With the advent of technology, the layout of offices in the last century has undergone a lot of changes
These changes also affect the culture of human communication.
Creating the 21st-century office has involved far more than replacing typewriters and fax machines with computers and email. Here, we take a look at the decades that sparked key changes in office design and compare how different working life is now compared to 100 years ago.
1900s: Impact of industry in designing offices
An American engineer named Frederick Taylor was one of the first designers of the office space. He was one of the intellectual leaders of the Efficiency Movement that was highly influential during the progressive era of the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Initial office design layouts were straight, linear and heavily influenced by the manufacturing industry. Much like on a factory floor, Taylor crowded workers together in an open-plan environment while those from the upper echelons of the organization looked on from private offices.
Rather than promoting efficiency, it was soon realized that these ‘Taylorist’ layouts discouraged productivity, instead generating discontent among employees. However, the industrial layout endured both world wars and survived for more than half a century before the socio-democratic appetite of the 1950s spelled the end of rigid and ineffective structures.
1950s: Bürolandschaft and the dawn of office collaboration
Changes to office design during the fifties was influenced by the political issues of World War II. Companies moved away from the hierarchy and administrative bureaucracy, and encouraged employees to develop more friendly and social relationships.
This method encourages employees to live happier and engage in more engagement during work. Contrary to the Taylor method, in which all the tables were arranged in a harsh line with high congestion. This method included free, random, and diverse designs that allowed collaborators to engage and speak with ease.
The Bürolandschaft movement produced the first of what we now commonly call open plan offices. Open plan layouts are still popular today, particularly with millennial workers. However, the high level of interaction between colleagues increased the potential for distractions, while lack of privacy and the easier spread of illness also presented issues with the layout.
Herman Miller Company, inspired by this method, has taken out small, removable spacers in the worksheets. The high demand for women to enter after the Second World War was one of the reasons for the change in the the Bürolandschaft method
1970s and 1980s: Cube farm
With open plan spaces the norm by the late 1960s, many organizations sought to bring a degree of privacy back to the office floor. The cubicle was invented – a way to stay open while having some personal space.
In the 1980’s, profit-hungry corporations saw the rewards gained from squeezing as many workers into a space as possible. This resulted in the ‘cubicle farm’ layout, where linear rows of cubes were considered most efficient. The invention of the computer was influential in this arrangement, there was no need for direct personnel to communicate with each other in the office, and communications were made more by telephone.
The low cost was due to the maximum use of space and higher profits for employers.
This methodology was exploited by employers, to make more use of space, to increase the number of partitions, and to reach the maximum number of people who were engaged in one floor.
Standardized furniture was cheap to buy in bulk and brought a minimal, consistent identity to the workplace. This generic approach allowed little personality to come across, stifling creativity and making offices across the world indistinguishable.
2000s: Coffee shops, gaming and new technologies
In the last decade, interior designers have left single-party partitioning ways to revert to more social relationships. By covering the weakness of the old methods, they tried to provide a better system
Businesses realized that employees didn’t really need to be in the office at all, for instance the rise of coffee shops and wireless technology freed employees from their cubicles.
The employers concluded that the office space should not be deadly. The office space should be both for work and for leisure time. Making the difference between the work space and outside it reduces the efficiency of employees. As a result, employees' morale has become a priority for companies.
. The office environment was gamified to create work and leisure time in one space. Creative companies lost their corporate facade and filled their premises with bright colors, pinball machines, and pool tables.
2010s: The office community and sustainability
Businesses realise there is more to a well-designed office than vibrant furniture and a games room. Workplaces are now designed to encourage a sense of community and collaboration. Open plan layouts continue to be popular, with the addition of optimized spaces such as meeting pods, collaboration rooms and breakout areas. Permanent office space has become less essential, with more focus on ensuring employees can work remotely if they wish to.
One of the most interesting developments in modern office design is that layout is no longer designed with the employer in mind, instead the needs of the employee is paramount. Research has found 88% employees want to work for a company that’s socially responsible and ethical. As a result, modern offices incorporate sustainable design and take energy-reducing measures such as going paperless to ensure their building is as eco-friendly as possible.