The Office Renaissance: The Art of Designing Inspiring Workspaces
By Amira Hashish
The definition of the office will never be the same as the world emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic. This past year has made us appreciate the significance of our surroundings and the importance of good design in our work environments.
After more than a decade of working in a newsroom, I decided it was time to set up my own business and ‘work from anywhere’ with a client base that spans Europe and America. Mine is just one of millions of similar stories.
Whether the pandemic has resulted in a career change or simply an introduction to flexible working, employers are recognising that their staff do not want to return to office life as they once knew it. A survey conducted by research and advisory company Gartner revealed that more than two-thirds (74%) of CFOs plan to permanently shift employees to remote work after the Covid-19 crisis ends. Offices are undergoing major redesigns to adhere to the new hybrid way of working that companies, including tech giants Google, Spotify and Twitter, are adopting.
But do we want to continue spending the majority of our ‘work from anywhere’ time at home? It can be isolating and lacks a sense of community. Hence why design-conscious coworking spaces that blend the different facets of our lifestyles are set to thrive.
Josh Wyatt, CEO of NeueHouse which has private work and social spaces in New York, Los Angeles and Miami, says: “People, now more than ever, are acutely aware of the value of time, choice and the various forks in the road of their personal and professional lives. The pandemic has awoken all of us with a sense of the finite. As such, people should expect special moments when working – spaces and communities that empower their creativity and most importantly allow them to flourish.
“At NeueHouse, even pre pandemic, this sense of providing spaces and moments to flourish has always driven us. As we emerge into this new way to work, we have doubled down on ensuring our services, design, programming and community all provide moments where people creatively excel and find happiness. This rebirth of expecting more, opening one’s eyes to surroundings and seeking a supportive community is how the working environment will look in the future.”
He believes every workspace should approach their mission with a dedication to design and the delicate details that impact our ability to concentrate, create and ideate.
“High performance moments, that feeling of being in the flow or flourishing, is often driven by design that both inspires but also provides ease of work.” he adds. “Elevated, calm, warm and inviting moments wrapped within a diverse set of spaces where a worker can plug in and out of communal and private moments should be the north star design brief. At NeueHouse, we call ourselves a ‘cultural speakeasy’ which we feel captures our design and programming ethos where culture and commerce collide.”
Craig Knight, who heads up a research group called Identity Realisation (IDR) as part of the University of Exeter, is a firm believer in art being connected to workplace productivity. He summed up his thoughts for The Guardian: “There is a real tendency to opt for lean workspaces, designed to encourage staff to just get on with their work and avoid distraction. But there isn’t a branch of science in the world which believes this approach boosts productivity or makes for happier workers…If you enrich a space people feel much happier and work better; a very good way of doing this is by using art.”
Design studio Morgan Lovell, whose mission is to “transform offices into captivating workplaces” has released a thought-provoking essay on art and its effect on productivity in offices. “When we discuss the use of art in a client’s office design, we talk about its ability to stimulate creativity or inspire thought processes. We talk about its ability to reduce stress and improve wellbeing through its relaxing, contemplative nature. And of course, art can take so many different forms – from wall graphics and photographs through to sculptures and living walls – you can find a decorative effect to meet whatever mood you are trying to create,” it explains.
A good starting point for incorporating art into our working day would be via the blank screens that are prominent throughout so many physical spaces. How many times have you walked into office lobby areas, meeting rooms or open plan work zones to see empty, switched-off screens hanging from the walls? Niio Art sees these screens as digital canvases with the potential to bring meaningful art into their environments and inspire an audience that spans way beyond the traditional ‘art scene’.
As the leading platform enabling digital art, Niio is utilising a growing network of 5,000 artists from 82 countries to help interior designers transform existing screens in the office, and any space for that matter, from a black void into an endless rotating digital canvas.
Co-founder and CEO Rob Anders is passionate about the role digital art plays in design. He believes it should be easily accessible and affordable: “We need art now more than ever. And by art I’m talking about the opportunity for people to stop and have a moment, to ponder and think, perhaps start a conversation,” he says. “Our platform is replacing the screen void with vitality by giving people access to the largest community of media artists and a seamless way to display premium art to any screen in any location.”
Utilising a recurring series of digital art can also provide a way of connecting offices that exist in various parts of the world. It reinforces the notion of a common style between those spaces and makes employees feel a sense of familiarity. “We have built an extremely robust platform which enables us to deliver this content to any screen in any place according to different types of business models,” adds Rob. “It can move and adapt to different times of the day as well.”
Creating fluidity between spaces using art and design is a core part of the concept behind Birch, which opened its first hotel and coworking members club around 30-minutes north of London during the pandemic. London based interiors studio Red Deer has styled the estate, which includes a 15th century mansion, a lido and sprawling grounds, to coexist with its flexible nature. There isn’t an obvious transition between the coworking area, the restaurants or the hotel rooms. That is very deliberate.
“I guess it’s like wearing a suit,” Birch co-founder Chris Penn ponders. “It used to be the norm to wear formal attire to work. But the uniform was taking personality and individuality out of people in a work environment and I think offices did the same, right? They created these structured grey, neutralised environments. For the modern day personality, individuality and creativity is what differentiates the best businesses, brands and companies from those that are just existing within that marketplace.
