Time changes everything, whether it's how we work or where we work. Office design is a seemingly simple yet very intricate form of expression. It is not untrue to say that the design of an office paints a picture of the company that it belongs to. But this phenomenon is something that has only popped up in recent years, with companies having vastly different design and work philosophies when considering what an office space should be.
A modern office is generally built to fit the needs of an individual and not a collective hive-mind. Promoting efficiency, creativity, well-being, productivity and morale are now some of a company's top priorities. How did it reach this point though?
Let us go back in time to discover how an office itself was created.
As far as the official term for 'office' is concerned, it seemed to have manifested during the Roman Empire where there was a strong focus on democratic work. Variations of this “office space” existed through the ages but it wasn’t until the 18th century where the first modern definition for an office was created. At the peak of the British Empire, a large number of trade routes were established. To improve engagement with the expanding volume of trade posts, the Admiralty Office was built in 1726. This office handled the vast amount of paperwork generated by the Royal Navy and included meeting spaces and the Admiralty Board Room, which is still used today.
Soon to follow was the giant East India Trading company building, the East India House, situated on Leadenhall Street in London and built in 1729. The building was the headquarters that housed all the workers involved with the same overwhelming amount of paperwork. This trend became popular with the development of dedicated spaces to administer paperwork, around London.
Early 20th Century
With the advent of the industrial era, practitioners often resorted to highly organized office layouts. This in turn led to what is now known as the 'Open Plan Office'. These open plan offices were huge open spaces with almost never-ending rows of desks, with workers working in a very rigid and systematic manner. The system was a result of a work and management philosophy known as Scientific Management.
Scientific Management laid down fundamental concepts (which are maintained even today) but it did garner heavy criticism.
Around this time, advances in construction techniques gave rise to marvels like skyscrapers. Office working conditions became more comfortable with facilities like air conditioning and lifts, and commercial offices offered large amounts of open space. This was a big step forward in the creation of what would become the first real rendition of a modern office layout.
A New Age of Office Design
With more commercial buildings and skyscrapers being built, the Open Plan Office started combining private offices with wide open spaces, occasionally with additional rooms like kitchens, pantries and canteens.
Around the time when offices were focusing more on projecting a corporate image, big world changing events like World War 2 (and the great depression in USA) were huge obstacles in the path to progress.
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Aftermath of WW2
In the 1960s, workplaces started to adopt more socially democratic layouts which in turn encouraged a larger degree of human interaction and engagement. The design approach was called Burolandschaft in German, which means office landscape. This concept became popular in Europe and soon spread across the rest of the world.
The basis of Burolandschaft was to put more emphasis on the needs of the workers rather than maintaining a rigid layout. Teams were being organized in a haphazard manner where desk partitions and barriers were removed. Collaboration between teams was now be much easier. Staff across different managerial levels began to sit and work together. Burolandschaft is often credited with establishing the principles of modern office design.
Dawn of the Action Office
In the middle of the 1960s, Robert Propst designed the Action Office 1, a more sophisticated and modular evolution of the basics set by the later iterations of the Burolandschaft designs. The Action Office was produced and marketed by the now legendary manufacturer Hermann Miller.
Action Office 1 featured desks and workstations of varying heights that allowed the worker freedom of movement and the flexibility to assume the work position best suited for the task. Action Office 1 was ideal for small professional spaces where managers and employees often interacted using the same furnishings. However, Action Office I was expensive, difficult to assemble, and was not suitable for offices in large corporations, which in turn led to poor sales.
Herman Miller’s big breakthrough came when Robert Propst diligently worked on a new and improved Action Office 2 in the 1970s, which eliminated the shortcomings of the previous model. Propst’s goal was to create an office solution could be modified easily and would adapt to an employee's requirements without the need to purchase additional furnishings. This was his attempt at a very delicate balancing act, which gave the employee just enough privacy along with an avenue to interact easily with other individuals.
Action Office II was based on mobile wall units that acted as space dividers/definers. It supported multiple workstation furnishings that fit perfectly into a vertically oriented workspace. The components were interchangeable, standardized, and simple to assemble and install, unlike the Action Office 1.
The Action Office 2 was a huge hit with corporations. This design became one of Hermann Miller’s bestselling concepts and new modern versions are still on sale today. However, other manufacturers quickly took note of its success and started making their own versions, slowly morphing them into what would eventually become the universally hated cubicle.
The Dreaded Advent of Cubicle Farms
In the 1980s, the easy availability of Cheap Modular Walls and increased focus on profitability, at the expense of working conditions, led to a tremendous change in the planning of office layouts.
Office design evolved into a Stacked High & Cheap model which unfortunately became a discipline in many organizations, a source of agony for all workers. The work force was doomed to be trapped in this hellhole for almost 20 years before finally escaping.
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Entering the Millennium
New advancements in technology ushered in a new generation of office space design, with a keen focus on agile and object-oriented tasks. Mobility became the key to new and old offices, as people were less dependent on their desks while still getting the job done. Hot desking was a popular trend where a worker would pick a spot to work at rather than being assigned a specific place.
The Last Decade
It is now commonplace for companies to create unique and quirky designs and incorporate a homely feel into the office environment. Soft color schemes, living scenery and biophilic arrangements are more evident than ever. Break rooms and “chill out zones” with games and other activities are just a few of the familiar elements of modern offices.
The concept of a dedicated office has been done away with the growth of co-working spaces that offer flexibility and modern conveniences, while housing different types of businesses. WeWork is one of the largest providers of ultra-modern office spaces for numerous companies and individuals around the world.
With a higher demand for compelling and productive office spaces, furnishing an office has become a priority for businesses. Designing your office might seem like a challenge but furniture providers offer solutions to fit the needs of your business without compromising on creativity and expression.
BureauOne helps businesses make the smart shift to a fast, convenient, and low-cost solution, enabling them to do more with their capital. Our one-stop rental platform makes furnishing any office an easy and hassle-free task.
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