Upgrading existing buildings

Front cover of the handbook with a purple background and pictures of buildings in a narrow band across the front.The Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) has produced a new handbook, Upgrading Existing Buildings Handbook. The Preface introduces the document as “one of a series produced by the ABCB … in response to comments and concerns expressed by government, industry and the community that relate to the built environment…on areas of existing regulation or relate to topics which have, for a variety of reasons, been deemed inappropriate for regulation. The aim of the Handbooks is to provide construction industry participants with non-mandatory advice and guidance on specific topics, specifically, buildings classified as Class 2 to 9 in Part A3 of NCC, Volume One”. This is a 47 page document.

Importantly, this handbook outlines a five-step process for scoping proposed new work in existing buildings, with a very strong emphasis at step four to determine whether potential deficiencies are actual deficiencies – i.e. the building does not meet a performance requirement of the National Construction Code. The takeaway message is that Performance Solutions may be the only practical solution to address actual deficiencies, and this is where a Universal Design approach will be most beneficial.