Office spaces will evolve into cultural hubs rather than just a workspace post-lockdown

Patrick McCrae, CEO of ARTIQ, one of the UK’s foremost art consultancies, explores the subject of office spaces post-lockdown…

A glut of articles have emerged on the death of the office, rejoicing in the huge saving that can be made by cutting real estate overheads. Yet pieces predicting the death of the office conceive of an office-space one-dimensionally: as a neutral space for the completion of labour.

The pandemic has made it evident that importing work into our homes does not outweigh the benefits offered by well-nurtured offices. The productiveness and pleasure of seeing colleagues and face-to-face interactions with clients should not be underestimated. Nor should the chance dialogues that we would never think of inaugurating a skype call for, but that help to defuse tension after a difficult meeting or spark an idea that fuels the next project.

The effects of the pandemic

The pandemic has not initiated the end of the office. Instead, it offers us an opportunity to reimagine the office as a cultural hub, nurturing the rich affective benefits that have prior been a by-product of the traditional office, often depending on voluntary extra efforts of colleagues and bosses. This crisis has highlighted just how crucial offices are to company identity and employees’ sense of mental wellbeing and belonging.

Coronavirus, despite its damage to our physical and mental health and the global economy, is ushering in a change that has been afoot for some years: that of purposeful work. Those firms who can reiterate their purpose will thrive as the best candidates look around at how their employers have reacted during this crisis.

The new reality we find ourselves in is throwing up some serious questions: Why do I work? Why do I work for this company? Why am I exchanging my time for money with this specific business? This is fundamentally a question of company culture, which is, without regular human interaction and with restricted funds, in many businesses, being tested to breaking point.

Following the slow easing of lockdown measures, it will be important to have a place to go and not just work, but to talk, to socialise, and fundamentally, to humanise the work we do. The office could morph from a place of work to the physical and cultural hub of a business.

Many businesses exist for more than just profit and for those businesses, the office is already representative of company culture. It is a representation of how the business and those who work within it perceive themselves. In the office this often means excellent facilities and design. One of the many ways to signal this is through art.

Many of ARTIQ’s clients use art collections as a tool for employee engagement. An APPG study found that 60% of people feel art helps them work more productively and another recent study relvealled that people work 30% more quickly in workspaces they have had agency in curating themselves. Art can therefore be used to assert company values.

A cure for mental health?

For instance, our online art classes launched in the wake of the lockdown have been entertaining many clients and their teams. They are alternative option to the many cultural events we usually offer clients in their offices. Indeed, many clients will use their workplace art collections to engage their staff, often forming committees from a cross-section of their workforce to foster inclusivity.

It would be ignorant to argue that having a nice office will be a magic cure to the mental health crisis that is, with every week of lockdown, becoming more extensive. However, an office that is well-designed, offering a place to socialise and to be reminded of company culture, full of art and engagement opportunities will help. The benefits are tangible. In 2017 the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing in the UK published a comprehensive report that collated research showing an undeniable positive link between art and mental wellbeing.

Across all settings, whether in healthcare with art-on-prescription services resulting in a 37 % drop in GP consultation rates or in society at large, with data showing that after engaging with the arts, 82% of people reported greater wellbeing, and 77% engaged more in physical activity, the benefits of art and wellbeing are undeniable. Art is one of a range of items the cultural hub could offer its staff.

The power of art

Indeed half of all office users already believe that artwork makes them more effective, while 61% believe that art inspires them to think and work more creatively, and 82% of people think artwork is an important addition to the workplace. These are all good statistics to show how employers can help to keep their workforce engaged and happy.

Office spaces are likely to become a key point of difference for companies wanting to communicate their prupose and marketing messages to clients, commitment to employees, and stand out to attract new talent. There should be joy in going into the office. A reminder for staff, in the wake of sometimes serious shake ups of headcount that they are working for a purposeful and stable business. We foresee an attitudinal shift post-lockdown, with firms taking a greater interest in how they make the most of the office, and how to foster company culture with staff increasingly working remotely.

This time has taught us all a great amount about our relationships with the various the people we communicate with and the social interactions at the centre of this. The personal relationships we have built with our co-workers, our suppliers and our clients should not be underestimated.

Whilst there is no doubt home working is here to stay, flexibility is key: holding the office as a hub, a central space for people to go and see their co-workers, their friends and for company culture to be reasserted, for purpose to be underlined and for those people whose time we are asking for to know that it is all actually worth it. Businesses that grasp this opportunity and create a space that is not only conducive to positive working, but also reinforcing the joy of work, will thrive.

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