Making the Modern Office

Office design has consistently changed over the last century due to new trends and new technology. Today we’re examining some of the major changes that helped shape the design of the modern office.

“Offices” in a non-traditional sense have existed for centuries, dating back to the Early Roman Empire. Offices in the way we know them really sprung up in the mid-1800’s with the focus being on an open office setting.

1850’s: There was a movement towards making work, life, etc more efficient, known as the efficiency movement. Frederick Taylor had a tremendous influence on this movement and is credited with the design of the first office space concept, known as the “Taylorist Layout”. This layout had a strong focus on the industrial industry. It segregated intellectuals and the rest of the work force by placing intellectuals in their own private offices overlooking larger meeting rooms used for tightly packing skilled workers into. This layout survived much of the 21st century.

Little alterations to this layout occurred throughout this time, one of which being in the late 1930’s.

1939: Frank Lloyd Wright designed the very first open-plan office for the Johnson Wax Company. This plan is one of the best examples of the art deco architecture that was prominent during this time period.

Additional alternations and styles came and went, but it wasn’t until the 1960’s that the next biggest change came to office design.

1960: In the construction industry, this time period is known as the dawn of office collaboration. This trend is considered to be politically motivated. The name Burolandschaft (a German concept) was given to this new trend. Traditionally, this concept consisted of grouped desks designed to encourage collaboration. The first open floor plan.

The Burolandschaft movement sparked the beginning of change for office design.

1964: Robert Propst invents the cubical

1970’s-1980’s: Robert Propst’s invention sparks the cube farming trend. This was the idea that you could maintain an open floor plan while still having some privacy.

Between the 1970’s and 1980’s we see two trends arise, one is this idea of cube farming, and one is the idea of hot-desking.

1980: Hot desking is based off the concept of hot bunking, where submariners shared their bunks between one another. Hot desking is where multiple employees share the same desk and working space.

The turn of the century introduces a new concept brought on by an increase of new technology.

2000: New technology brought the office to the outside world. Instead of being stuck at a desk, new technology allowed flexibility. This new found flexibility allowed for a blend of work and social life.

As the years continue to progress, companies are making a tremendous effort to please the Millennial generation. The concept of collaboration and encouraging a sense of community within the company emerges. As we progress into the future we see a spike in non-traditional office settings springing up around the world. Meeting pods, collaboration and idea rooms, game areas and remote access have become the modern office.