The art of creating a connected, human office in the age of AI

1_Wade and Leta, Now You See Me at Principal Place, Brookfield Properties. Ⓒ PA Media

Social connection in the workplace is more important than ever as AI tech increasingly becomes a part of day to day worklife, according to Brookfield Properties, which specialises in designing multi-tenant office buildings that promote wellbeing.

As part of exploring this subject further, it partnered with emotional intelligence experts The School Of Life last year to write The Art of the Workplace report researching the effect of art on workers in the office, and whether it can help to humanise the environment.

A push to connection and community

Alongside this, it also commissioned the School of Life to run a series of workshops teaching emotional wellbeing and interpersonal skills to help employees thrive at work.

“The rise of AI and robots makes it even more necessary to have those human moments at work,” says Raul Aparici, Faculty Lead at The School of Life. 

“Tech will bring amazing benefits but, on the flipside, we know there’s a dark side of tech and social media and, ultimately, it will make us want to reassert our humanity and there will be more of a push to connection.”

Caitlin Warfield, Vice President of Marketing in Europe and United Kingdom at Brookfield, believes this “push” is already happening in offices.

“What we found is that at the root of it, people want connection and community,” says Warfield. “And when a company builds a new space, they are building it with much more community spaces, less space with just desks and more different types of environments.”

For example, offices are looking at pods for people to do quiet working, then, on the other end of the scale, meeting spaces where they can have all-company meetings. 

“It’s all about that human connection piece and how you interact with others,” she says. “Employees are craving connection, even the most introverted person craves that connection and being in a space with other people is so important to prevent loneliness.”

According to her, art can create those moments of connection and conversation between colleagues at work. Brookfield has commissioned numerous, large scale art installations. These are predominantly sculptures which you can interact with; you can do work on them, have your lunch on them or meet a friend for coffee on them. 

“It’s creating that third space for us,” says Warfield. “Whether you like the art, or hate it, it sparks a conversation.”

How art makes a difference to workplace wellbeing

The Art of The Workplace report showed that 69% of employees say having interesting and visually attractive art pieces in the office contributes to wellbeing and 77% agreed that having interesting social, cultural or wellbeing events contributes to wellbeing. The findings suggest that this is particularly true of younger employees.

“Workers want to work in spaces enriched by art, culture and wellness, which they believe promotes creativity, contentment, socialising and learning. Art and culture matter especially to the younger cohort of British workers,” says Warfield.

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It’s an art form in itself getting the ‘vibe’ of an office right, to create a place where people feel safe and connected. And, if you think this sounds a bit soft, fluffy and woo woo heed Warfield’s words that: 

“Buildings definitely have a vibe, just ask ghost hunters! This vibe can impact mental health. Good offices need relaxation and wellness spaces. Bad office design has been shown in academic studies to diminish productivity and increase the stress levels of workers.”

Ultimately, says Aparici, we must remember that “we work with people for people” and we must bring this humanity into our offices and value the time we have together, not forgetting that tech is just a “tool in our service”.

“I’m a therapist and in my 50 minute sessions there is no tech. No one checking a phone. No interruptions. There is a difference when we humans relate to each other in this way. Magic can happen when two people meet like this.”

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