Quiet rooms are still rare at Canadian organizations, but as the trend towards having them grows internationally, some companies are seeing the benefits.
The idea of these spaces is to support employees who might need some time throughout the day for religious observance, personal time or anything else that requires a silent sanctuary. Part of the drive for the rooms is to support Islamic staff, who pray five times a day and up to three times during work hours. However, the multi-faith rooms have uses beyond prayer.
Nine of BMO Financial Group’s offices around the country feature an official quiet room, which besides being used for religious observance is also open to nursing mothers, for meditation and for time alone. The rooms are devoid of computers and other office machinery and furniture other than chairs.
The company started providing the rooms in 2006, says BMO senior manager, diversity and inclusion Liz Spencer. “It was a response to requests from employees for private spaces,” she says. “We’re very focused on getting and retaining the best talent and creating a supportive and respectful work place is part of that.”
The use of the rooms is self-monitored, so if staff are misusing them – by taking phones in or leaving personal property behind, for example – it’s up to their colleagues and managers to remind them of the guidelines. Overall, it’s no different from the need to remind people to do their own dishes in the kitchen, Spencer says.
The company works closely with their real estate group to find and develop appropriate space. Having that team understand the basic requirements of a quiet room was key to the success across the country as they could be proactive when redesigning any office space.
Creating these rooms may be one of a range of policies adopted to fulfil obligations for accommodating religious requirements, but prayer rooms are too often seen “in the same functional way as toilets or storage spaces”, says Chris Hewson, who works on the Multi-faith Spaces research project based at the University of Manchester.
Hewson says organizations in the public and voluntary sectors tend to be more aware of the benefits of providing multi-faith spaces. This is especially true in public services and retail, where an extra business argument is that customers as well as staff have prayer needs.
BMO’s advice for developing your own quiet rooms:
Consider adding a quiet room when moving into a new space or renovating current space, working in conjunction with your real estate team.
Have clear guidelines on design and use so managers and employees understand the purpose of the space.
Although the uses are different, it can be helpful to build a quiet room in partnership with a wellness room because they both have different requirements to standard office space.
The spaces should be carpeted and big enough for individuals to kneel.
Rooms that will be used for religious purposes should be near a bathroom for ritual washing and need a navigational system so users can, for example, face Mecca.
If nursing mothers will be using the room, an electrical outlet is a must for expressing milk.
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