Whether you’re reading this from your office downtown or haven’t set foot on your company’s grounds since the start of the pandemic, there’s a strong likelihood that your workspace looks a lot different than it used to a few months ago. For decades, the concept of the office had been almost stagnant, presenting little to no innovation beyond tearing down a few walls to fuel collaboration. But now with hybrid working models becoming the norm, the rules have changed—and there seems to be a perfect opportunity to use the workspace in smarter ways.
A lot is being said about what offices may look like in the near future, and the role they’ll play in the lives of employees. All over the world, companies from different industries are starting to rethink how they use their office space, and breathing new life into it with new purposes. Such is the case with the BR.Monks, who turned our terrace in São Paulo into a fully-automated vegetable garden.
Powered by solar panels and an innovative system that automates the harvest of various produce, this initiative emanated from two fundamental needs from the Brazilian team, whose primary expertise lies in experiential and fabrication: leveraging empty space and putting their dormant passion for building installations to good use. While only a small team who’s working from the office has had the opportunity to enjoy the first harvests, they look forward to the day when everyone can eat from their vegetable garden.
The Office of the Future Comes Into Full Bloom
Step into our São Paulo office, and you’ll be dazzled by the myriad of objects straight out of a sci-fi film. Toys with pop-culture references, mementos of past projects and leading-edge robotics tell a story of unparalleled innovations that lurk behind the mysterious graffiti wall surrounding the office in Pinheiros, one of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods.
At first glance, the vegetable garden stands in stark contrast to the mechanical nature of the office’s high-tech devices. But it’s just as much an innovation as anything else created by the team. About its origin, Executive Creative Director Rafael Fittipaldi explains, “The few of us in the experiential team who were working from the office realized that it was pretty much empty—and that it would continue to be until the end of this year, at least. We wanted to leverage all that space with something that was good for both the environment and our people.”
Fittipaldi and his team—which is led by Partner and Lab Director Andre Tatiyama—soon found that a vegetable garden ticked all those boxes. Together with a group of colleagues that specialize in engineering and the development of OOH installations, they poured all their energy into a passion project that was later called “Monks Farm,” which condensed all of their technical knowledge into a force for good.
But just like with everything they put their hands on, it was imperative to take the project to the next level. “We are innovators, so as we started to conceive this idea, we asked ourselves, ‘What if the farm could take care of itself?’” says Fittipaldi. Fast forward to today, and you’ll find a fully automated program that tracks humidity, temperature, and sunlight, then feeds that information into a built-in system that evaluates when it’s time to irrigate or harvest. The cherry on top is that to communicate the information back to the team, the system uses Amazon Alexa’s virtual assistant technology—a great example of how to build on the existing resources to create something entirely new.
Nurturing Employee Engagement With a Sustainable Initiative
Even though the innovative aspect of the garden has reached unexpected heights, Fittipaldi explains it’s not just the technology that makes the project a cause for celebration; rather, it’s about the feelings of joy and unity that the initiative awakens. “People are using their time and energy to work on the garden, which in return provides fresh vegetables they can eat,” he says. “Working on it, watching the plants grow, or even standing close to the garden during our breaks brings us a lot of joy.”
It’s no secret that the opportunity to get your hands dirty and breathe fresh air can definitely put you in a better frame of mind. The rise of biophilic design—a strategy that incorporates natural elements to the office to help with stress reduction—proves that affiliating with nature can bring countless benefits in the modern world; and yet, we rarely see organizations pushing for more time spent outdoors. To that end, tending to a vegetable garden is the perfect excuse to take a break, connect with nature and refuel the creative well.
Moreover, building a system that’s powered almost entirely by solar panels serves as an experiment on sustainable practices. Earlier this year, we sealed our commitment to achieving more efficient and sustainable workstreams by signing The Climate Pledge, Amazon’s initiative to meet the goals of The Paris Agreement 10 years early. Global commitments like this are what push the industry forward—but it’s also important to start by building a better environment with smaller projects that make a tangible impact people can see.
Reaping the Rewards of Cross-Department Collaboration
Team-building work like looking after a vegetable garden can help people mix with colleagues from different departments and connect with others. While the doors of our São Paulo office are not yet open to all employees at once, the team is looking forward to the day everyone can work together on the garden, or cart home the harvest.
At the same time, the Monks Farm project will add value to the team’s greatly missed tradition of hosting barbecues with home-grown vegetables. “Before the pandemic, our office was known for its weekly get-togethers and big celebrations,” says Fittipaldi. “The next time we have one, people will help themselves to fresh products from our very own garden.” In more ways than one, the initiative has proven to be a driving force of good—so much so, our international offices are now looking to replicate it in their respective spaces.
All over the world, the universal experiment in working from home was more successful than anyone would’ve anticipated. This means that now, companies will have to compete against the comfort of working from home and lure people back to the office with tangible benefits that make it worth the effort. Although an office garden may not be the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about the corporate workplace, it’s a great example of how we can build spaces that raise spirits and make being at work more enjoyable.
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