'THE AUSTRALIAN ART CURATOR BLOG' - How to have a creative identity while hot desking

Over the past five years, hot desking has fast become the norm in big companies. It's pretty simple: you grab your laptop from your locker and pick a space to put your stuff in for the day.

For people like myself who work in small, tight-knit teams, such an approach seems unnecessary. But larger companies are attracted to hot desking as they believe the movement of people encourages collaboration.

Like a train station commute at peak hour, hot desking promises easy free flowing movement that saves on real estate. But like commuting, hot desking is an extremely impersonal experience."

While there is definitely an argument for increased collaboration and reducing our real estate footprint in the office, hot desking can have a negative impact on employees sense of belonging to their physical surroundings.

 We helped Optus chose to  'knit' together their seperate departments , at their Macquarie Park campus. CREDIT: Art Pharmacy Consulting

We helped Optus chose to 'knit' together their seperate departments, at their Macquarie Park campus. CREDIT: Art Pharmacy Consulting

“Humans are generally social beings and they like to belong,” says Justine Kinch - who chairs a committee for Urban Land Institute and is currently a director at global design consultancy, Arcadis - referring to the ideas of National Mental Health Commission Chair, Lucy Brogden.

Justine’s concern is that by moving around, teams who are constantly working on a project together are unable to connect.

A big part of this is missing out on being able to build up their shared symbology around their ‘space’. This sense of shared symbology - a set of shared ideas, languages and stories that mark collectives - is extremely important for groups. Think of what kind of familiar signals you yourself recognise; a moment in which you feel that connection and comfort at belonging to a shared narrative.

 The offices of D esign Studio M9  in Bangalore, India, feature illustrations of the designers undertaking their design practices - incredible idea. CREDIT Shamanth Patil 

The offices of Design Studio M9 in Bangalore, India, feature illustrations of the designers undertaking their design practices - incredible idea. CREDIT Shamanth Patil 

This narrative influences how we see and project ourselves not just to each other, but as a collective to the outside world and potential collaborators. For example, at Art Pharmacy Consulting we work very closely together and at set desks. We all have a slight magpie like tendency to bring art objects and cool objects into the office - we currently have a fantastic golden skull by Will Coles floating around - picked up by one of the Culture Scouts team who share our space. We can also reel off the top of our heads, what makes us - us. Justine’s team has a different approach.

 Will Cole's work that currently resides in Art Pharmacy Consulting's office. CREDIT: Will Coles

Will Cole's work that currently resides in Art Pharmacy Consulting's office. CREDIT: Will Coles

“My old team had a rubber chicken,” she says, laughing. “We used to honk it when we won a project - and that chicken lived in a certain spot.”

“In agile work, you don't have that and it's a very clean environment.”

Although this ‘cleanness’ serves a practical need, a lack of personalisation can have a negative effect on an emotional need to belong. Clients come in and pick up our skull sculpture, point out whichever paintings we have hung up, or flick through our stack of zines, facilitating a real dialogue as we share the story of how it came to be there.

If you’re constantly moving desks you can’t work up that sort of identifying ‘baggage’. Strengthening and synchronising the company’s and employee’s personality in this way becomes even more important when you consider the need to attract and retain new talent.

 Artworks sourced by Art Pharmacy Consulting for  Dexus' new SuiteX flexible space  offices were to structurally and subjectively reflect the company's construction and property background. CREDIT: Art Pharmacy Consulting

Artworks sourced by Art Pharmacy Consulting for Dexus' new SuiteX flexible space offices were to structurally and subjectively reflect the company's construction and property background. CREDIT: Art Pharmacy Consulting

With startup culture booming in Australia, why should they have to hot desk when they could just consult from home? With newcomers looking for jobs that are meaningful, why should they join companies when there is a proliferation of similar-sounding companies?

Here are a few ideas of how you can balance between the flexibility of hot desking with sense of belonging that speaks to and for your company.

Create ‘sticky’ points

Those water cooler moments are becoming increasingly rare, with less static spots to meet people around the office. So why not choose an art-based solution that sparks creativity - like creative programming that attracts people to an area.

For example, CreativeMornings is a breakfast lecture series on subjects that mean something to the local creative community (we loved a recent one held at Redfern’s Work-Shop). By holding regular programmed activities in the office you can not only spark debate, but change an area that encourages collaboration. Fancy swapping the Friday WIP for lectures from industry movers and shakers, anybody?

 Benja Harney from Paperform talking on the theme “Craft” at Creative Mornings. CREDIT: Workshop/Creative Mornings

Benja Harney from Paperform talking on the theme “Craft” at Creative Mornings. CREDIT: Workshop/Creative Mornings

If you want to cut down on admin time and opt for a more permanent solution, consider installing an interactive installation. You’ve probably heard about office LEGO walls that allow anyone to go and express their creativity at a whim, but there's more original ways people’s senses and brains can be engaged outside of their regular 9-5. According to Business Insider, the employees at LinkedIn aren’t allowed to bring pets into the office (which is in the Empire State Building - who knew?).

Instead they have a whole wall dedicated to their pets photos - all in black and white - something that is highly personal, but also curated and says something about the organisation. They also have a wall made of 133 vintage phones, where you have to dial the right one to get to the secret speakeasy meeting room behind it.

Remember - smart people want to use their brains in different ways throughout the day. They’re also the people you want in your organisation.

Establish your identity

You might consider going the extra mile - make the installation something that speaks to your employees and company’s identity. A semi-public installation is a great space for collective creativity, and is something that allows you to communicate your company’s journey to future potential clients or employees.

 Japanese artist Tokujin Yoshioka used 20,000 colourless prism rods to create a gigantic sculpture for this interior. CREDIT: Shau Lin Hon,  Slyworks Photography

Japanese artist Tokujin Yoshioka used 20,000 colourless prism rods to create a gigantic sculpture for this interior. CREDIT: Shau Lin Hon, Slyworks Photography

So how can you create a creative program that involves everyone - especially when they’re such different individuals? Justine’s team had a great idea, holding a competition amongst the company to come up with a  design for a new, two-story artwork (hitting #artconsultinggoals).

“We ran a design comp in building, put requirements on and selected a winner. The idea was very crude but we liked the concept.”

This planned journey meant that the process itself became the strategy. There was a story behind the artwork that the individuals within the company wanted to tell, which they felt involved in and empowered by. Justine even noticed staff regularly telling clients about the work’s story, and its connection to the company. It acted as a visual representation of what the company was about - engaging and colourful.

When flowing between locations while hot desking, it can be easy to lose that sense of connection to space. Remember, the strength of a business lies in its people: and if the people aren't on board, you won't be going anywhere.