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A brief history of office design

General, General information February 19th 2019
A brief history of office design

During the past few years, we've seen the emergence of a huge, new office trend. It seems that every modern employer is aiming to attract the highest possible calibre of candidates with innovative and creative office spaces, chill out zones, games rooms and comfy chairs. Some offices now even have their own bars and bartenders! But, it hasn't always been this way; in fact, it was at the beginning of the 18th century when the world started to see the emergence of the first office buildings, and things were certainly a little different back then...

The first office in Britain - The purpose of the first office - the Office of the Admiralty and Marine Affairs, now The Admiralty - which was built in 1726, was clear and simple. The British Empire was expanding rapidly and thus so was trade with the rest of the world. This created huge amounts of paperwork which needed to be handled in a place separate from the noise and bustle of factories. From there, more and more of these 'new' office spaces started to pop up around London. These offices had meeting spaces, boardrooms and cubicles; much like many traditional offices do today. The style of management mirrored what was traditional to the factories of that time, and usually featured employees working closely together in a line formation, with a manager watching over to maximise productivity.

The first open-plan offices - Following on from the tradition of workers operating in a large formation, in 1939, Britain saw the emergence of the open plan office. This came naturally due to the work of the mechanical engineer, Frank Taylor, who believed that workers operating in this formation could easily be monitored in large numbers.

Skyscrapers and a move toward more space - By the 1930s, Britain followed the United States and started to build skyscrapers around the country. This created more space and naturally saw workplaces step away from clustered 'open plan' offices. Workers got access to their own desk spaces and the extra room meant that there was more space for canteens.

By the 1960s, offices started to become more sociable, desks were grouped into teams and staff were often sat according to seniority. This originated from Germany and was known as Burolandschaft, a style that is still referenced today.

The need for office privacy - As we approached the 1970s, the emergence of more women in the workplace created a requirement for privacy. It was noted that women around the country requested 'modesty boards' to cover their legs while working, and from there we saw the emergence of office cubicles. Cubicles grew in popularity very quickly, as they were a cheap way to create individual spaces for employees.

The modern office - As the millennium approached, laptops meant that workers were now more mobile. Without the need to accommodate large computers, offices became comfier and more spacious. Employees were no longer tied to a desk, and it slowly became fashionable to allow employees to work from less traditional spaces. This is a trend that is still developing and we now see more and more workplaces taking inspiration from the home. Creating an innovative office space for employees has now become a competition between modern companies. Although we cannot predict where the trend will go from here, we do know one thing - Monday morning will never feel the same again.

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