In a post-recession era where bankers are scorned and traditional capitalists humbled, it has been the start-uppers that are hailed as the new messiahs of the working world. At Google, Facebook and Spotify – and every ad agency, upmarket media company and well-funded digital content platform in between – organic furniture and distressed wood panels prevail; you can pogo your way past your children in the in-house day care; and a gluten-free almond croissant is never more than a wheatgrass shot away.
Welcome to the new temples of creativity, where the suit is akin to blasphemy and employees worship at the alter of enablement. These new workspaces invite you to sign up and join the cult of the brand. In return you’ll receive the opportunity to unleash your creative potential and receive enough perks to cater to your every need, along with a keep cup, tote bag, company succulent and water filter to make sure the whole world knows you belong to them.
But it’s not just major companies that are creating these new habits for homo sapiens. In London, the new working space Second Home has opened in the east. “The old delineation between work and life is breaking down” co-founder Rohan Silva told the Evening Standard and as a result they’ve created a “utopian workspace” where members can meet, discuss ideas, shower, enjoy yoga sessions, dine like kings thanks to a new restaurant, Jago, headed by ex-Ottolenghi head chef and, in amongst this semi-spa-like holiday, produce the best ideas. The space is designed as the anti–corporate haven. It prides itself as a locus for innovative thinking. It is the space where small start -ups can mingle and share experiences, working within their dynamic environment to develop the idea which will one day make them their fortune. That’s the hope, anyway.
There is no doubt that the perks of these accommodating new work spaces are tangible. A free, or heavily subsidised café, helps to save money; extra-curricular activities help to unwind, and curated spaces ensure you can work in the way which enables productivity. And, yet, the idea that these spaces increase creativity or that they truly aid personal development is one which fails to convince.
Work space and big ideas
For have you ever thought that whilst you’re doing ashtanga yoga after work – unwinding in your company’s zen space, complete with faux Japanese furniture and various forms of cactii that you could be benefiting from a different sort of freedom? In their copious choice, these spaces fill the time of employees which could be spent getting out into the world and doing something that they have discovered and chosen on their own; seeing a play, going to an exhibition or going for a hike. Time spent generally getting some perspective on your position in the world and being brought outside of your state of constant in-house mindfulness.
New work spaces may profess to nurture your soul and have your best interests at heart, but this nannying of your daily life only infantalises your individual development. They’re taking care of yourself so you don’t have to, and in doing so are owning their workers on a far deeper level than previous traditional offices. The creative instinct is no longer squashed, it is squeezed out, bottled and sold at a premium price.
Work spaces and ideas of creativity
There’s also an inherent problem with the concept of creativity that these new spaces foster. There’s no denying that a brighter and spacious office is better for the mental health of individuals, but the fact remains that creativity can’t be created.
Genuine creativity isn’t spawned from the power of a vintage chair; nor is artistic vision powered by a green juice and handful of pumpkin seeds. We’ve become so obsessed with aesthetics and ideas of authenticity that we’re perpetually trapped on a surface level. These utopian surroundings provide ample Instagram opportunity, catering to a recipe of ‘how to be creative’ which you can share with all your friends. The truth is though that real creativity comes from hard work and steadfastly upholding your individuality, nothing else. As the Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry said in a recent talk: “Coolness is a form of orthodoxy. It’s a set of rules already coalesced around something. Being uncool is a powerful creative force.” The less you think about being creative, the better.
Indeed, what Second Home and their kind encourage is an additional element of self consciousness to the whole creative process which if anything delays and distracts from any artistic realisation. Blinded by the bright walls, employees perform actions in a curated space weighed down with expectation to deliver their best yet pushing forward without the primal urgency necessary to create. In short what they perpetuate is a creative comedy, in which subscribers act as players in the biggest farce of the 21st century.
And what about the future?
Fundamentally, the problem with all of these new working spaces is that employees are living within the whited sepulchre of someone else’s vision. This isn’t a new concept; it’s been around since the beginning of time. First there was the church and the space it provided for people to devote themselves to an orchestrated idea, and now there are the major brands manipulating you to do the same. But as has been the case for thousands of years, from Pope Julius II to the present day, visionaries who disperse their dreams amongst the world for financial gain rarely have another individual’s best interests at heart.
Our generation has entered a brave new world and as of now are precariously balanced on the cliff’s edge, hovering between falling into Huxley’s nightmare or returning to a golden era. The commodification of creativity, seeded at such a fundamental and individual level while grown to encompass one’s whole environment, does not bode well for our generation’s future moral being.
First published on Imperica, April 1 2015