The Evolution of the Office

The Evolution of the Office

With the world at a bit of a standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic, it has raised some interesting questions about how we operated day today. One of the big questions is that surrounding office spaces and how relevant they are or will be in the future. Here at Geaves, we have decided to have a look at the evolution of the office space and how it has fit into society throughout the years, and what the future of the office has in store.

Roman Empire - 27BC - 476AD

The Romans were innovative people, who through rapid expansion manage to control vast swathes of land in Europe, Africa, and Asia, so it is no surprise that the first communal office were found within the Roman Forums. The centre of administration, the Roman forum was the centre of any city, and within the forum, you would find the Officum, a place where the local clerks and administrators would carry out their work

Medieval & Early Modern Period - 700 - 1700

After the end of the Roman era in world history, we enter a period that covers the next 1000 years in the shape of the Medieval and Early Modern Period. This was a period in history that was dominated by the Catholic Church and nothing that we would deem as an office space really existed. The closest thing to an office space would have been the Monastareies of Europe, where there we communal rooms for the copying of manuscripts and secular scriptures. Monks would have their own desk with a stool and footrest. 

The Old Admiralty Office, London - 1726

The first purpose-built office space was the Old Admiralty Office in London. This was a purpose-built office building for the Navy and served as their headquarters. The building included purpose-built meeting rooms, that are still used today, The building has been used as a replacement residence for Prime Ministers during renovations at Downing Street.

East India House, London 1729

The London Headquarters of the East India Company. This building came about due to a growing demand on the company as it began to expand. The building included warehouse space, salesrooms, and a museum. The site on Leadenhall Street in London is now home to the Lloyds Building.

Taylorism/ Scientific Management - 1880s -1930s

Moving more into the modern era communal offices were more a part of everyday life with larger corporations shifting to urban offices in major cities. It was at this time that skyscrapers were starting to appear in the downtown areas and the thought process to offices turned to how can they be made more efficient. 

The first office plan was born in the shape of Taylorism, the first form of Scientific Management, which looked at how to use scientific theory to maximise the output of the workforce with little thought about the social aspect of office life. Taylorism influenced many Scientific Management approaches including Fordism and remained popular until the 1930s.

Open Plan Offices - 1939

Towards the late 1930s, there was a shift in corporations thinking, with companies now concerned about how their image was portrayed, and this lead to a shift to Open Plan Offices which were first designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The idea was to have a more social and sophisticated way of working, which the open-plan offices did, and when you would have outside visitors in the office it would give off a positive outlook of the business.

These were implemented at The Johnson Way Company and featured brighter lighting, warm spaces, and cork ceilings for acoustic absorption and allowed 200 sales staff to work on one floor for the first time.

WWII & the Aftermath - 1939 - 1950

Just as office space was becoming a part of everyday life the second world war started. Focus shifted from everyday jobs to the ongoing war effort.

Burolandschaft/Office Landscape - 1950s - 1960s

Post-WWII there was a shift back into office work and with that came new office layouts.

Burolandschaft was a German idea that focused on the social aspect of office life, with no partitions, larger spaces, and a more communal workspace.

One of the things that Burolandschaft encouraged was a shift from hierarchy based seating, putting managers on the floor with the staff, whereas in the past they had been in separate offices.

Action Office - 1960s - 1970s

American Robert Propst, an early advocate of the Burolandschaft, developed the next phase of office evolution, the Action Office, which paired the open and adaptable Burolandschaft, with semi-enclosed workspaces for private working when needed. These enclosed spaces were big enough to meet in, promoting social interaction, but lead to the next development in office space.

Cubicle Farm 1980s - 1990s

The bane of office workers throughout the 80s and 90s the Cubicle Farm style office digressed from the social interactions and communal spaces back to the 1920/30s model of productivity over worker needs. The Cubicle Farm was exactly what its name suggests, tightly packed rows of cubicles with walls over 6 feet high, meaning it made it very hard to interact with your colleagues.

Activity Based Working (ABW) - 2000s

As the new Millenium came around, technology advancements led to a more relaxed approach to workplaces. The availability of WiFi, laptops, and smartphones meant remote work was more common and offices were aimed at encouraging interaction and communal working. The idea of Hot Desking became key to this style of office.

Agile Offices - 2000s

Continuing with the 2000s, the working day began to shift from a 9-5 to be more flexible. The idea of hot-desking was firmly in companies' minds as were communal spaces. The Agile Office came hand in hand with the rise of the tech conglomerate and their new way of working. Office now began to feature games areas, soft hangout spots, napping pods, and standing stations. This really brought the office into the new Millenium.

Biophilic Offices - 2010s

As we shift to a more urban lifestyle office spaces developed and in the case of Biophilic offices, connect us with nature, even in our urban surroundings. Biophilic offices focus on incorporating the natural environment in office design. 

This is achieved with a terrarium like feel to the office with plants, natural features, and large amounts of natural light and air. Intended to provide a healthier modern workplace.

The Future of the Office Space

With home working becoming something that is more normal the future of the office space is in doubt. Many companies are now foregoing their traditional office spaces and now hiring meeting rooms on an ad hoc basis.

The office is by no means dead but they are continuing to evolve to fit in with modern times and the modern companies’ needs.