What's Your Problem?

Q: My company invests heavily in the arts, and I'm sure great thought goes into the pieces commissioned for display around the office. The problem is that these are ugly and, in a couple of examples, offensive. I'm struggling to explain them to clients. They don't fit in with our company ethos, and they're catching the eye for all the wrong reasons. I'm all for art in the workplace, but not of the porn variety. How should I make my concerns felt?

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

A: I've always found it extraordinary how few companies give conscious thought as to how their offices appear to outsiders. Companies, too, are brands; and a company's offices are their brand's most obvious packaging. Yet most reception areas are all-purpose, personality-free spaces, about as interesting as an airport departure lounge.

The trouble, I suppose, is familiarity. Senior people walk in and out of their own offices so frequently that they never see them through fresh eyes. But visiting clients, journalists, applicants and suppliers do: they observe every detail and they draw conclusions.

What seems to have happened in your company (and it's common enough) is that various functions have been assigned to committees that are empowered to make decisions with no reference back to any central, co-ordinating strategy.You refer to your company's ethos. Is this articulated anywhere and generally agreed? If it is, that's where to start, and if it's not, it should be.

So rather than complain to management that you find some of the artworks offensive, suggest that all company communications (of which office style and decor are important ingredients) should be evaluated against an agreed communications plan. So the question becomes not 'Are these artworks rude?' (which is subjective and makes you sound a bit prudish); but 'Do these artworks help convey the agreed impression about our company?'.

Your management should welcome this thought - they really ought to be doing it anyway - and future works of art should be chosen not only for their excellence but also for their specific relevance to your firm.

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