“You can’t expect those people to be able to perform as individuals in an environment which is teaching them to be robots, confined by their uniform or the uniformity of the place in which they perform their task. People realise that if you dress someone in a suit, they are going to act like they are in a suit. If you allow people to dress how they like, suddenly their personality will come out, they will think differently and they will probably remove barriers to their thought process. It’s the same for the workspace design.”
He is passionate about creating spaces where you can rest, explore, connect, work, taste, move, or dance – all in one place. He says: “Our lives have become blended. If you don’t provide facilities for people to enjoy themselves then you’re creating a barrier to them being able to engage. The kind of people that we are trying to attract love their work. They are not defined by it but they absolutely love it. It’s a big part of their lives. They also love going to festivals, listening to music and learning new things. So why would you prevent them from doing any of those things? We want Birch to be a place where people can escape. But we’re accepting that in order to escape you need to do the things that you want to do. One of which is work.”
CoworkingResources, which publishes guides for the sector, estimates that almost 5 million people will be working from coworking spaces by 2024, an increase of 158% compared to 2020.
These projections reflect not only the growth that the industry has experienced over the past few years but also the dramatic increase in flexible and remote work practices adopted by businesses worldwide.
Experience-led hotel and hospitality collective Yon was born during the pandemic with the realisation by founders Tom Brooks and Ant Steele that working, travelling or generally making the most of your time shouldn’t exist as standalone concepts.
What started as a series of pop-up spaces around the world where guests could work and sleep in beautiful surroundings has turned into a permanent hotel, opening this summer in the coastal city of Essaouira, Morocco.
The concept is a direct response to the needs and desires of the ‘work from anywhere’ generation that is keen to discover new destinations. “So many people no longer need to go into an office every day and companies know their employees are just as productive, or more productive, when working from places they love. But they yearn for social interaction and to be a part of a community,” says Brooks.
“The freedom to log in from wherever you like suddenly means you don’t need to distinguish between travel and work. You could work from home or our vibrant coastal haven in Morocco. This has opened up the potential for a massive shift in the way we can live and want to live. At Yon, we want to help facilitate this and to introduce our guests to amazing destinations, collaborating with local insiders to deliver a special experience.”
The hotel’s spaces are designed for productivity as well as fun. An option for privacy when needed is offered alongside communal areas. There is an events and wellness programme too. Whether you are closing deals poolside or in a dedicated work zone, every corner is being carefully styled to create a warm and welcoming ambience where you would be just as happy tapping away on your laptop or socialising over a long supper.
Murude Katipoglu, founder of design studio Design Stories, has created workspaces around the world; some with their own restaurants, gyms, and coffee bars. Her team approaches the design process just as they would for a family home: “People want the comfort of a home but also the social aspect of coworking spaces. Workspaces can be stressful for many people so a calm, welcoming environment with multiple-purpose areas and well-thought lighting is key”
She emphasises that creating different zones in one space is important to allow people to transition and find what best works for them and thinks food or drink offerings alongside comfortable breakout areas help open up new conversations: “Good design improves the way people feel and live. A well-designed and considered space would make people want to spend more time in that environment.”
Interior designer Rod Moreno Masey has chosen to embrace the coworking culture for the return to office life of his own practice MorenoMasey and is moving into the Hoxton Hotel’s coworking space WorkingFrom in London’s Southwark. He says: “Adopting a more hybrid and creative approach to designing offices and spaces for work is more relevant than ever, as well as creating a sense of identity in an office and making it more personal with some of the comforts we get from home.”
He is a firm advocate that the familiarity we experience while working at home is strongly linked to our productivity. He thinks investing in objects for the office with which people connect physically and more intimately such as handles, floor finishes and chairs are essential to helping maintain this home feel.
Morgan Lovell also believes that art is increasingly being seen as a way of incorporating an organisation’s own branding into their office design: “It can help tell the story of who they are, what they do and what they value.”
Let’s take Deutsche Bank, for example. Art is an integral part of its brand offering. In its own words: “Art spawns new ideas for shaping our future. It questions, inspires people, opens up new perspectives, and thus enables them to embrace unusual and innovative solutions.” Hence why its US and UK offices alone have more than 11,000 artworks on display.
Whether your post pandemic office is a multipurpose space, a coastal escape or living room there is a renewed sense of how our environments make us feel. Considered design, with art in its varying guises at the heart of it, will be the foundation for helping us stay productive and passionate about our vocations.
“The Office: Revisited” – The Webinar
On June 22nd 2021 a webinar discussion was held following the article, with the participation of industry leaders from Niio, NeueHouse, Birch, Yon and Design Stories, moderated by Amira Hashish.
Maarten Jamin, Chief Design Officer at IWG Founder at bs;bp: “The office, to me, is not a building, per se. It’s a description of a place to work, which can be anywhere from your bedroom with a virtual background, to a hammock, to a fancy office building and the business center.”
Josh Wyatt, CEO NeueHouse, Fotografiska and CultureWorks: “in terms of nourishing the creative mind is breaking down barriers, is breaking down the traditional use of the word ‘office’, and sort of inspiring and delighting and surprising people.”
Rob Anders, Co-founder & CEO Niio Art: “Now more than ever, you’re seeing a move for art going beyond the walls of galleries and museums into commercial spaces into public spaces. We have a responsibility in the way in which this artist is both selected, but also how we educate the people on what this artist is.”
Watch the full webinar here.