When purpose meets beauty: the power of art in the post-pandemic office

With hybrid working the new normal, integrating art in the workplace with employees in mind can do more than brighten the walls

Proman 2
Sculpture by Ragnhild Prestholt which sits in the lobby of cybersecurity firm Promon

In the lobby of cybersecurity company Promon stands a sculpture of a man kneeling on a pedestal. The piece, acquired by CEO Gustaf Sahlman in 2018 from artist Ragnhild Prestholt, has since been affectionately dubbed ‘Proman’ by employees. For Thomas Ford, Promon’s head of marketing and communications, “He’s part of the team. For long-time Promoneers he is a reminder of the company’s beginnings, and for our new colleagues, provides a nice slice of Promon’s history.”

Businesses buy artworks to enhance their branding, public relations or investment; employees usually benefit indirectly. But intentionally incorporating art into the people strategy has several advantages. Art can create a sense of belonging, as is the case with Proman, and inspire fresh perspectives. 

Despina Katsikakis is president of the British Council for Offices, an industry group for companies and professionals involved in all aspects of the office space. She points to the impact of art in the workplace: “It can evoke joy, delight and curiosity. It can inspire empathy. Art can engage employees and provide opportunities to contemplate, renew and be inspired throughout the workday.” 

But is it enough to prioritise employees’ needs when investing in art? What are the business advantages of such an approach, and how could it help with the firm’s broader strategy? 

Why art improves productivity

According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, employee engagement levels are higher than they were before the pandemic. But the UK has one of the least engaged workforces with 38% of UK employees who took part in the poll saying that they experience daily stress. To help address the issue, art in the workplace could prove useful.

“The reason why art in offices enhances employee wellbeing and engagement is that it brings humanity to the workplace,” observes Katsikakis – and it seems that UK employees agree. A recent survey by global real estate firm Brookfield Properties, in partnership with therapy service provider The School of Life, found that 69% of respondents agree that visually appealing art in the workplace contributes to their wellbeing. Employees in offices enriched with art also report feeling more inspired by their jobs, with 39% expressing this compared to only 24% of employees in lean, functional spaces. 

There is promising evidence that viewing artworks can help to reduce stress. Research by the psychological medicine department at the University of Auckland noted that looking at art generates consistent positive outcomes on stress, whether self-reported or evidenced by physical symptoms such as blood pressure. 

And the benefits of incorporating art continue. The Wellbeing Research Centre of the University of Oxford conducted a study in 2019 that analysed data from 230 independent organisations across 49 industries. The findings suggest that employees’ satisfaction with their company strongly correlated with employee productivity. Higher wellbeing at work is also positively correlated with more business-unit-level profitability. And research by Exeter University shows that the presence of art in the office can lead to productivity gains of up to 17%.

Why employees are drawn to offices with art

Considering the overall positive impact on employees, it is not surprising that they are more inclined to want to work in an office enriched with art. As indicated by the Brookfield Properties and School of Life survey, of those with highly enriched offices, 75% prefer to work in the office than at home, compared to 53% of those in leaner offices.

For Tazie Taysom, commercial director at international art consultancy Artiq, art can, indeed, encourage employees to return to the office more regularly and engage with their colleagues. “Art can prompt reactions and conversations in the office that are more than just water-cooler chat,” she says. Zvi Noé is a founder and partner at Noé Group, an investment and asset management organisation which focuses on real estate. He also believes art can trigger meaningful discussion in the office. “We pick very bright pieces, so they’re very noticeable,” he says. “It often becomes a talking point.”

In a hybrid working set-up, those interactions are crucial. A recent Gallup survey, The Advantages and Challenges of Hybrid Work, found that 60% of employees prioritise meeting and collaborating with colleagues when they go to the office.

Why employee input is vital

To get the best results, firms can talk to workplace consultants to maximise the effects of art in the workplace. Another proven route is to work with galleries and non-profit organisations that specialise in office space design. But the key is to involve employees in the selection process.

The Exeter University study found that employee productivity can increase by up to 32% when workers are given more control over their workplace environment. This insight can also help other elements of the business strategy. Involving employees in the art selection can contribute to diversity and inclusion objectives. 

“We often find that law firms, for example, are trying to increase representation in their staff,” notes Taysom. “One client invited their women’s association to choose the art collection and, of course, they went for a predominantly women and non-binary artist collection.” As well as promoting inclusivity, employees can bring different perspectives. They can suggest unconventional art forms and help showcase the company’s commitment to innovation and creativity.

The importance of selecting art with purpose 

“Post-pandemic, we noticed that people need their office to deliver more,” says Taysom. “It’s not just a case of art being part of the decor or an investment collection. It needs to deliver something tangible.”

Noé Group, for instance, invests in art not only for visual appeal but for a purpose. The company is partnering with Project Art Works, a charity that creates artwork by neurodiverse artists to furnish its office space. “Part of what drew us to Project Art Works is their ability to take something as simple and mundane as office artwork and make it into a more meaningful endeavour.” 

The partnership involves visits from the artists, and they commissioned a small booklet that explains who the artists are and information about the piece. “For the people in the office, it creates a different discussion point around the art. It isn’t just pictures that you’ve accumulated. It’s something that has a slightly bigger social involvement and hopefully conveys a bit more about the culture and how we think and feel.”

Art in the office space can help to connect and motivate the workforce, it can improve individual wellbeing and as part of a broader corporate strategy, it can help to convey a brand’s values. That’s quite a good return on investment.