The Evolution of the Modern Office

Evolution of the modern office

How has the modern day office evolved since the 1950’s?

Looking at the evolution of the modern office from cubicles with typewriters and filo faxes through the age of electronics coming in, the integration of the sexes in the workplace and then today a more flexible approach, hot-desking and virtual offices.

The office has changed vastly from decade to decade as follows;

  • 1950’s: Open plan offices

The 1950’s brought with it advances into building with modern materials like steel and glass. The corporate office became completely autonomous from the outside world – as well as allowing for wider, more open plan floors where workers could be placed virtually anywhere.

  • 1960’s: The action office

A series of designs to allow freedom of movement and flexibility to work in a position suitable for the work being done. It was believed that office work was mental work and that mental effort was tied to a suitable working environment.

  • 1980’s: The cubicle farm

With a struggling economy due to recession, office dynamics changed. A new class of employee was born—too important for just a desk but too junior for the sought-after window seat—people were sort of confused about the level of their position. The cubicle style that rose during this time period made office environments perfect for the independent worker.

  • 1990’s: Virtual officing/ Hot desking

Co-workers wanted to become more integrated and so a more sociable office layout was put into play. Employees were encouraged to set up and use different desks each day – this allowed companies to save space, sell off properties in inner city areas, utilise new communication technology to save money, and promote a more flexible working environment. In the actual office environment, the regularised, even tedious open plan has made it difficult for employees to identify or feel at home. Hot-desking meant employees were less grounded.

  • 2000’s: The casual office

The casual office has been a trend since the mid-1980s, pioneered by creative industry firms born out of the advent and rapid coming to prominence of the information age.

As technology advanced, workers became more mobile. Laptops, mobile phones, and ever evolving WiFi . Open plan was back, allowing workers to break out of the isolation of cubicles and interact and collaborate more freely in the workplace. Hot desking and co-working are the buzzwords today, as an increase in the number of freelancers sees an increase in demand for part-time, flexible office space and creative collaboration. HubbleHQ, 2020 .

Diversity in the workforce over time

In the 1960s, offices had little racial diversity. The only area of the office that had non-white employees was usually the mailroom. Only about 32% of the workforce was female, and a vast majority of their positions were administrative roles. (2020).

The leading occupations for women in the 1970’s were as secretaries, bookkeepers, and elementary school teachers.

The late 1980’s saw the beginning of the diversity movement in offices. By the 1990’s, many companies had instituted policies to prevent racial and gender biases in hiring and to try to bring in more diversity, including diversity and sensitivity training. By the 1990’s, the workforce was 47% female, a major equalisation. Unfortunately women earned significantly less than their male counterparts even when working similar jobs.Even worse, many working environments remain uncomfortable for minorities and women. (2020).

The future

One of the most common contingency plans to cope with the hard lock-down, commenced in March 2020, was the switch from conventional work-spaces to remote work. More and more companies encouraging their employees to work from home. This transition was not smooth for many organisations, but the few companies that pulled it off successfully may very well decide to stick to a remote working culture especially if they find it cheaper or more efficient in the long run.

In case of a complete switch to remote work, businesses will have to work out a clearly defined remote work policies that will guide the process. The transition will also require a concrete plan, budget, communication programs and support for a sufficient infrastructure for workers that will be working remotely. Aside from making available the needed technology, managers will also need to prepare quick start guides that will make the transition to a remote work environment smooth and seamless.

Corporate demand will still come from firms that seek to actively use the serviced office market to satisfy their flexible space quotas. Operators of such space may not be able to shoulder all of this increased demand, leading to a drain on finances, as well as working space.

This emerging shift towards adaptable work-spaces to accommodate the most bizarre of ad-hoc working practices not only saves space and money, but also allows for employees to have the best of both worlds: collaboration and communication, and peace, quiet and privacy when they need it.

Instead, today’s offices have begun to incorporate spaces to accommodate a range of different working styles – all within the same space.

Formal meeting rooms are not in constant use with the necessitated rise of virtual meetings through Zoom and other platforms.

Impact on real estate

Demand for centralised office space may reduce moderately in the longer run, with the head office focusing more on higher-value activities that foster collaboration and innovation. The quality of the product and service will need to be even higher than before the pandemic, so institutional landlords will also have to adapt, transforming their passive leasing practices into active engagement strategies and working closely with existing and prospective tenants. Commercial Observer. 2020.

While all of this may reduce demand for core space, the impact will be spread over future lease events and is unlikely to create market disequilibrium. And as it transforms to accommodate lower densities, flexible office space will benefit over time.


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