MAKE A DIFFERENCE | workplace culture / mental health / wellbeing

How to Develop a Creative Culture in the Workplace

By Jo Williams for Art Acumen

Imagine if the office was an environment where you were your most creative? Imagine it was a place where you produced your best work? Or it allowed you to cultivate strong working relationships? 

As Founder and Director of Art Acumen, a leading corporate art consultancy, I have been tracking the evolution of the creative office culture for the past 20 years. 

I work with office space providers and HR leadership teams to design impactful and creative experiences in the workplace, with the end goal of developing an ongoing creative culture for increased wellbeing, innovation, diversity and engagement.

This has led me to work with large corporations to provide ground-breaking creative interventions. We delivered an AI art commission for Freshfields, a Bevis Marks Art Programme on behalf of AXA Real estate and worked with CMS to curate an art collection for their global HQ in collaboration with the Royal College of Art. 

However, over the past 18 months, the global Covid pandemic has changed where we work and how we work. It’s also changed how employees interact with one another.

Recent surveys by Cushman & Wakefield, Savills and McKinsey highlight that although team collaboration has been successful, the move to remote working has impacted people’s ability to connect with one another on a more personal level, and that new tools for engagement are needed. Gone are the informal networking opportunities in the kitchen, lunches and after-work drinks. 

Some of these changes will be temporary, while others mark the start of a new era. With organisations across all sectors facing challenges, risks and threats, the need to strengthen teams and create a competitive advantage through a strong creative culture is more important than ever.

Move away from the office towards the ‘workplace ecosystem’ 

For the post-Covid workplace, Cushman & Wakefield believe the purpose of the office will be to provide inspiring destinations that strengthen and foster cultural connections, learning, bonding with customers and colleagues, creativity and innovation.

They claim that “the workplace will no longer be a single location but an ecosystem of a variety of locations and experiences to support convenience, functionality and wellbeing.” Or a ‘Total Workplace Ecosystem’. 

As we step out of the boundaries of the traditional office space, we are headed towards a more flexible model where we are likely to see smaller, high-quality core hubs focusing on collaboration, learning and development and creating a sense of belonging and brand, as well as on-demand event spaces and third spaces and local community hubs closer to where employees live. 

Contrary to the beliefs at the early stages of the pandemic, the office is not going anywhere, however, it is due a change.

Fundamental to the success of the workspace is the drive to foster a creative culture. Successful senior leaders and creative team members already know this. They recognise that innovation can come from the bottom up. Everyone at every level must feel empowered to engage and innovate, to then in turn enjoy the benefits of greater diversity and improved wellbeing. 

What are the benefits of a creative culture? 

There is no doubt that working from home has helped save lives but it has come at a cost of human connection and social bonding. This is impacting connection to corporate culture, learning and creativity. A study by Prudential came to a similar conclusion, highlighting cultural decay can arise from an exclusively work from home approach. 

As a digital model of workplace beds in, organisations will need to provide richer digital engagement and events in the workplace to keep employees feeling well, connected and stimulated. 

By fostering and encouraging a creative culture in the workplace, the effects can be felt company-wide, with improved wellbeing, innovation, diversity and engagement. 

These are the four key benefits that arise when a truly creative company culture is nurtured. 

1 – Wellbeing

Multiple studies have proven that taking part in creative activities at work not only brings people together but has a significant positive impact on one’s well being, and so by supporting general employee wellbeing, we can improve organisational success and individual performance.

2 – Innovation

Everyone has access to the key behaviours that allow us to be creative and generate innovative ideas. These behaviours – observation, exploration, questioning, experimentation, networking, openness to different ideas – just need nurturing by exercising them. 

Our creative skills then allow us to generate ideas freely, make connections between diverse contexts, be comfortable with ambiguity, question and challenge in order to create new solutions as well as network and collaborate effectively. 

All positive attributes that help us to rewire our thinking, apply our knowledge in new ways and drive innovation.

3 – Diversity

Companies can promote and celebrate diversity and social awareness and engage their staff through the vehicle of art. Although art can not directly solve problems, it requires an emotive interaction from the viewer, meaning that engagement happens at a deeper level. Art with compelling, narrative stories on contemporary issues can provoke awareness and discussion, and convey an underlying philosophy of collective responsibility and commitment to change. Championing diversity and inclusion plays a key role in fostering empathy and driving innovation in the workplace. 

4 – Engagement 

A varied and engaging creative programme drives engagement by presenting opportunities for bringing people together socially and informally. It involves enhancing working relationships, reinforcing company culture and a promoting a sense of belonging. Employees who are engaged feel connected, motivated and energised by their work. This not only enhances their wellbeing but their creativity too. 

So how can we achieve a more creative working model?

Over the years, I have developed and designed creative art programmes to specifically foster a creative workplace culture. From creative skills events, art exhibitions, socially engaged art (SEA) dialogues and co-created commissions. All with the aim of increasing wellbeing, innovation, diversity and engagement. 

No office or company culture is the same and neither would its art programme be. Co-created poetry, a limited edition printmaking series, or a conceptual digital photography workshop can all play a role in bringing a workforce together and encourage new dialogues. 

An art exhibition programme in the workplace, where employees lead the selection, has the potential for powerful interactions. Employers can introduce ideas, conversations or themes that would otherwise be difficult to broach, in a medium that’s accessible. 

Contemporary artists can also facilitate alternative conversations. Socially Engaged Artist (SEA) dialogues are live online talks where we host contemporary artists to take the audience on a journey. These sessions can be used as a catalyst for discussions around contemporary issues such as mental health awareness, humanity and technology, diversity and gender. The benefits of SEA dialogues include increased employee engagement, diversity, empathy, networking and learning. 

Employers can also commission co-created projects, which involves creating a site-specific artwork, which is bespoke to a company’s culture and its space. It’s an engaging creative process which reinforces company culture while galvanising a feeling of belonging and encouraging individual expression and learning experiences. 

So now imagine a workplace where you look forward to your meetings, are excited by the conversations you have with your colleagues and prioritise your time in the office. 

About the author

Catherine Thomas is Founder and Director of Art Acumen, a leading corporate art consultancy. With 20 years of experience as an art consultant, Catherine has a proven track record for devising and delivering inspiring, innovative and multifaceted art programmes. Her creativity, integrity and extensive knowledge of the art world are combined with strong communication, programme management and design skills. This ensures a bespoke and holistic approach for each client. 

Art Acumen’s unique and revolutionary Cultivate™ creative culture art programme develops the
relationship between art, business and people to achieve WIDE ranging, measurable benefits.
These ideas have been recently published in Art Acument’s white paper The Role of Art Programmes
in Developing a Creative Culture for the Workplace which is now available for download:
https://artacumen.co.uk/research/