Productivity is one fundamental criteria of our fast-paced and ever-accelerating work life. Yet, a humane and healthy approach to work cannot reduce productivity and performance to machine-like, repetitive, and impersonal task-solving activities. When reaching beyond the supremacy of metrics, to measure productivity implies taking in account a company's capacity to balance high performance with employee well-being.
It is precisely the approach we’ve abided to at Artboost, thanks to our habituated encounters with arts. Our experience has helped us understand productivity as a blend of freedom, happiness, and creativity, where having a bright and creative location to live and work is key. As shown by extensive research, an office where you can find art and plants is more likely to support the performance of your employees.
The School of Psychology at the University of Exeter conducted a series of studies highlighting the psychological impact of office space layout on employees. In short, they found that enriched spaces (decorated with plants and art) had employees 17% more productive than those in lean areas (bare and functional). It spiked to 32% in spaces where people could have a say over the design of their workspace through co-creation. The value of having art at work goes beyond the aesthetic quality of the piece you can observe. As results showed, it can also be a gateway towards increased workplace democracy and belonging:
"In 12 years we have never found that lean offices create better results; and the more involved people are in the enrichment process, the more they are able to realise a part of themselves in the space"
– Dr. Craight Knight, professor at University from Exeter
There is definitely something counterintuitive in calling for artistic contemplation to increase the work performance of your company. At first, it may seem like the perfect argument for a teenager to procrastinate instead of getting some homework done. But more seriously, it suggests that the ideal recipe for increased productivity consists in the right association between work and recreation. There are forms of distraction that are not bad for work. For many artists, creating is less about staring and wandering at their unfinished work for hours, than about seeking inspiration everywhere else they can. In the same way, having your eyes on the computer for seven hours straight doesn't necessarily make you more effective:
"A momentary distraction is definitely not a bad thing in the workplace. Art has historically always been about escape, and all we need is an escape sometimes."
Copenhagen Business School researchers Robert Chia and Robin Holt investigated the value of art and art-related thinking for strategic endeavors. According to them, art pushes people away from the predominant mode of attention found at the workplace — a strategic or 'focal' vision driven by logic, and striving for clarity and visible material outcomes.
In contrast, they linked the experience of art with the refinement of a "peripheral” kind of awareness. Peripheral awareness refers to the more intuitive and dispersed attention to one's surroundings. It mobilizes emotions over rational reasoning, and encourages us to face messiness, eye wander, and take detours. With its sublime power and capacity to evoke our innermost sentiments, art is such a detour to take:
"The experiences of literature, art and music (...) help develop the kind of scattered attention (...) required for achieving a deeper resonance with the peripheral events taking place around us and that may have dramatic consequences for corporate survival."
Chia and Holt's research allows us to articulate the 'productive' power of art in echo with the study results cited above. Having art at the office cultivates your employees' attention to details and their capacity to strive in uncertainty and vagueness. Ultimately, it helps them to remain open and alert to changes and transformations taking place at the corners of the eyes, changes that may be important for your company to notice. It is about building flexibility and resilience. It is about strengthening your productivity and performance for times of hardships.
All this shows us that to be productive does not merely imply knowing how to work as hard and fast as possible. It also means knowing how to distract oneself, and how to stay attuned amid context shifts. Taking the time to zoom out of one's task is vital to later reinvest it with increased drive and inspiration. Art can be used as the bottom of the iceberg of such sustained performance.
The artistic way towards an increased productivity is paved with beauty, exchange and genuine co-creation. Ultimately, it optimizes and serves the corporate strategy and purpose. Thus, it is often a detour for which there is no way back — a detour that we believe every company should experience.