Colleagues walking through the office corridor, one of them is using a wheelchair.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Cocreating a more accessible and inclusive workplace with employees

Creating a workplace for everyone is about fostering an environment where every employee can thrive, regardless of their abilities. Learn how Siemens Healthineers is cocreating a more accessible workplace in cooperation with employees with disabilities.
Rebecca Murr
Published on December 1, 2023
The way we work is influenced by our surroundings. At Siemens Healthineers, our aim is to provide our employees with the best possible working environment to contribute to an atmosphere where everyone feels welcome, heard, and valued. “Our goal is to create an activity-based and human-centric workplace. We want to design an exceptional user experience in an easy-to-use space that can be tailored to the specific, individual needs,” explains Alina Rehorst, interior designer and Head of Workplace at Siemens Healthineers in Germany.

Photo of Alina Rehorst smiling in the camera.

<p>The goal of Alina Rehorst and her Real Estate colleagues worldwide is to create an <a href="activity-based%20work">activity-based work</a> environment that provides all the functional elements not only for different work styles and tasks, but also for personal preferences.</p>
Graphic on activity-based working that shows different room types and spaces (e.g. library, conference room and rooftop) that are informal or formal and suitable for concentration, routine work, meeting, teamwork or community.
is a work style that allows employees to choose from a variety of settings according to the nature of what they are doing, combined with a workplace experience that empowers them to use those spaces throughout the day.

Our office spaces

First row from left to right: Sao Paulo (Brazil), Helsinki (Finland) and Shanghai (China). 
Second row from left to right: Huizingen (Belgium), Malvern (USA), Erlangen (Germany) and Seoul (Korea).

<p>To allow all employees to benefit from and participate in such a working environment, accessibility plays an important role. Typically, when people think about accessibility, physical accommodations like ramps, elevators, automatic doors, and accessible restrooms come to mind. But not all disabilities are visible and nor are the challenges faced by our colleagues. “When designing our workplace, we have to consider diversity of all kinds. In addition to physical, cognitive, and sensory limitations, there are also individual sensory and social needs that we want to take into account,” explains Alina Rehorst.&nbsp;</p><p>There are different types of disability, both visible and invisible, that can impact employees’ abilities and require specific accommodations. Visible disabilities are readily apparent to others and can include physical disabilities, such as mobility impairments, amputations, limb differences, and the use of mobility aids like wheelchairs or crutches. Blindness and deafness also fall into this category. In contrast, invisible disabilities, such as chronic pain, mental health conditions, or cognitive impairments, are not immediately evident but can significantly impact an individual’s daily life. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 1.3 billion people worldwide currently experience significant disability, which is about 16 percent of the global population.<sup>1</sup></p>
“In order to create an inclusive and accommodating workplace, it is essential to recognize and address the unique needs of employees with disabilities,” says Marc Rücker who works as a Workplace Consultant in Alina Rehorst’s team. That’s why the team started to collaborate with stakeholders like the German association for severely disabled persons and conducted a series of workshops with colleagues with disabilities. By incorporating their viewpoints, we seek to better understand and address the needs of a broader range of employees, whether it’s about making physical spaces more wheelchair-friendly or creating spaces where staff can concentrate and work without distractions.

Photo of Marc Rücker

For Marc Rücker, in creating an inclusive environment, the focus is not just on physical differences. The variety of working styles as well as mental health issues also have to be considered. For example, a lot of employees might be sensitive to noise or light.
Alina Rehorst and Marc Rücker play the role of listeners and facilitators to bring colleagues with and without disabilities together to brainstorm about making their workspace more accessible and supportive of their work. The feedback and suggestions from the participating employees are incorporated directly into the Room Directory developed for Siemens Healthineers, which serves as a global guideline for design and activities in the work environment. For example, it includes functional elements, such as furniture and spatial specifications, for all locations of Siemens Healthineers worldwide that support activity-based working. Of course, local regulations must be borne in mind too.
Marc Rücker is standing on the left side in front of a white board with post-it notes. Alina Rehorst is standing on the right side and is talking.

Accessibility Workshop

In the workshop, Alina Rehorst and Marc Rücker collected feedback from the participants on various topics such as architecture, interior, media, room acoustics, room signage, user experience, and facilities (kitchen, restroom, circulation). 

Much of the feedback has already been included in the Room Directory as recommendations. Below are some examples:

In the first workshop, the team collected ideas for possible new premises. A total of 52 inclusive ideas were created, which Alina Rehorst and Marc Rücker also shared with their colleagues in the USA and other countries. Altogether, 25 specific implementation measures were decided, which will now be included in the Room Directory. The aim of the second workshop was to look at the rooms that are included in the catalogue together with the participants and to get feedback on their equipment and size. In addition, Alina Rehorst and Marc Rücker also showed the first room improvements implemented by Real Estate. “Just visiting one of our offices gave extremely valuable input on what is already good and how the space can be improved even further,” Alina Rehorst reports.
<p>Alina Rehorst and Marc Rücker know that <a href="cocreating">cocreating</a> an inclusive and accessible workplace with people with disabilities is a dynamic and collaborative process. And they also believe that this approach can ultimately contribute to a more diverse, equitable, and innovative work environment. With their commitment to better understanding the unique needs and preferences of our employees, they drive positive change within our company. And they help create a diverse work environment where everyone can thrive, contribute, and succeed.</p>
is a process of involving employees in designing and implementing solutions to address workplace challenges.

By Rebecca Murr

Rebecca Murr is an editor at Siemens Healthineers.