During covid we’ve all had the luxury of working from home, a relaxed environment tailored to our own tastes. While we’ve tried to remain productive there are some things that have been lost from our day-to-day — collaboration, culture and creativity. As these have slipped, businesses are realising that if they want to get people back in the office, they need to make the workplace better than home.
So what makes our house our home besides our wonderful selves? Definitely not the IKEA Billy bookshelves, everyone has those, but maybe some old family furniture? The colour palette we’ve picked for our soft furnishings? The sounds and smells? The plants that we bought that are now taking over the ground floor? There’s lots of little things that make a house a home, but nothing plays such an important role as what we choose to hang on our walls.
That painting your sibling made, those photographs you bought, the proudly framed doodles your children drew at primary school, that canvas from an up and coming local artist. When we hang a piece or art on our walls we are showing everyone who we are.
Last year while we were at home, we reflected on how much we wanted a nice, inspiring, thoughtful space for us to spend time in. A room with a comfortable chair, natural light, a bunch of plants and beautiful illustrations we purchased from that small local gallery. We spent a lot of time at home. We managed to find a balance between how our home functioned for family life and for work. We also got to think about what it would mean to go back to the office, after trying out our new home office set up.
Art has always been a way for humans to express themselves either by creating it or enjoying it. Art is within our core pleasures, we need it to allow our minds to relax and expand. Art and culture is at the core of what makes us human.
Before the world turned upside down we probably spent too much time at the office and looking back now, we wonder what that time really meant to us? How come there are so many people who don’t want to go back? There are lots of factors like commuting time, fear of getting sick, new home tasks, etc. But there is a big factor that companies need to be aware of, having worked in conditions isolated from our colleagues, people are feeling disconnected from the company culture.
Lots of companies are moving towards the hybrid model, where people attend the office 2 or 3 days a week, so a lot of them had to redesign their spaces, now they have less desks, more breakout and flexible areas, introduced collaboration points and outdoor areas to allow safe distancing. The workspace has changed, and with it the purpose of why we need it.
We have a big challenge right now, spaces not only have to fulfil health and safety measures post-vaccination, but we need to make employees and clients feel comfortable, engaged, inspired and culturally connected to their companies. We need them to feel appreciated, that these spaces are created for them and not for the company. The workspace has to be the place to make the company culture stronger, a place for creative expansion.
Let’s talk about how the pending changes in workplace design mirror the changes we’ve already seen in retail design. Offices, like retail stores, can no longer be ‘white boxes’. Why should people go to a shop if they can buy from home? They must offer customers something that they cannot find from the comfort of the settee. An experience. That ‘experience’ is most successfully articulated through the interior design of a space, with art and graphics playing a major role in that overall user experience.
If you are an employer, you should ask yourself, what are you doing to retain your current employees and attract top tier talent. Free coffee and a sit-stand desk isn’t enough. You need to provide and nurture a safe, comfortable and inspiring work environment. You must provide a space employees use because they want to. Not because they have to.
Even the conventional 9 to 5 has fundamentally changed. Leaders are starting to understand that maximum-hours-worked doesn’t necessarily mean maximum productivity is gained. The shift is towards allowing employees the flexibility to work how they work best for a portion of their week. Employee-centric interior design and art is the primary way to embody this approach within a space.
Art has played a role in enhancing our environments ever since humans marked and engraved the walls of caves. We need to bring art into the workspace to give it life, to tell stories, to be connected. From reception murals, to tiny framed prints on banquettes, from big painted canvases on meeting rooms walls to a set of photographs in hallways, or even funky neons or sculptures within those otherwise forgotten corners!
Through art we can communicate not only the brand values but we can make the space express them. Instead of simply saying “We are passionate” in vinyl on a wall, convey the same sentiment with a huge red expressive abstract paint splash on canvas, just like you would in your own house. We need to make the office feel more like the company’s home, proudly showcasing the things it values and that make it special, rather than just saying it. A company mission statement on a wall looks cool, but does it inspire? Not so convincingly as art does.
Gone are the days of the “one function fit’s all”model. Office spaces will be more fluid in the near future. And spaces can become more flexible and stimulating through the correct use of art. Just like when people go to an art gallery to get “thinking”. Why not host art showcases within reception lobbies, where local artists are invited to create pieces that surprise, delight and inspire employees and visitors to the space. Again, this is similar to what we’re seeing within the retail sector – where there is much more of an emphasis on short-term brand presence on the highstreet through activations and pop-ups. It all comes back to the idea of providing a reason to come to the location beyond its conventional functionality and purpose.