Offices, like most man-made environments, have evolved with fashion, worker’s needs, and technological advances. Where workers once required desks to house their heavy-duty typewriters, nowadays they can sit anywhere with super lightweight laptops and the advent of WiFi meaning that office design has changed too. From the industrial era to the Google-influenced fun office: how has office design changed over the years?
At the dawn of the 1900s was the industrial era and the start of office spaces which placed a huge emphasis on the ever-present class system of the time: us and them. The workers were often crammed into linear working spaces whilst the bosses would have offices separating them from their employees. As this trend continued, it became clear that this setup was not a pleasant working environment and generated a lot of discontent and, therefore, a lack of productivity.
This design was gradually moved away from by the 1950s when a more socially-aware population joined the workforce. Offices became more open with more emphasis being placed on communication and collaboration. German designers began to implement the concept of groups which saw desks being clustered into small formations which enabled conversation more freely. These became known as ‘open plan’ offices but their openness increased the likelihood for distractions and illness making them less popular with some employers.
By the time the 1980s rolled around, capitalism was marching stridently across cities and companies were desperate to make as much money as possible. Offices became less about quality and more about quantity as the concept of the cubicle was implemented into offices across the globe: tiny spaces designed to house an individual employee with their required tools with zero distractions. It’s fair to say that this design was less popular with employees as it had the feel of a hyper-efficient machine – the introduction of computers and cheap, standardised furniture helped to fuel this feeling.
If we jump to the modern age, office design has changed radically. Nowadays, an office is often used to represent the ethos and soul of an organisation (Are they fun? Are they corporate?) and is used an attractive tool to lure in potential employees and top talent. Google’s much-admired offices showed off ‘break out areas’ and fun, engaging facilities such as slides and fake grass which lent colour and enjoyment to the act of being at work. With an increase in understanding of worker wellbeing and mindfulness, companies are keen to be seen as accommodating, funky and modern; avoiding stereotypes of silent, sullen, grey offices which hark back to the past. Technological advances mean that workers do not need to be tied to the same desk and chair every minute they’re at work and, instead, WiFi and laptops or tablets enable the option to work from a sofa or bean bags. This design also facilitates a greater sense of community and communication allowing for a more focused approach without piling on extra undue pressure; clearly demonstrating just how far office designs have come over the years.